The view from Mount Fury
Wladimir Klitschko’s opponents are cowed well before the first bell. The universally recognised heavyweight champion is as ruthless as Floyd Mayweather Jr during the negotiating period, using the build-up to a fight to psychologically diminish his opponent, a tactic that has seen him go without a defeat since losing to Lamon Brewster in 2004 (LTKO5).
Tyson Fury (24-0, 18 KOs), however, believes that he is the one waging and winning the psychological warfare ahead of his rearranged 28 November fight against the Ukrainian WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO title-holder.
The challenger left the negotiations to Peter Fury, his trainer and uncle, and long-time promoter Mick Hennessy to avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae. “I heard it was one of the toughest negotiations they’ve done, hectic,” he said when Boxing Monthly met up with him in Bolton.
Despite Deontay Wilder’s recent ascent to the WBC title, there is only one real route to the pinnacle of the heavyweight division, Klitschko.
“Britain’s got loads of world champions now, but it doesn’t mean they’re great,” argued Fury. “Being a world champion and being great is two different things. I want to be involved in great fights, win lose or draw, and, so far, I’ve won all my fights to put myself in this position.”
The Morecambe-based traveller’s refusal to doff his cap to the division’s dominant force and his own burgeoning self-belief is a long way removed from 2011, when he admitted to suffering from depression.
Looking back, Fury dismissed that prognosis, telling me that he saw the world for what it really is for the first time and initially struggled to cope with the harsh reality of existence. Peter came in to help him lose weight and steady the ship, ushering in the ultra-confident Fury we know today.
“I wasn’t suffering with depression, I was looking for something and couldn’t find it,” stressed Fury. “I realised what life was and was upset about it. I always thought life was some great thing, all “Whoopee do”: you get a job, get married and have kids. Then I sat down and thought about what life is, you’re living to die, so I realised it ain’t that good.
“I know what we’re doing on this earth, we’re wasting time until we die. We’re filling in the gaps. If you don’t believe there’s an afterlife then your life here is pretty shit - going to work to earn enough money to pay your bills your whole life. There must be something more to it. I feel sorry for non-believers, actually, and pray for them.
“The only good thing about life is spending time with loved ones and friends, smiles and laughs - everything else is just rubbish.”
Some might say that that’s a very bleak perspective.
“It can be,” he answered, “but you see stuff for what it really is - like big mansions just being bricks and mortar that you only borrow for a bit until you die - and realise that, whatever you do in your life, no one is really bothered. If a sportsman gets beat, it might be today’s news but by tomorrow it is history. Who cares?”
Fury certainly doesn’t, his media persona courts controversy and commentary alike. The former British, Commonwealth and European champion says what he likes and likes what he says, criticism be damned.
“My thoughts on what people think about me are zero,” he said. “People think I’m shit, that I’m a fat, ugly Gypo. I am fat, I am ugly, I am a Gypo, so what? Who cares? I don’t.”
Travellers live on the fringes of society, existing off the grid. Standing apart requires a lot of confidence; some travellers exhibit a form of hyper-confidence, the belief that they are the best singers, best fighters and best looking people in the room, any room. A coping strategy, perhaps, for a life lived on the edge of society and beset by criticism.
Ironically, it is not too far removed from the boxer’s life. Fighters also exist on the edge, earning a living by committing what, in everyday life, would be considered a crime. However, Fury believes that confidence is not a trait that is unique to his community or his profession.
“I know plenty of Gypsies who aren’t confident,” he said. “Confidence is a gift from God. I can walk into a room and become the centre of attention. Even if I wasn’t a boxer, I’d get through because I’ve got the gift of the gab.”
Prior to his 2011 meeting with Dereck Chisroa, Fury bumped into his rival at the O2 Arena in May 2011, throwing his shirt to the ground and challenging “Del Boy” to an impromptu fistfight. I was close by, the Londoner was clearly rattled by the encounter and, in Fury’s mind, the fight was won by virtue of his unstinting self-belief.
“He lost it there and then,” he recalled. “I used an old Gypsy move on him. We rip our shirts off and challenge our opponent. If you’re a bottle job, your arse will start flapping and you won’t want to fight, which is what happened to Chisora. Dereck was physically and mentality scared of me before both our fights, he knew he couldn’t win.
“That’s our mentality, isn’t it? It’s no secret that Gypsies ain’t the most liked race in the country, in fact they’re probably the most hated. When people say: ‘What do you know about Gypsies?’ the words that come out are: ‘Dirty, rob people, steal stuff’ - that’s the persona that people think about.
“They’ve watched big Fat Gypsy Wedding and think that’s us. They think we steal children, put spells on you and will take anything. It that’s what’s out there then I have to use that in my arsenal.
“People are scared of travellers, no one wants to go out there and have a bare-knuckle fight with one. They’ll stand there and have it for 10 hours non-stop.”
He added: “The only way to beat me is to knock me spark out. Failing that, you’re fucked because I’ll keep on coming until I can’t come anymore.”
Despite these strong views, he stopped short of declaring himself a spokesman for anyone but Tyson Fury while lamenting the fact that, as a group, the travelling community could be so much more.
“If travellers were heavily educated, they’d be running big things,” he said. “The fact they don’t stick together as a race is their downfall. If we had education, went forward into the world and mixed in with society, we’d be very powerful. Travellers haven’t got any education, but I don’t know many poor travellers - they’ve all got money.
“I don’t represent any colour, creed or organization, I fight for myself. I’m not fighting for Gypsies. I fight for my family. Outside of my direct family, everybody is a stranger. If you’re outside our circle, you’re not getting in no matter how hard people try to slime and scheme their way in.”
Fury’s perspective on boxing’s hierarchy is just as starkly defined. In his mind, he is the best heavyweight in the UK, the heavyweights are bigger than everyone else, therefore he is the best fighter in the country and, should he overcome Klitschko, that dominance will extend to the entire world.
“There’s seven or eight billion people in the world. I’m the number one or two heavyweight, which means that, one-on-one, I can beat every man in the world - that’s an achievement on its own,” was his opinion of the age-old pound-for-pound debate.
“These little fighters can win all the titles they want, but they can’t beat an heavyweight, so this pound-for-pound stuff is rubbish. It’s like asking who could fly furthest if we had wings, a human or an eagle? It’s not going to happen.
“How can you ask if a 10 stone fighter could beat a heavyweight if he was the same size? Stuff that [Floyd] Mayweather does wouldn’t work at heavyweight because you’d get knocked clean out.
“To be the heavyweight champion is the greatest prize in sport, basically, and to be a colourful, charismatic and controversial heavyweight champion speaks for itself. Muhammad Ali is one of the top five famous people in the world today. Mike Tyson is the same. It’s because they were outspoken.”
Although respectful of Klitschko’s business practices, Fury is less complementary about the champion’s in-ring approach, telling BM that it is time for a change of pace in the sport’s iconic division.
“It is very corporate. It’s very German, isn’t it? The Klitschkos are up there, if not better, than any heavyweights in history because of their size, athleticism, ability to stick to a game plan and conditioning - no one had all that in the past.
“They’re true professionals at what they do, so they have to be admired, embraced and celebrated, but, on the other hand, this is a dull moment for the heavyweights. If you go back to the 1980s, that was a dull moment, too.
“Ali and Holmes were followed by Trevor Berbick, Pinklon Thomas and then we ended up with some random people as heavyweight champions of the world before Mike Tyson came along to shake things up.”
Klitschko outpointed Bryant Jennings in his last fight yet failed to set the world alight in what was a tepid return to the US - his first visit since a stodgy win over Sultan Ibragimov in 2008 (W12).
Fury believes that he can lead a new, exciting generation of heavyweights. “We’ve had great champions, but they’ve got no charisma, everything’s by the book. They’re a bit like Audis or a Mercedes, you can’t fault them but they don’t jump out at you like Lamborghinis.
“When you think of a super car, you don’t think of a Mercedes 5-series. When you think of great champions, you don’t think of the Klitschkos, [Nikolai] Valuev or any of those boring Europeans, you think of Ali, Tyson and [Larry] Holmes.
“It takes about 15 years for eras to change. You’ve got me, the biggest mouth in boxing. Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, Joseph Parker and Hughie Fury are coming through. There’s about 10 up-and-coming heavyweights who can fight each other. The era of the Klitschkos is done - it’s time to move on.
“You need the Americans and Brits onboard for heavyweight boxing to mean anything. The Europeans are boring. They sit there and clap at the boxing, all dressed in suits, but when the Brits turn up it’s lager everywhere, screaming and shouting and no shirts on.”
Some have argued that this fight is a smash-and-grab prior to defeat and retirement, a chance for Fury to maximize his undefeated record, exploit his divisive public persona and make as much money as possible. Others believe that the 27-year-old’s confident talk is just that, that he will not be able to recover mentally should he lose to the 39-year-old champion.
“They all know me, don’t they?” he said. “They obviously know it all. I might take these millions and retire, who knows? Win, lose or draw, I might retire, but then again I won’t retire because I want to fight Wilder.
“I’ll fight and beat Klitschko. There’s a rematch clause so I’ll do it again and then fight Wilder. By that time golden bollocks Anthony Joshua will probably be 20-0, so the Brits will think he’s a killer. I’ll take pride in smashing his head in, just like Tim Witherspoon did to Frank Bruno.
“I think that’d be the biggest pay-per-view this country will have ever seen. I’ll become more arrogant, more cocky and hated by more people - it’s nice, isn’t it?
“I love rubbing salt into the wounds. There’s about 200,000 travellers in this country out of about 60 million people, so it must be horrible to have a traveling man as the best man in it (British boxing), especially when you consider that the Brits started modern boxing.”
Fury sees Joshua as a potential money-spinner, another Good Guy vs Bad Guy clash. “I think he’s epic, he’s great because he’ll earn me an absolute fortune,” was his take on his London-based rival.
“He’s media trained, well-rehearsed and told what to say. He’s a puppet, a ‘yes’ man. You’ve got a street hood guy trying to be a British gent and trying not to upset anybody, but he’s from the streets so it must be hard to hold that side back, to be seen as the squeaky clean gold medalist. I think he’s doing a great job.”
As our conversation wound down, Fury was keen to provide evidence for his belief that Klitschko, the king of psychological warfare, is not as mentally strong as he appears, arguing that every little detail of this fight underlines his hypothesis.
“Wlad let the cat out of the bag completely today,” he revealed. “I got my fight gloves through. Pure shite, they’re the biggest gloves in boxing, a non-puncher’s glove. Every other fight he’s had, he has Grants gloves. With me, he’s taken the easier option by picking gloves that you can barely close your fists in.
“If he’s this great puncher - 53 knockouts out of 64 wins (against three losses, all by stoppage) - going against a non-puncher then why go for defensive gloves? I know he’s mentally weak. I can tell you the type of mentality a person has got just by looking at them for two minutes.
“I’ve spent time with Wladimir; he’s a perfectionist, the type of person who goes to see a shrink so he can be told what’s good and what’s bad. Anyone who needs that is mentally weak.
“The way to beat a perfectionist is through unpredictability, doing stuff that isn’t supposed to be done so that Klitschko thinks: ‘This isn’t routine, this isn’t supposed to happen’. Then his mind starts telling him it is happening again, he’s going to lose again, and by that point he’s already lost.”
On the other hand, a big pre-fight question is whether wins over Chisora and Christian Hammer (WRTD10 and WRTD8 respectively) are apt preparation for this litmus test. Fury believes that his last two performances were perfect, that forcing his opponent to retire in the corner shows complete physical and mental dominion.
“I could have stopped both of them at any time. I had Hammer down, but left him off the hook so I could pepper him all over the show. For a fighter to pull himself out, to accept that he has to be withdrawn by his corner, is a sad state to be in.”
“I’m going to knock him (Klitschko) out in a round,” predicted Fury. “He’s at his weakest when he’s cold. I’ll tell him he’s mentally weak and getting knocked out in a round, and he’ll believe it.”
As we wound down, Fury had run the full scope of his persona, showing knowledge of his sport and devilment in equal measure.
“The real Tyson Fury is the one you’re talking to, I’m like this all the time,” he said after I asked how much of his swagger and patter is an act. “People aren’t interested in how Average Joe lives.
“Why do you think they turn the TV on or buy newspapers and magazines? The papers sell every day because they’re full of shite - the celebrity scandals and all the shit that’s going on in the world.
“People want to talk about what’s going on and what’s controversial. If I didn’t play up a bit, what would you talk about down the pub? The fun and games haven’t even started yet.”
This is not a battle between good and evil, that’s clichéd and hackneyed, it's a showdown between an anarchic mindset and conservative, diligent discipline - it should be fun while it lasts.