LOS ANGELES — There is the Tyson Fury that you see, the gregarious, Paul Bunyan bearded 6’9” heavyweight with the quick wit and the wide smile. The world was formally introduced to this Fury in 2015, when Fury rolled into Dusseldorf and ended Wladimir Klitschko’s 11–year reign atop the heavyweight division.
He was 27, with a fighting style never before seen in the division.
He had the mouth to sell tickets and the skills to back it up.
Then there is the Tyson Fury that you don’t see, the man whose smile has been a front for the daily battle that goes on inside his mind. Fury took three titles off of Klitschko that night in Germany. He never defended a single one. He suggested after the fight he could retire. He agreed to a rematch against Klitschko—and then essentially did retire. He alienated millions with homophobic comments, he ballooned to close to 400 pounds, dabbled with cocaine and fell into an alcohol infused spiral.
He failed two drug tests. He surrendered his world titles. His career seemed over. His life nearly was.
In the summer of 2016, Fury hopped into his new Ferrari, revved the engine up to 160 miles per hour and barreled towards a bridge. “I didn’t care about nothing,” Fury told UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan on his podcast. “I just wanted to die so bad.” He didn’t. He thought of his children—he has four now, with a fifth on the way. He thought of his wife, Paris. He pulled over, his body shaking. He vowed to never think about suicide ever again.
Fast-forward to mid-November, to Freddie Roach’s famed Wild Card gym, and there is the Fury you see again. He is months removed from a pair of tuneup fights—a laugher against cruiserweight Sefer Seferi and a lopsided decision over long faded former title challenger Francesco Pianeta—that ended a 2 1/2 year layoff. He is weeks away from a showdown with heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder, an unbeaten American with thudding power.
He is in shape—well, he is in Fury shape. At his best, Fury never resembled a Greek god. If Wilder is carved out of rock, Fury is cut from Play-Doh. He weighed in at a career high 276 pounds for his fight against Seferi; he slimmed down to 258 pounds for his win over Pianeta. Team members say Fury is down to close to 250 for this fight—with the goal to be 245 pounds when he steps in the ring with Wilder.
He looks well. He says he feels well. Training again has something to do with it. “When I don't train I tend to get down and low so I need to train on a regular basis,” Fury said. “When I train I'm fine. I think with the boxing side of things it's always giving me something to look forward to, something to train for or a goal. And it's really helped me in the last year or so.”
He works the pads with Ben Davison, the 26-year-old trainer who has been charged with overseeing Fury’s comeback. Last year, Fury walked into Davison’s gym a shadow of his former self. He was 400 pounds, Fury says, “and could not run a mile.” Davison knew Fury still had his skills. Rediscovering his passion, his drive, the edge that made him heavyweight champion was the challenge.
The passion is back, Fury says. He is a different fighter now. The one who beat Klitschko? “He’s dead,” Fury told SI TV. “He died along with the drugs and the alcohol addiction.” This Fury is smarter. Savvier. Hungrier.
Or is he? What about the Fury we don’t see? His recovery has largely been of his own doing. He sought therapy, briefly, but declined any long-term treatment. He isn’t taking anti-depressants. He has seemingly willed himself back to the man he is today.
There is a natural mental toughness to Fury. He is a gypsy, a traveller, a member of what has long been one of the most persecuted minorities in the United Kingdom. He has described his kin as being treated as “no better than the dirt on people’s shoes.” He says he has heard every slur imaginable. Generations of mistreatment have hardened him.
But he has fallen so far. And only he knows how that fall has changed him.
On Saturday, Fury will step into the ring at Staples Center against his most dangerous opponent to date. Wilder is a concussive puncher, with 39 knockouts in 40 professional fights. There is little animosity between Wilder and Fury; both have admitted they respect, if not outright like each other. But Wilder has been aching for a moment like this, to stand across the ring from a popular, high-level heavyweight whose end will elevate his Q rating. Fury is it.
“You've got someone who's got dynamite power and he's going to be looking to land it; and you've got someone who's got great boxing skill and he's going to be trying to use that,” Fury said. “But at the end of the day, it's a fight and at some point or other, two men, heavyweights in the fight, will have to punch each other and stand and fight. And when that moment comes, you're going to see who's the better fighter, who can take the bad punches, and who can't.”
Fury says he is ready. Roach will assist Davison on Saturday, adding a Hall of Fame voice to Fury’s corner. But at some point, Wilder will likely take Fury to a dark place. He will land one of those big right hands, he will put Fury on the canvas, he will make him dig deeper in the ring than he ever has before.
Can he do it? Fury has overcome so much, any success against Wilder will seem insignificant. He has been his usual brash self in the build up to the fight, declaring himself the best heavyweight in boxing and suggesting Wilder will be easy to outclass. He sequestered himself in Big Bear, Calif. for the first stage of training camp and has been singularly focused during his time in L.A.
“I don't really care what Deontay Wilder is going to bring to the table,” Fury said. “As long as I do what I do best, I'm not really bothered by anything he does. I just hope he comes to fight, so that's what I'm hoping for.”
The fighter you see is ready. To win, the fighter you don’t must be ready, too.