Tyson Fury sauntered into a plush conference room at Wembley Stadium, ripped off his shirt, placed his WBC world heavyweight champion belt on the table, sat down, smiled and began talking in a near unbroken stream of words for the next 30 minutes. He compared himself to a T-Rex who was also the greatest heavyweight boxer who has ever lived – while stressing that he was “just an average Joe”.
Fury quoted Clark Gable and spun yarns about fairytales and legends. He pondered the emptiness of vast wealth but reiterated that he “came from fuck all”. The Gypsy King claimed to “feel like a dolphin in water” while fighting in the ring but described again the darkness that had engulfed him when, lost and bereft, he came close to taking his own life.
Late on Saturday night a light sheen of sweat lined his face as if in reminder that, less than an hour before, he had retained his world title against Dillian Whyte in front of a crowd of 94,000. Fury had stopped Whyte with a withering uppercut in the sixth round but he had since been to the dressing room of his vanquished opponent to “give Dillian a kiss and a cuddle.”
There were times, at the post-fight press conference, when it sounded as if Fury was in the midst of delivering a free-flowing eulogy for his own career. He reflected on each stage without much prompting. “I ain’t no world champion,” Fury insisted. “I’m a legend. I’m the best heavyweight there’s ever been. There ain’t ever been anyone that could beat me. I have a 6 foot 9 frame, 270 pounds of weight, can move like a middleweight, can hit like a thunderstorm, can take a punch like … anybody else.”
Those last two anonymous words, said with wry acknowledgement of his own vulnerability, were preceded by a pause. But then Fury was up and running again. “I’ve got balls like King Kong, the heart of a lion and the mindset of the Wizard of Oz.” He grinned like a slightly demented wizard and then nodded. “It was a very special night. What a way to top it all off.”
No one, it seems, really believes Fury will be able to give up boxing. Earlier this week he had said: “Boxing is my life. There is nothing else.”
But he again suggested on Saturday that he might finally walk away. “I’ve done everything asked of me. I’ve done more promotion, more interviews than anybody. I’ve had me brains knocked out. I’ve been put down, rocked and cut. I’ve had tough fights and boxed all over the world. How much blood can you get out of a stone?”
Of course professional boxing is about blood-money more than anything else and, in beating Whyte, Fury made a staggering $33,640,500 (£26,192,306). He would earn far more if he fights the winner of the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk, who holds the IBF, WBA and WBO belts, in a unification showdown.
“There’s a lot money to be earned,” Fury agreed, “but I come from fuck all, I come from nothing. It’s never been about money. I know a lot of people with big money, but none of them are happy. It’s not even been about belts or legacies for me. It’s not been about anything but punching a … face right in on the night. That’s all it’s ever been about.”
Fury is addicted to the razzmatazz of boxing, he is also impressively serious about his fighting craft. He loves to learn and improve and he paid tribute to his American trainer Sugarhill Steward who began working with him two-and-a-half years ago. Since then, Fury has knocked out Deontay Wilder twice and stopped Whyte.
Turning to Steward, who had also removed his shirt in solidarity, Fury said: “Years ago, I used to jib and jab, touch and slide. But you’ve made me the biggest puncher in the heavyweight division, by a mile.”
He then explained how they had changed his technique. “Sugahill made me feel like a rank novice. He made me feel like a complete piece of shit – and terrible as a boxer. He took the undefeated, lineal heavyweight champion of the world [and broke him down]. He’s the only man who can make me feel like a bum, like I’ve never had a fight. But it takes a special man to go back to brass tacks and start again. We took a lot of time and trouble over the last few years. Just practise, practise, practise, long-range punching, use the jab off the shoulder.
“The one punch that kept catching [Whyte] was the check hook. We practised it on the pads … bang bang … bang, bang. When I caught the Body Snatcher [as Whyte calls himself] with a left hook to the body I went: ‘You’re hurt, Body-Snatcher, ain’t you?’ And he went [Fury produces a wheezing imitation of Whyte]: ‘Yeah.’ So am I getting better? Hell, yeah.”
Considering Whyte’s limited role in the extravaganza on Saturday Fury said: “He tried to make it rough, fair play to him. But he was trying to wrestle with a dinosaur. I’m like a T-Rex in there.”
Fury grinned. “I was on fire tonight. I really enjoyed myself. I feel at home in that ring, I feel like a dolphin in water. It’s what I was born to do because I was always meant to be heavyweight champion of the world. I’m now going to become the second heavyweight in history after Rocky Marciano to retire undefeated.”
A Ukrainian journalist, sharing the disbelief that the Gypsy King is about to abdicate, asked Fury if he would prefer to fight Usyk or Joshua. After praising his rivals, Fury rocked back in his chair: “Like Clark Gable would say: “I just don’t give a damn who wins …”
He thanked his promoter Frank Warren who “brought me back from the brink of death and believed in me and gave me a big contract to box again [in 2018] … I’m just a normal lucky man, an average Joe, and I’ve proved that anything’s possible. It doesn’t matter where you are, how dark the place you’re in. It doesn’t get any darker than when you’re committing suicide and I was there. To lose all that weight, 10 stone, and to get mentally well again, to regain the crown jewels … it’s been a fantastic career.
“I think this is it. This might be the final curtain for The Gypsy King. What a way to go out.”
That simple word of “might” lingered as Fury said a cheerful farewell. The extraordinary show is, almost certainly, not quite over. We watched him leave and felt vaguely dazzled by the familiar realisation that, amid all his flaws and contradictions, there is no one else quite like Tyson Fury – in boxing or even in life itself.