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Loud suits, big mouth, a smile for everyone - 'Gypsy King' Tyson Fury is in his element for rematch with Deontay Wilder

Brit was a figure of hate after vacating titles, now the world is listening again

“The 'Gypsy King' is here to put on a show,” Tyson Fury yelled to a largely adoring crowd in Las Vegas this week. Fury looks in his element. The loud suits, the big mouth, a smile for everyone as he puts on his sales pitch for his rematch with Deontay Wilder.

This weekend, Fury challenges Wilder for the WBC heavyweight title, bidding to become a two-time world heavyweight champion. Thousands of British fans are flying in for the occasion.

“He’s a guy who’s larger than life, he knows how to promote himself,” Bob Arum, the veteran US promoter, said.

It wasn’t always like this. Fury’s comeback in the ring, after a two-and-a-half year gap that saw him balloon to around 181kgs, is impressive enough, but his comeback with the fans has been remarkable.

Flash back to September 2016, at Manchester Arena, England. The night before it had been announced that Fury had pulled out of his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko and was vacating his world heavyweight titles, having been declared “medically unfit to box”. And here he was, ringside, supporting his friend Isaac Lowe.

As Lowe’s fight finishes and Fury heads for the exit, the boos increase, the insults fly. There is little sympathy around for Fury. To many, he has become a figure of hate.

Ten months earlier he had won the WBA, WBO and IBF titles in a shock win over Klitschko in Dusseldorf. Fury had been largely unknown to the wider British sporting public before that and, with a series of controversial outbursts, it did not take many people long to decide that they did not like him.

Fury quickly fell out of love with the sport too. He stopped training, he began drinking, he over ate, he took drugs, he fell into a deep state of depression. By the time he handed his titles back, he was more than 63kgs overweight and his life was out of control.

Retribution was to come in Los Angeles, in 2018, as, after two low-key comeback fights, Fury challenged Wilder for the WBC title, climbing off the floor twice to earn a draw, even though the majority present in the crowd believed he had done enough to win. From the top of the world, to the bottom and back to the top. Now the world was ready to listen.

Slippery style

He will never win everyone over, but those that booed him now cheered. The sight of Fury as a broken man struck a chord with many. Fury became a warts-and-all character, apologising for nothing, but refusing to feel sorry for himself and not afraid to share his frailties. The contrast with the highly commercialised image of Anthony Joshua, who had won all his world title belts in his absence, was obvious.

At 2.10 metres, he is bigger than anyone he has ever faced, but his often negative, slippery style can make him a hard watch and a nightmare to box. “Like a snake,” was how Oleksandr Usyk, the former undisputed world cruiserweight champion, described him.

“He’s great fun to be around,” said Frank Warren, his British promoter. “You never know what is going to happen.”

But Fury is a complex character. He is always approachable but grows bored of the demands on him quickly. He can be a great showman but can hate being the centre of attention.

In interviews he keeps his more controversial opinions to himself now, answering “no comment” when pressed on the subjects. It is the same answer he gives to any questions about his doping case, which resulted in a messy backdated ban from UK Anti-Doping, covering the period he was out of the ring.

For the return with Wilder in Las Vegas, Fury is understood to be guaranteed $30 million (Dh110m). He says he will be gone in a year, win or lose. If he beats Wilder and goes on to defeat Joshua, he will go down as an all-time great. But could he walk away? He did that once and it ended badly. Maybe he would make a return to wrestling, having had a brief period in WWE last year, although that would surely struggle to hold his attention.

He admits he has struggles, even on rest days in training camp when he does not have the routine of going to the gym and is alone with his thoughts. “I hate Sundays,” he said. “It’s always a slow long day for me.”

Fury is smart enough not to claim he is cured. Things are seldom that easy. “It’s an ongoing concern and I think it will be until the day I die,” he said. “It can always come back.”

One way of coping with the pressure is to not make such a big deal about his fight with Wilder, the unbeaten American with the vicious right hand. “Nothing will ever top beating Klitschko in Germany,” he said. “That was the best ever performance by a British fighter.”

He shocked the world against Klitschko. But win or lose against Wilder, Fury’s legacy will be as much for the way he saved his career as the belts he won.

Updated: February 19, 2020 07:18 PM

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