By Alan Hubbard
Tyson Fury has never been one to do things by halves so we should not be surprised that the world’s most enigmatic and controversial heavyweight, certainly since namesake Iron Mike and before him Muhammad Ali, has produced not one, but two books which set out to explore and explain his past misdemeanours and, present him in a new light with an almost cuddly persona.
Fury has never been short of a word or two and there are plenty to digest in the combined pages – some 527 it all. There is no suggestion that the boxer himself has put finger to laptop for ever one of some 165,000 words – at a rough count.
Certainly in one of the books, Fighting Back, The Tyson Fury Story (Pitch Publishing £19i.99), he has had a professional assistance from journalist Matt Bozeat, a name not unfamiliar to hard-core boxing fans. The result is a smooth, joined-up narrative with reflections and revelations not only by Tyson himself but several of those around him on his helter-skelter journey; especially his wife Paris who sums him up neatly as “someone who has 20 different personalities.”
The book also absorbingly chronicles most of his fights and the dramas behind them – and Fury being Fury there are plenty. And there is fulsome praise for Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren for masterminding Fury’s remarkable ring renaissance.
But to get into what really makes Tyson tick you need to go behind the mask, the title of his autobiography published by Century at £20. No ghost writer or collaborator is credited but if Tyson really has scribbled all of this this he must have the stamina of Agatha Christie and aspirations to be a literary giant as well as a Gypsy Giant. By my reckoning the number of books churned out in Fury’s name since his gobsmacking victory to relieve Wladimir Klitschko of his world titles to become the linear – and People’s Champion – are approaching double figures. Yet before this extraordinarily complex almost schizophrenic character is fully unravelled many more may be required.
He writes: “I was a quiet boy growing up and when I started professional boxing I thought that if I was going to get attention I had to shout my mouth off because being myself wouldn’t work. The mask would go on and I eventually lost myself in this character.”
Fury says racism directed at the travelling community fuelled some of his controversial outbursts and played a part in the mental health issues that he continues to battle. He spent 30 months out of the ring from November 2015 and said he contemplated taking his own life.
During that period he apologised after being criticised for comments he had made about women and homosexuality.
“I started playing this part, being arrogant and cocky, and eventually lost myself in this character.
“When I started out as a pro, I made a decision which on reflection played a big part in exacerbating my moments of despair.
“I went into the paid ranks off the back of an amateur career during which I was aware of racism against travellers. This made me an outsider and so I felt that for me to get the attention I needed to be an attraction in the sport, I had to play the outlaw.
“I felt I had to act out a role to seek publicity and to do that I had to be controversial and shock people with how I talked. To some degree it worked. But playing the role got to the point where I didn’t know what was real and what was the act.”
“I confess I didn’t react as I should have done and I regret how I came across at times. I was angry and felt under-appreciated.” Fury recalls anxiety attacks in his teenage years as the moments when his mental health problems first became apparent. He also says he hit new lows in 2014 when he was forced to sell assets to cover the costs he faced when two fights with compatriot David Haye fell through.
But in the hours after his win over Klitschko he recalls feeling “empty”. He explains that after the bout he also began to feel the impact of bottling up emotions following the death of his uncle and a miscarriage suffered by wife Paris six months into a pregnancy. Fury was diagnosed with bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder in 2016.
The former IBF, WBO and WBA world champion now encourages mental health sufferers to follow his own example in seeking professional help.
Having recovered from an horrendous eye injury in his last bout and scaring the life out of his boxing buddies and backers by taking part in a WWE wrestling match in Saudi Arabia – albeit briefly and successfully – he is preparing to face WBC world champion Deontay Wilder in a rematch in February. Certainly he won’t be fazed by heavy-handed Wilder’s ko of Luis Ortiz last weekend. For last winter he recovered after being knocked down in the 12th round by a similarly vicious punch and battled on to battle on in the manner which encapsulated the journey he has made back from darkness and despair.
Smash hit movies have been made of boxing backstories far less bizarre than Tyson Fury’s. No doubt it won’t be long before those cameras are whirring.