As Deontay Wilder must have imagined at various moments in their first world heavyweight title fight – memorable but inconclusive – there is more than one Tyson Fury. The most familiar is the boxing beast, who lay flat on his back in a Los Angeles ring 14 months ago, eyes shut, brain scrambled by connection with the electricity running through the American’s long right arm, before rising from the canvas in the 12th round like a wrestling actor to astonish the world and snatch a draw. He also shocked Wilder, who was certain he had done enough to make Fury his 39th knockout victim in 40 fights.
The second Fury is split in two. On nearly every day but Sunday, the Mancunian is engaged and physically alive, a dedicated pugilist. His commitment to his demanding, demented trade – spectacularly absent early in his career – could hardly have been better illustrated than when he stripped 10 stones of fat from his abused body to make a comeback in June 2018, after an absence of two and a half years. For 12 weeks, he has been a model of discipline preparing for his rematch with Wilder at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday. Sundays are different. On Sundays his spirit dips. He is no longer a warrior, but a worrier.
“I hate Sundays,” Fury says in an international telephone hookup that crackles and fades despite the best efforts of the link provider, BT Sport, who will show the fight on pay-per-view in the UK. “I take Sunday off. It’s always a slow, long day for me, Sunday.”
The real enemy in his life, then, is not the awesome Wilder but a version of bipolar disorder, mixed with OCD, which was diagnosed only after the glorious high of his victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. “I do it all myself,” he said of handling the extreme mood swings and crashes in energy levels. And darkness is never far away, as he told an American TV host last year: “There wasn’t a day that I woke up that I didn’t pray for death.”
“It’s an ongoing concern,” Fury says. “And it will be until the day I die. It’s not something you can cure. It’s something that stays with you and will always come back. But, as long as you keep a routine life and healthy living, I think you’ll be OK.”
In this, he echoes Frank Bruno, who also lives with bipolar disorder and has made a lifetime commitment to the disciplines of the gym to hold his demons at bay.
Nor is perceived fame an antidote or even a catalyst. “I’ve not felt any pressure because I don’t class myself as famous,” Fury says. “I class myself as a boxer – not a famous person, not a celebrity, just some boxing guy: fat, bald head, living in Morecambe and going on the school runs. That, to me, is keeping my feet firmly on the floor, and not being a famous person at all.”
Boxing is littered with tough but vulnerable individuals who have been felled by anxiety, depression, addiction or insecurity, from Joe Louis to Bruno, and none more publicly than Oliver McCall. The American, who called himself the Atomic Bull, had a panic attack in the ring against Lennox Lewis in 1997. The man with the thousand-mile stare and a drug habit that began in his early teens had come through prison and rehab before contesting the vacant WBC title; in the first round, he sobbed uncontrollably. Having barely thrown a punch, he was led to his corner, distraught and confused, in the fifth. They froze McCall’s purse and fined him $250,000. He later returned to prison.
So Fury carries more with him into the ring at the MGM Grand this coming weekend than gloves and bad intentions. He has the burden of mental illness. How he handles the mental pressures – let alone the threat of being knocked unconscious – will determine the course of the contest. Fury, who is unbeaten, has looked ordinary in two fights since they last met but if he can raise his level and box with intense concentration rather than be drawn into a slugging match with a knockout monster he has a chance.
Perverse as ever, he says: “I’ll go for an all-out brawl. I’m not bothered about getting hit and hurt. I’ve been hit and hurt loads of times. I’m going out swinging. Deontay Wilder says he’s coming out swinging. So we’ll see who’s full of shit and who’s a man of his word. I’m coming out like a raging bull.”
Ben Davison, the trainer and friend who reinvigorated Fury’s career when he returned in 2018 but was dropped recently in favour of the Kronk Gym graduate SugarHill Steward, worries about the strategy. But Fury – who has not ruled out a reconciliation with Davison – is his own man. He sacked his uncle, Peter, after all, and they had found a way to beat Klitschko, delivering what Fury cherishes as the linear heavyweight title.
Fury wants Wilder’s WBC belt but says the lights of the world’s boxing capital have never dazzled him. “I’m booked out to go home the next day. No interest in partying in Vegas. I’m going straight home, and back in the gym the next day.” And the school run. Snatches of normality.
One of the ringside judges 14 months ago was the respected Robert Tapper, a senior partner in a Winnipeg law firm. He marked the fight 114-112 for Fury and, for whatever reason, has not been ringside since. He is designated “inactive” in official records. Maybe, then, Fury is right to distrust the judges, to try the oldest method in boxing to break the deadlock with Wilder. Whatever else he is, the King of the Gypsies is a fighting man.