Tyson Fury’s path to Deontay Wilder rematch: Bravado, bravery, controversy

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Tyson Fury’s journey to his Feb. 22 heavyweight rematch with Deontay Wilder has been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs.

Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs), 31, from Manchester in England, became one of boxing’s biggest stars after ending Wladimir Klitschko’s long reign as world heavyweight champion in November 2015, and then nearly beat Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs), 34, in December 2018 in a famous draw.

They meet again at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, for Wilder’s WBC world heavyweight title in the latest stage of Fury’s up-and-down career. Fury has even talked about having three fights in total before retiring at the end of this year.

If and when “The Gypsy King” does hang up his gloves, it will bring the curtain down on a crazy, checkered and largely successful career.

Jump to:

2008-2011: Perfect start | 2011-15: Rise and fall

2016-18: The exile | 2018-Present: The comeback

2008-2011: Perfect start

Debut delight

Fury, 20, made his professional debut on the undercard of Carl Froch’s first world title fight in Nottingham in December 2008. Just back from honeymoon with wife Paris, Fury made brief work of his first professional opponent by stopping Hungarian Bela Gyongyosi in the first round. This was in the days before Fury joined Twitter in December 2010, so he did his talking through traditional media.

Quotable: Fury told this reporter after just one professional fight: “There’s nothing out there that worries me. I’m 6 feet, 8 inches and 259 pounds, which is an advantage, but I can also move and have speed, which is unusual for a big heavyweight.

“You have got David Haye [who would win the WBA world title in 2009] and Matt Skelton who are above domestic level, but apart from that there’s not much.

“Danny Williams [who knocked out Mike Tyson in 2004] is British champion, but he’s had too many hard battles now, and I don’t think he would do five rounds with me.”

Significance: Fury got good exposure in the U.K. — his first professional fight was shown live on free-to-air television channel ITV in the U.K., with over 5 million viewers tuning in to see Froch beat Jean Pascal — and was kept busy by promoter Mick Hennessy, who said: “As long as he stays focused, he’s destined to be a genuine world heavyweight champion. This is the best heavyweight to turn pro since Lennox Lewis, anywhere in the world.” Fury made nine appearances in his first year as a professional, maximizing exposure at home.

Bold declaration

Fury took a significant step forward when he unanimously outpointed Dereck Chisora for the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles at Wembley Arena in July 2011. A television audience of 3 million tuned in on free-to-air Channel 5 in the UK to see Fury outpoint Chisora. Both had records of 14-0 going into the fight.

Quotable: “I’m the man to end the Klitschkos’ reign,” Fury said. “This is my era, and I’m going to rule the roost. I guarantee it will be very exciting times.”

2011-2015: Rise and fall

First scare

But it was not all plain sailing for Fury as he edged closer to the major titles, and he had to navigate some choppy waters before he got his first shot at global glory.

Fury was floored for the first time in his career by unknown Canadian Neven Pajkic in the second round of a fight staged in the middle of a shopping complex on the outskirts of Manchester in November 2011. Fury got up after being caught by a right hand, his head quickly cleared, and he stopped Pajkic one round later to retain his Commonwealth heavyweight title. Pajkic complained about the stoppage, and it was a wild performance from Fury.

Quotable: “It takes a true champion to get knocked down like that and get back up. It shook up the brain, but I need a bit of shaking up to wake up.”

Battling depression and weight gains

Another television audience of more than a million tuned in to see a better performance from Fury when he traveled to Belfast to stop Martin Rogan in April 2012. Weighing his lightest yet, Fury floored the 40-year-old twice in a fifth-round win.

Quotable: Before fighting Rogan, Fury had a worrying time out of the ring when his baby son, Prince, was rushed to hospital with breathing problems.

He said: “I was going through bouts of depression last year. I didn’t understand what I had and everything was no good, everything I had was rubbish and I just wanted more. But now I realize everything can be taken away from you just like that and I just appreciate life more. I suppose it’s partly because of what happened with Prince.

“I’ve had to lose a fair bit of weight. After the problems with Prince before Christmas, I wasn’t training because my head wasn’t right and put on five stone. It took about two months to lose the weight.”

Stalking Klitschko

Fury had already started the mind games with Klitschko. After beating Rogan, he said: “I believe I’ve got one over on him already. We had a sauna competition out at his training camp in Austria in October last year and I mentally broke him down.

“I almost passed out in the sauna before I got out. We were in there with a few of his training team and everyone was getting out after 10 minutes.

“Me and him stayed in. It got to 15 minutes and I was having to count down the seconds in my head just to get through it.

“I was putting the oil on myself and eventually he got up in a huff and walked out without speaking to anyone. I had done him. I’ve watched Wladimir at his training camp, and I know how to beat him.”

Second scare

After stopping Vinny Maddalone at the surreal surrounding of an equestrian center in Somerset, England, Fury made his American debut in April 2013 against former world cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham, who was six inches smaller than Fury, at the Madison Square Garden Theater, New York.

But after some confident prefight trash talk, the then 24-year-old Fury faced humiliation when he was floored by Cunningham in the second round. Fury got up to win the fight with a right hook 55 seconds before the end of the seventh round — and then sang to the crowd on the microphone from the ring. Fury was proving to be an entertaining heavyweight to watch (and listen to), but there were flaws in his game.

Quotable: “You can’t go swimming and not get wet. I got caught with a big swinging right hand, and if you do not see them coming then you will go down. I turned it into a dogfight. The fighter in me came out tonight. I was just hunting him down like a deer. I think it was a good performance.”

Significance: The scares against the likes of Pajkic and Cunningham taught Fury a lesson to focus more. He tended to play to the crowd, and the lapses in concentration led to mistakes. Importantly, Fury was able to get off the canvas and win both fights by stoppage as he neared world title contention.

Talking a good game

Things began to heat up between Fury and Wilder on Twitter, with repeated call-outs of each other in the latter part of 2013. It was a period of inactivity for Fury, who was supposed to be fighting David Haye in an all-British encounter, only for it to be repeatedly postponed because of training injuries for Haye. The fight never happened.

Meanwhile, in the ring, it took just two more wins for Fury to secure a shot at Ukrainian Klitschko’s WBA, IBF and WBO belts.

In September 2014, Fury was fined £15,000 by the British Boxing Board of Control for expletive-laden comments made at a news conference before facing Chisora in a world title eliminator, and also for the British and European heavyweight titles, in November of that year.

Chisora was pulled out at the end of the 10th round, and talks had already started to make the Klitschko fight before Fury forced Christian Hammer to retire in February 2015.

Quotable: “In years to come they will be speaking my name alongside Achilles, Hector and Alexander the Great,” Fury said about himself before facing Chisora again. “In 100 years they will still be talking about Tyson Fury, the greatest heavyweight from Great Britain. Special talents like me come round once every 500 years. Special, special talents. I’m like a top racehorse. I will go down in history like Red Rum.”

Crowning moment

Fury was an unfancied challenger when he traveled to the ESPRIT Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany, to take on Klitschko for his three world titles. Perhaps Klitschko underestimated the danger Fury posed and did not take him as seriously as he should have done after Fury had dressed up as Batman at one news conference, head-butted a watermelon on social media and sang to Klitschko earlier in fight week.

When the Briton emerged for the first round, he was a figure of perpetual movement, which he sustained all fight, and outboxed Klitschko to end his reign via a unanimous decision.

Quotable: After beating Klitschko, Fury said: “I always said what I would do and I’ve delivered tonight. I didn’t have this confidence for nothing, I knew I could come here and upset the apple cart.

“I saw in his eyes tonight he was going to lose the fight, and he saw the new, hungry champion in me. Will it change me? I’m the heavyweight champion and I’ve still got Slazenger socks on.”

Significance: It was 39-year-old Klitschko’s first loss in 11 years, in his 19th title defense and after nine and a half years as champion, despite having started the fight as an overwhelming favorite. Fury pulled off one of the biggest shocks in heavyweight history, the biggest achievement of Fury’s career to date, but it also marked the beginning of a slide into chaos. After this high-profile, £3 million payday, Fury made no defenses, and his boxing career would soon appear to be over.

2016-2018: The exile

From hero to zero

It was not long before everything began to unravel for Fury.

First, he was stripped of the IBF belt before the end of 2015 for agreeing to an immediate rematch with Klitschko rather than face the governing body’s mandatory challenger. Fury then pulled out of a scheduled date for the rematch in July 2016 with an ankle injury, and it got worse for Fury in August when UK’s anti-doping body revealed it had charged Fury with a doping offense, and he had failed a drug test in February 2015.

A second date for the Klitschko rematch was scrapped as Fury was judged “medically unfit”, and in October 2016 Fury revealed he had been using cocaine, was drinking too much and was suffering from depression. He relinquished the WBA and WBO belts, and his boxing license was also suspended in the same month.

Also in 2016, Fury was heavily criticized for anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist comments. Fury was eventually given a backdated two-year ban for testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.

2018- Present: The comeback

On the hunt for Wilder

In exile, Fury piled on the pounds while the WBA, WBO and IBF titles fell into the hands of his English rival Anthony Joshua. A return to the top level seemed unlikely, but Fury managed it in just two warm-up fights after he claimed to have lost eight stone in weight.

Fury’s top target was American Wilder, the WBC champion, after years of back-and-forth baiting on Twitter. Fury insisted he was still the man to beat as lineal champion and eased back into his boxing career after a two-year, seven-month exile with an undemanding four-round win over Sefer Seferi in June 2018.

Fury’s second comeback fight again did not offer much of a test — he won every round of a 10-round points decision over Francesco Pianeta — before it was announced he would face Wilder next.

Quotable: Fury told Wilder to his face in the ring in Belfast, August 2018, “One thing I do promise you, when I go to Las Vegas, I’m knocking you the f— out.”

At the news conference later at Windsor Park, when Fury sang Don McLean’s “American Pie” to the media, he said: “When I said I wanted four warm-up fights back, I was a sloth of 27 stones, fat as a pig, drinking every day.

“So in my mind, I might have needed four fights but training for nine months and having two fights back-to-back, I now know that I’m really ready.

“I didn’t need as much time as I thought I did. My timing is there. My movement is there. My speed is back. Everything is how it should be. There’s no need for two more warm-up fights, it would just be a waste of time.”

Significance: British fans warmed to Fury upon his comeback to the ring and his two warm-up fights attracted crowds of 20,000-plus. But what those warm-up fights did not answer was how Fury would cope against an elite level opponent and someone who hits as hard as Wilder. Fury would enter the Wilder fight as the underdog, with questions hanging over him.

Thrilling draw sets up rematch

Fury once again upset the odds and boxed brilliantly in a world title fight, frustrating Wilder who was unable to land his big right hand until the ninth round when the Briton hit the canvas. Fury beat the count but was down again in the last round, this time more heavily, and it looked as though he wouldn’t get up. He did, but the knockdowns proved decisive. Despite outboxing Wilder for long periods of the fight, Fury had to settle for a draw as Wilder retained his belt for the eighth time at the Staples Center, Los Angeles.

Quotable: “I got knocked down twice, but I still believe I won that fight. That man is a fearsome puncher, and I was able to avoid that. The world knows I won the fight.”

Unexpected danger

We’ve had to wait for part two of the Wilder-Fury drama, which came perilously close to being lost as Fury suffered a pair of gruesome cuts early in his last fight against Sweden’s Otto Wallin in Las Vegas last September. The wounds required 47 stitches, and Fury was relieved to have been allowed to complete the fight and win unanimously on points.

His most recent appearance in a ring came in Saudi Arabia last October when he made his WWE debut against Braun Strowman. Fury even won that — his undefeated record remains intact.

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