TYSON FURY last week indicated that his next bout, the April 23 showdown with Dillian Whyte, might be his last. It’s not the first time he’s said this. Since his incredible professional career began, the heavyweight has threatened to retire on several occasions.
Fury again voicing his end game highlights that the vast majority of boxers are acutely aware of the dangers of fighting too long. But when it comes to packing away the gloves for good, the lure of the prize ring nearly always proves too difficult to resist. It’s certainly hard to imagine Fury walking away regardless of what happens against Whyte. That’s not a criticism, either.
The drug-like pull of boxing is frighteningly powerful. Never downplay how hard it is to say goodbye.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that a teenage Amir Khan was mapping out his future and planning on retiring at the age of 28. Last week it was reported that the 35-year-old – a multi-millionaire – is considering triggering a rematch clause with Kell Brook despite looking every day of his age while taking a six-round hammering against his old rival last month.
Khan hasn’t looked right since 2016. He knows it, too. But the exit door is not nearly as inviting as the ring.
Oscar De La Hoya, 49, has struggled in retirement. Even now the Golden Boy, who once promised to quit before he turned 30, yearns to come back. One more fight. One last hit.
Brook’s thoughts of retirement seem to be disappearing too. He said he didn’t need any more money after beating Khan. Sitting in his shorts, fresh from combat and still on a high, he insisted he didn’t want to be one of those fighters who goes on too long.
Fury says he has made £100m from boxing and couldn’t spend that if he tried, so why fight on any longer? He might feel differently when there isn’t a fight in the diary to keep his mind focused.
Derek Chisora is planning his return. The war-torn heavyweight veteran who only feels alive when punches are being aimed at his skull will not retire. Nor consider it. The notion of not being a fighter scares him far more than any opponent ever could.
It’s not about the money, anymore. The plan may have been to get rich and get out, all those years ago. But even the fighters who achieve financial security, and they’re in a small minority, can’t walk away.
They have been fighters all their lives. It defines them, it makes them proud to look in the mirror. It gives them a sense of purpose that few other things in life can.
We can all judge boxers for fighting too long. We can rightly bemoan the system for facilitating the damage that will become apparent in years to come. What we can’t do, however, is stop a fighter from wanting to fight.
Fury might be saying all the right things today. But he will also know, after the depression and problems with drugs and alcohol that he’s endured in the past, that giving up is much harder than the act of fighting itself.
Training boxers to fight is one thing that the sport does very well. Training them for a life outside the ropes is more difficult. And it needs addressing.
Even those with exit strategies – like Tony Bellew, Carl Froch and Floyd Mayweather – wake up every day and remember what it felt like to be a fighter. They remember their name being chanted by thousands of fans and the thrill of victory. Imagine saying goodbye to that while still fairly young.
In this week’s issue of the magazine, Thomas Hauser explores the subject in detail. But even Hauser, one of the finest writers in boxing history, struggles to find a solution to what might be boxing’s biggest problem. Not the bad decisions, not the multiple belt-holders and daft rankings, but the issue of long-term damage.
If Fury keeps his word and retires this year, we should not criticise nor grumble, but champion his decision.
Though boxing might suffer in the short-term without Tyson Fury, one of sport’s most intoxicating talents, it will be hurt far more by a damaged Tyson Fury in years to come.