By Alan Hubbard
TYSON FURY HAS has won over America. Now all he has to do is win over IN America by ripping the WBC world heavyweight belt from the tapered 34 inch waist of Deontay Wilder and bringing it back to the UK in a fortnight’s time.
Can he do it in the most eagerly anticipated heavyweight championship bout since the days when his slam bamming namesake Iron Mike ruled the ring roost?
Astonishingly, like the bookies in London the oddsmakers in Las Vegas – where the bout will be held at the MGM Grand – obviously think so, making him the marginal favourite. No doubt this is because of his bravura performance in Los Angeles 14 months ago when awarded a draw in a contest in which only Wilder himself and a handful of others, unfortunately including two of the three the ringside adjudicators, erroneously believed he had not quite beaten the American.
Yet it may also be because Fury has made himself arguably the most popular British fighter ever to appear in the United States. It has been a shrewdly calculated campaign jointly orchestrated by Fury himself and the world’s two most venerable and prestigious promoters, American Bob Arum,88, and Britain’s Frank Warren, 67, who between them have over 90 years experience of big-time fisticuffs.
Fury, the once reviled bete noir of boxing ,reinvented himself both in his native Britain and now the US, where he has not only fought his last three contests but has become a major star of the celebrity circuit, jesting as well as jousting as only he can . The Gypsy King has morphed into the Clown Prince and as we know America loves a clown. Especially one with charisma and clout who can charm an audience. President Trump is living testimony to that.
Not only has Fury become the most popular British protagonist since Ricky Hatton and his Mancunian army invaded Las Vegas but he is also more popular in the US than Wilder, an undefeated world heavyweight champion who can bang and box, yet is not exactly a household name over there outside of his own hometown in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
While I’m not brimming with confidence that Fury can stop the never floored –and barely flawed – Bronze Bomber, which he may well need to do to get the verdict, one advantage that he will have is that this time he is able to put on a few pounds rather than shed a ton or two as he had to do last time they fought.. At least this may put a bit more beef into to his own armoury.
We know that Wilder carries unpinned grenades in both gloves so Fury must keep out of harm’s way which he did not quite manage to do in LA, having to amazingly pick himself off the floor to gain that well deserved draw. Indeed he was given absurdly short shrift by two of the three judges, including Briton Phil Edwards, a fellow Lancastrian who lives just down the road in Preston not that far from Fury’s Morecambe home.
In his 12 year career 31-year-old Fury has been a relentless self- salesman, spreading himself far beyond a traditional boxing audience. His claim earlier this month to be preparing for the Wilder rematch by masturbating seven times a day was typically outlandish and entirely in character. No one truly believes it, least of all Fury himself – but he knew it would grab the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.
Earlier in his career he would go wildly and frequently irritatingly off script to project himself, often incurring the wrath of officialdom. Nowadays with his more reformed persona he is probably the most in demand British sports figure for media interviews and is surely the most loquacious (some might say mouthiest) figure in boxing since Muhammad Ali.
As Frank Warren says “This is a guy who can talk as well as fight. He is very engaging. very intelligent and articulate. It was just a case of getting him onto platforms to show that.”
He can also be fascinatingly introspective, reflecting at length and in depth about the depression, addiction, infidelity and weight gain that kept him out of the ring for 2 1/2 years after his tremendous triumph over Wladimir Klitschko in Germany in 2015.
Now his eloquence has been has been successfully transferred to the .US. “I just tell him: Be you. They are going to eat it up,” says Bob Arum.
“The American public have found him humorous and outrageous – they wrapped themselves in his personality, his ring.walks and costumes, his singing – he has sold himself brilliantly to the public over here.
“ Prince Naseem Hamed, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton brought their UK fan bases with them but they never became great American attractions. But Tyson – you let him loose and he is drawing a tremendous American audience.The late night TV talkshows have a great appetite to get him on because they know he will be controversial and entertaining. They need a guy like him who cannot only attract an audience but keep an audience.”
Warren adds: “Working with him is like it was in the early days with Naz who was great fun if not to everyone’s taste. But it was fun promoting him. It is like that with Tyson. You never know what to expect but one thing you do know it is never going to be dull.”
This will be confirmed by British audiences next week when ITV begin a three-part series which delves deeply into Fury’s complex personality and boxing career. These shows which start next Thursday will also go behind-the-scenes of his preparations for the upcoming contest and shine a spotlight on his family life and battles with mental health.
It is said to be the most a complete and intimate portrait of the Gypsy King ever seen and will be an absorbing build up to the a fascinating Febuary 22 fight which is to be screened live on BT box office.
BREXIT MEANS BREXIT as bold Boris was wont to say before he thankfully ‘got it done.’ But what does Brexit mean for boxing? The temptation is to use his unlamented predecessor’s oft-repeated s phrase “Nothing has changed.” But actually it has, though not dramatically.
Boxing is the only sport I could discover which has direct links to the European Union where there are secondary European EU belts issued to athletes from EU countries as distinct from the official European titles under the auspices of the European Boxing Union.
Britain has had a number of EU titleholders but at the moment there is only one, former Rio 2016 Olympian Lawrence Okolie, 27 who in theory would have to relinquish the cruiserweight belt. However as he holds the full European title too and is a leading contender for a world title shot this is unlikely to bother him.
There is also an EU championship for “amateur“ boxes from which Team GB will have to withdraw once the deal to leave the EU is officially signed off at the end of this year.