IT was the sort of name you don’t forget, the sort of name that demands an exclamation mark.
Tyson Fury was coming to box in Hinckley, just a few miles up the road from my flat in Leicester’s West End.
Whoever he was.
“I went in the corner with a boxer called Phill Fury when he boxed on a club show in Birmingham, he liked what I did and started boxing for us,” remembered Nick Griffin, head coach at Heart of England ABC.
“He made the trip down from Preston and every now and then he would bring his cousin with him and he had a few training session with us.
“When he was ready to box, I got him matched on our show…“
The first matchmaker Tyson Fury ever had was his big brother, John.
“My brother set me up to fight my next-door neighbour,” Tyson remembered.
“I was nine years old and he was 11. They just wanted to know who would win, so we had a fight. My trousers kept falling down and every time I moved to pull them up, he punched me in the face.”
Fury describes that fight as “a draw” and his first spar was also tough. He says that as a teenager, his twin passions were chickens and boxing.
“I used to love chickens and used to breed them,” he said. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was watching boxing.
“We would spend hours designing boxing kits and sparring each other when we were growing up,” he said. “I have always watched boxing videos. I’ve got hundreds of them. I’m a boxing encyclopedia.”
‘He was wearing odd boots, one was red, the other blue, and his shorts didn’t fit either’An observer on seeing Fury make his amateur debut
As he remembers it, Fury was 14 years old when he first went to the boxing gym.
“I remember the local hooligan telling me there was a gym a couple of miles away and I didn’t believe him,” said Fury, whose father John was a pro heavyweight. “I thought I would have heard about it.”
The gym was the home of Ringway Amateur Boxing Club and at their star heavyweight, known as “Big Lewis.” “I was made to spar him and he punched the shit out of me,” remembered Fury. “My nose was bloodied and my face a right mess. But I kept going back to the gym.”
Tyson’s uncle, Hughie, was training a professional heavyweight and Fury gained confidence sparring him.
“Every Saturday I would go over there for sparring,” said Fury. “I was naturally fit and I remember thinking: ‘I can do this.’
“I went back to see ‘Big Lewis.’ He had been the kingpin at the gym for a long time, but I had got better and he hadn’t. He never went back to the gym after we sparred again.”
By May, 2005, when he was 16, Fury was ready to make his amateur debut, in the function room at Hinckley United Football Club’s ground, the Marston’s Stadium.
“I remember waiting to see the doctor before I had my medical and this huge shadow appeared behind me,” recalled Kieran Pitman, at the time a cadet amateur and currently a crowd-pleasing pro cruiserweight.
“I turned round and was looking at someone’s chest. I thought: ‘I hope I’m not fighting him’.
Jamie Waddell was fighting Fury.
“I wasn’t really keen on taking the fight,” admitted Ray Revell, Waddell’s coach at Wellingborough Amateur Boxing Club.
“But I was struggling to get Jamie matched and he was always fearless.”
Pitman was in no rush to swap places with him.
“Everyone in the changing room was talking about Tyson, saying: ‘Have you seen the size of him?’” he remembered.
“It was a big changing room and he was dominating it. He was a monster. Everyone was talking about him before he even put his kit on.”
Fury left an impression on Kyle Haywood, now an 8-0 pro middleweight. “He was wearing odd boots, one was red, the other blue,” said Haywood, “and his shorts didn’t fit him either.
“He looked a real character.
“Everything about him was unorthodox. He was a big unit and you just thought: ‘Who is this guy?’
“I asked someone and they said: ‘That’s Tyson Fury.’ I thought they were joking. It sounded like a made up name, a stage name or something. I mean, who ever heard of anyone called Tyson Fury?”
Yet there he was, all 6ft 6ins of him…
“Some fighters you remember,” said Ash Lane, beaten on points by Haywood in a cadet bout that night and now the Commonwealth super-bantamweight champion.
“I remember Tyson Fury!
“It wasn’t just his size, he had a real swagger about him as well. Nobody knew who he was, but watching him in the changing room, you could tell he thought he was the kiddy!”
Fury eased himself into the ring and spotting my notebook on the ringside table in front of me, he raised his eyebrows in a friendly gesture. “If nobody talked about boxing or wrote about it, Tyson would find something else to do with his time,” his late uncle Hughie told me once.
Elsewhere in the room, Pitman was making mental notes.
“The lad [Waddell] was tough,” he said, “but Tyson boxed his head off, gave him a boxing lesson. Tyson wasn’t a massive puncher, but he jabbed, moved and made him miss. I remember thinking: ‘That’s how to use your range. He will do all right, he’s not bad’.”
Revell wasn’t a fan.
“He was talking to Jamie all the way through the fight,” he said, “trying to wind him up.
“He was saying: ‘You can’t beat me, you can’t even get near me.’
“I shouted at the referee about it – and I got a telling off!
“I remember Jamie saying to me after the first round: ‘I can’t get close to him and when he does, he holds.’
“As soon as Jamie came forward, Tyson threw out his hands.
“Tyson did box well, he was skilful. But I didn’t like him. I thought he was arrogant and a spoiler.”
Fury handed Waddell a standing count in the last round, but couldn’t force the stoppage – and chaos followed the announcement of his points win.
“I heard they were betting on Tyson getting a stoppage in the crowd,” said Haywood, “and when the fight went the distance, a big row broke out.”
“That was only my third or fourth amateur fight,” remembered Sam “Bullet” Bowen. “I remember Tyson was big – and there was trouble in the crowd afterwards.
“Someone got in the ring and tried to give a speech I think and then it went crazy for a few minutes. Tyson’s opponent was trying to push his way through to the changing room and I thought: ‘He’s massive, I had better get out of his way!’”
Order was restored after a few minutes, but the Official in Charge, Bill Evans, decided to cancel the rest of the show.
“I was warming up my lads in the changing room,” remembered Griffin, “and then I had to tell them they weren’t boxing after all…“
Waddell boxed only twice more, but he did toy with the idea of making a comeback around 18 months ago.
“Jamie came back to the gym for a few weeks,” said Revell, “but he didn’t stick at it.
“I gave him his amateur card because of the name he’s got on it. He seemed very matter of fact about it. I said: ‘Not many people can say they boxed a future world champion and you’ve got the proof.’
“Jamie didn’t seem very bothered. I think he’s still upset that he lost.”