For Tyson Fury it was the sweetest of redemption songs. Moments after regaining the heavyweight title in the early hours of Sunday in Las Vegas, he began serenading the 16,000-strong crowd at the MGM Grand with a boisterous two-minute rendition of Don McLean’s American Pie, beaming from ear to ear as they joined in.
It was a highly unorthodox celebration after a dazzling dismantling of the fearsome WBC champion Deontay Wilder. Then again, little in the life and times of Fury, 6ft 9in tall and 19 stone, has been conventional.
When Fury was born in 1988, nearly three months premature, he weighed less than a pound and doctors feared he would not survive. His father, John, named him Tyson after the then heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, and promised hospital staff his son would emulate his namesake.
Tyson fulfilled that prophecy in November 2015 when he stunned Wladimir Klitschko to become world champion – but then went on such a dizzying downward spiral that his friends feared for his life.
Fury became addicted to cocaine and alcohol, allowed his weight to balloon to more than 28½ stone, and had struggles with severe depression. At one point he would drink 18 pints of lager a day, follow it up with whisky and vodka, and then stop off on the way home for pizzas and kebabs. In 2017 he accepted a backdated two-year doping ban for testing positive for elevated levels of the banned substance nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, which he claimed came from uncastrated wild boar or contaminated supplements.
Now, incredibly, he is back on top of the world. “It was a good performance considering I am a fat pig and I can’t punch,” joked Fury. “I’ve had the highs and lows, but this is the icing on the cake.”
His promoter, Frank Warren, who hailed Fury’s performance as the best he had ever seen from a British fighter in his 40 years in the sport, said he hoped a reunification fight with Anthony Joshua, the Londoner who holds the WBA, IBF and WBO versions of the heavyweight title, would happen next. “It would be the biggest sporting event to take place in the UK since England won the World Cup,” said Warren. “You could not be able to get a ticket for it. The country would absolutely stop.”
Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, said his man wanted the fight: “We will never get the opportunity in this sport to do it again with two Brits. I have already spoken to AJ, he wants this fight. He has zero fear of fighting Tyson Fury and he wants to be undisputed.” There is, however, a major stumbling block: Wilder has a rematch clause in his contract with Fury, which can be activated in the next 30 days.
Such is Fury’s popularity that the bookmakers make him the early favourite to be the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, though perhaps no other British sports star has divided opinion more sharply than the self-proclaimed Gypsy King. For while Fury’s many fans have hailed his victory over Wilder as a joyous resurrection after his mental health and other issues, his detractors remain alarmed that someone who has failed a drugs test and made abhorrent comments on homosexuality, Judaism and women should be hailed a sporting hero.
In the past Fury has equated homosexuality and abortions with paedophilia, claimed “Zionist, Jewish people … own all the banks, all the papers, all the TV stations” and “a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back”.
While Fury has apologised for some of his remarks, pointing out that as a man of Traveller heritage he has suffered bigotry and abuse all his life, some believe that he should have been more contrite.
Mark Borkowski, a PR expert who has represented Diego Maradona, Michael Jackson, Virgin and Cadbury, says major brands will still be wary of Fury’s views. “Clearly Tyson is an incredibly gifted fighter and a once-in-a-generation showman,” he says. “But he carries a whole heap of baggage that will make many brands not want to go near him.
“If Joshua had just stopped Wilder as spectacularly as Fury has just done, he would be in line to make gazillions. I don’t see that happening with Fury.”
Such concerns are unlikely to bother Fury, who made a guaranteed $25m (£19.2m) from his fight with Wilder. He also insists that he is a changed man from the last time he held the heavyweight title. Time will tell. That is one promise that everyone – be they Fury’s fans or his detractors – will be hoping holds true.
The Guardian Sport