The microphone slid across the table, and suddenly it was the Tyson Fury show. Standing at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds of, according to Fury, "big sexy," boxing's best heavyweight prospect already cut an imposing figure. Undefeated, a British heavyweight champion, a volume-punching knockout artist, Fury already commanded attention. Throw a microphone in his hand and, well, his personality envelops an entire room.
"It's all about me, me, me," Fury said. "I'm the best fighter on the planet. I'm the undefeated one, I'm bringing this show to town. Without me, there is no fight."
This is the Tyson Fury the public has come to know -- brash, cocky, a man with no filter. One by one, heavyweight contenders around the world have either been nursed by a collection of stiffs or exposed by veterans who refused to just fall over. There is David Price, a fellow Brit who was knocked sideways by journeyman Tony Thompson. There is Deontay Wilder, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist who has yet to face an opponent who can fight back. Then there's Robert Helenius, a 6-7 knockout artist who has yet to show the polish needed to challenge the world's best.
Yet along with all of his talk is a depth to Fury that he rarely reveals. Just about 16 months ago, Fury didn't think boxing was worth his time. He was winning fights, sure. Knockout followed by knockout followed by knockout. Without even training, Fury racked up a 14-0 record. In 2011, he battered British contender Dereck Chisora. Two months later, he stopped Nicolai Firtha in five rounds. Modern heavyweights live in a Gulliver's Travels world; they need to be big and good, and Fury was both.
Except he wasn't. Not to himself, anyway. For most of his career, Fury despised boxing. He partied, he drank, and then, because of his physical stature, he was able to regroup and knock his opponent out cold. But he was fat and out of shape, and he hated himself for it. He drank until three or four in the morning the nights before fights, relying on the pop that came from his massive frame to carry him before he punched himself out. "At that point of my life, nothing mattered to me," Fury said. "I was just going through the motions. I gave up on life."
Like many heavyweights, Fury could have followed a familiar path. He could have fought fringe opponents and built a gaudy record. His size would have inevitably caught the attention of heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko. And he would have stepped in, grabbed a payday, and returned to the unknown ranks.
But Fury's ascent was stalled. In 2011, his son, Prince, then just seven weeks old, was diagnosed with a severe case of bronchitis and pneumonia. Doctors told Fury and his wife, Paris, that their boy only had a 20-percent chance to live. "What Tyson experienced with his son," said promoter Mick Hennessy, "was life changing." Around the same time, Fury's father, John, was sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted of gouging out another man's eye during a brawl.
These experiences, Fury says, were what set him straight. With his son fighting for his life, Fury began thinking more about taking care of his family. In 2011, he hooked up with his uncle, Peter Fury, who recommitted him to a training and nutritional regiment. He began to take his career more seriously. Last April, in his first fight with Peter behind him, Fury knocked out Martin Rogan. Three months later, he stopped Vinny Maddalone. Last December, Fury blanked Kevin Johnson. The once flabby frame he brought to the ring had been chiseled down to a more svelte frame, and he was seeing the results.
"I always thought Tyson would be like Larry Holmes, where he would never have a quality physique," Hennessy said. "But he has trained like a Trojan. He has sacrificed everything. I never thought I would ever see his body in this shape."
On Saturday, Fury (20-0) will look to take the next step in his career when he faces Steve Cunningham (25-5) at Madison Square Garden (NBC, 4 p.m.). The stakes are high for both -- the winner, per the IBF, is headed for a fight with Kubrat Pulev, with the winner of that fight guaranteed a shot at unified titleholder Wladimir Klitschko.
In a division starved for a top heavyweight with personality, Fury fits the bill. "He was named after Mike Tyson and he talks like Muhammad Ali," said Cunningham's trainer, Naazim Richardson. "He may walk to the ring in [Evander] Holyfield's robe." But as many would-be contenders are exposed, Fury is keenly aware just how far tough talk can take him. And as he addressed a roomful of reporters, Fury made it clear he was ready to back his talk up.
"All I want to do is to say what is going to happen in the fight," Fury said. "Fury comes out jabbing, Cunningham is running around the ring and 'bam,' game over. And then, people, I am in New York and the Fury will be unleashed. That is all I have to say. No bullsh--. Let's get it on."