UPON winning the heavyweight championship of the world on foreign ground, in an upset for the ages, all the new champion did was moan. “My foot is killing me,” he said as he sat topless on a changing room bench. “My foot is bloody killing me.”
Though he had successfully avoided punishment for the 36 minutes he spent in a ring, Tyson Fury was now, less than an hour after receiving confirmation his dream had come true, paying the price for all he had done. With his sock removed, and two blistered feet liberated, he shared the extent of his pain with those around him, most of whom seemed far more interested in the belts he had wrested from the grip of Wladimir Klitschko than the state of his soles. When sensing this, Fury said: “Let’s get the tunes going.”
It was after that ‘Never Too Much’ by Luther Vandross started to play from speakers in the corner of the room and Fury’s friends and family began to dance. One after another they borrowed Fury’s belts, posed for photos, and told the new champion what they thought of the fight. Fury, meanwhile, seemed content to just listen and watch. Too tired to rise, he remained sitting on the bench in his skin-tight black boxer shorts and moved only to either pick at his feet or flick the ripple of fat resting quite contentedly above his shorts’ waistband. He joked about Wladimir Klitschko losing that night to a fat man, then grimaced when reminded of how he had made that joke a reality. “Have we got any plasters?” he said, the request aimed at nobody in particular.
“Don’t keep ripping it,” he was told by someone, “because it will just get worse.”
“He had a face on him like John Merrick after the fight, didn’t he?” Fury said, referring to Klitschko.
“He certainly did.”
(Fury, by contrast, was as unblemished as any Klitschko challenger in recent memory. Foot issues aside, there was hardly a mark on his face and certainly no cuts or signs of disfigurement.)
“Give us a bandage and some tape, will you?” Fury then said, which, instead of bandage or tape, led to numerous David Haye jokes being thrown at him from all corners of the room. (Haye, remember, complained of foot problems of his own following an unsuccessful title challenge against Klitschko back in 2011, though, unlike Fury, chose to do so at the post-fight press conference.)
“I think you should stand on the table at the press conference and show your toe,” a family member encouraged Fury from the back of the room.
“Yeah, that was a toe problem, wasn’t it?’ Fury said, smiling. “My foot was killing me the whole time. You know when you move a lot…”
Haye, the last British boxer to have challenged Klitschko, had moved just as Fury did in Düsseldorf. He, like Fury, had also invested heavily in feints and head movement and was, to his credit, nailed only sparingly by a gun-shy Klitschko.
Yet, crucially, the difference between Haye and Klitschko that night – and every other night – was the size. At 6’3, Haye was able to be light on his feet and flashy with his hands but was still only – yes, only – six foot three. This meant he had great difficulty closing the distance on a champion three inches taller than him and it also meant Klitschko remained relatively safe and comfortable in his presence.
Fury, on the other hand, someone just shy of 6ft 9ins, was forever in punching range of Klitschko the night he faced him in Düsseldorf. He would step forward and find himself in range and he would step back and stay in range. Always there, right where Klitschko didn’t want him, such close proximity guaranteed that Klitschko, a dictator accustomed to gaining control and confidence from his physical advantages, was, for once, the smaller man left dangling on a string.
“I was moving, I could see the shots coming, I was very focused,” Fury said. “Peter (his uncle and trainer) was telling me to keep my right hand up because he was looking for the left hook all the time. I could see every time he set his legs that he was going to throw the left hook. I’d then just touch him with the jab and put him off balance.”
Undoubtedly, what Fury vs Klitschko lacked in action it more than made up for in layered intrigue. It started early, too, with Fury pocketing most of the opening rounds, and it continued throughout, with everybody ringside expecting Klitschko to at some stage realise the fight was slipping away from him and to do something about it.
Rather than that though, Fury simply maintained his lead by listening to the advice of Peter in the corner and using his stature in the same way Klitschko had done through 18 consecutive title defences.
“Everyone start clapping when Peter comes in, yeah?” Fury said in the changing room once alerted to his coach’s imminent arrival. “One, two, three…”
On four, Peter, a quiet man with no interest in being the centre of attention, at last entered the room to become just that, his reception both loud and warm. “This foot is in pieces,” Tyson then told him, with Peter now beside him on the bench. “And the other one is even worse. It’s nearly hanging off.”
“That’s just a sign of the effort you put in,” Peter said. “That’s what it means to win a world title. They don’t come easy. Everybody doubted us. They all said we couldn’t do it. Well, we’ve took it in Germany – we did what they all couldn’t do. Now they can all be quiet. They don’t know boxing like they think they know it.”
“Amen to that.”
Turning to the rest, those who had moments ago applauded him, Peter continued: “Everyone has always said nobody has been able to get inside of Wladimir and nobody has been able to stop his game plan. He’s fought all-comers and various styles and nobody has been able to penetrate. But we worked it out. Tyson went in there and shut him down. He took away his jab. He did exactly what we set out to do. We weren’t looking for power shots. Everybody tries to get to Wladimir’s chin because they think it’s weak. But they make big mistakes in the process. I just said to Tyson, ‘Get in there, enjoy it, and totally outbox him.’”
Outbox him Fury did, the intelligence of their game plan reflected on three scorecards: 115-112, 115-112 and 116-111.
“You can have as many game plans as you want, but Tyson is a very gifted athlete and he was the one who was able to carry it out,” stressed Peter. “They might say he looks ungainly at six foot nine, but he stands in front of people and they can’t land a glove on him. Even sparring partners say, ‘How on earth can we do anything with this?’ He has a very awkward and unconventional style and he knows how to make it work. He’s very difficult to box.”
Next, camera crews started to flood the room, each keen to get a piece of Fury before he was inevitably whisked off to the post-fight press conference. Feeling ambushed all of a sudden, and infiltrated by outsiders, the paranoid new champion could now be heard warning everybody not to hand him any bottles of water, so fearful was he of being drugged. “I worked so hard for this,” he then informed one interviewer. “To make it even sweeter, nobody believed I could do it tonight. There were only a select few people who believed I could do it. But from the moment I laced on a pair of gloves I said I’d be heavyweight champion of the world. What are we saying, Shane?”
Shane, his brother, beamed proudly. “You did,” he said. “Signed, sealed, delivered.”
Two years the champion’s junior, Shane had been Tyson’s first sparring partner back when the brothers wrapped their mother’s tea towels around their fists as gloves. They had to make do with one tea towel and one boxing glove back then because an old pair of gloves once worn by their father, a former pro heavyweight, were split. Each boy therefore agreed to have one apiece and then, with that sorted, it was on. They designed kits to wear during the duel and finally took to a rug in the kitchen, a spacious one, where the aim was to knock the other off the rug in order to be declared the winner.
“Growing up with a dad as a professional boxer, and being part of a family involved in boxing, you don’t know anything else,” Fury recalled. “I remember hitting my dad’s hands – one-two, left hook – as soon as I was old enough to do it.
“I didn’t have my first amateur fight until I was 16, but, before I even had an amateur fight, me and my dad used to spar in the garden. I was 14 at the time, but six foot five and 16 stone. My uncle, Frank [Burton], said he’d never seen anyone move like me before. He thought I’d become the heavyweight champion of the world.”
Thirteen years later, this prophecy came true. Tyson Fury, a resident of the seaside town of Morecambe, population 35,000, was indeed crowned the heavyweight champion of the world.
The following day, while still suffocated by British media, he sauntered through his hotel in cheap sports socks – owing, of course, to the pain in his feet – and confessed the magnitude of his achievement had yet to sink in. “I don’t feel any different this morning than I did two weeks ago or yesterday or the day before that,” he said, pawing at a small lump by the side of his eye. “I’m still the same Tyson Fury and always will be. I always said that winning the heavyweight championship of the world wouldn’t change me, the money wouldn’t change me, and being in the limelight wouldn’t change me. It won’t change the person I am. I think the fans and the boxing fraternity expect me to play the act I’ve always played and now I’m heavyweight champion of the world I’ve got the perfect stage, haven’t I?”
If a ride, it will certainly be a fun one. Fury, after all, tends to be far more exciting than he was allowed to be against the hesitant Klitschko and is, away from the ring, full of danger and charisma. He also understands the game and the showbiz element of the sport, appreciating the need to sell himself and be something other than just two fists.
Moreover, he is a far better athlete and technician than many detractors give him credit for and has persevered, too, having seen numerous scheduled fights – two with Haye, one with Derek Chisora, and one with Klitschko – fall by the wayside through no fault of his own.
“As far as I’m concerned, if I never win another fight – if I get beaten in a six-rounder – I don’t care,” he said that morning in Düsseldorf. “I have achieved what I set out to achieve in life. I’m a winner.
“I had a lot of bumps in the road and there were times when I’d had enough and thought I wasn’t going to carry on. But I stuck with it and showed that dedication and determination pays off.”
Peter Fury, the coach and uncle standing off to the side, went one better that day. “I said before this fight that if he wins the world heavyweight title and I have a heart attack the next morning, that’s fine by me,” he said. “This kid has come to Germany, won this world title, and it means so much to the family.”
- This was first published in the new 100-page Boxing News special Fury – Behind The Scenes and In The Ring With The Gypsy King, which is full of exclusive interviews and insight into the journey and career of Tyson Fury. Available at: bit.ly/tysonfurymag