Tyson Fury casts off obesity and depression to chase heavyweight glory against Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder
The sun is beating down on the Costa del Sol, boats are gleaming in the marina at Puerto Banus and Tyson Fury could not be happier. Britain’s former world champion has his mind back on what he feels he was put on earth to do: to fight, and to entertain.
Boxing’s heavyweight division might be big box office right now – with four undefeated champions in Fury and Anthony Joshua, the New Zealander Joseph Parker and Deontay Wilder, of America, all vying for overall supremacy – but Fury is convinced he can defy his sceptics and prove himself the rightful No 1.
The 28-year-old – who has not stepped inside a ring since dethroning Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf in November 2015 – invited The Telegraph into his Spanish training camp last weekend, ahead of arguably the most important day of his career, when he appears today at a UK Anti-Doping hearing in London over claims he tested positive for nandrolone in February 2015.
In a wide-ranging interview, he revealed: He “did not want to live any more” after the doping allegations first surfaced in April 2016. He hopes to return to the ring in July for a fight on the the undercard of Billy Joe Saunders’ world middleweight title bout at the Copper Box. Eddie Hearn has already booked Wembley Stadium for a fight with Anthony Joshua in April 2018.
His current weight has ballooned to 25 stone but he intends to shed 100 pounds to return to his optimum fighting weight of just over 18st.
Fury – who divides his time in Spain between gruelling work-outs at the MTK Gym and pounding runs along the waterfront – had already been determined to make a comeback, but Joshua’s victory over Klitschko at Wembley nine days ago has sharpened his focus.
“I watched the Joshua-Klitschko fight live in a little pub around the corner drinking bottles of water, screaming him on,” Fury says. “Of course I wanted A J to win. We are talking a mega fight between me and him: the two biggest heavyweights out there, 250lb versus 260lb, 6ft 5in and 6ft 9in, both young, fresh and unbeaten.”
Fury was the first name Joshua had mentioned in the post-fight interview after knocking out Klitschko in the 11th round of a thrilling encounter.
“It was inevitable he would call me out – it’s a natural fight. He wants it, I want it. The public wants it, the world wants it,” explained Fury.
“If we don’t get it on, there will always be those doubts: woulda, shoulda, coulda. We are both willing to fight, so it needs to happen. Let’s dance. It’s a boxer versus a fighter, we’re opposites. He’s everything I’m not.”
The public’s fascination with the self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ remains undimmed. During our time together, he is continually stopped by well-wishers and selfie-hunters, and he is happy to play up to his persona as boxing’s lovable rogue.
Yet his real enthusiasm lies in contemplating a fight with Joshua, having analysed his victory over Klitschko in minute detail.
“It was a real ‘pick ’em’ fight,” he says. “And Klitschko was no better or no worse than when I fought him. There were many stages in the fight when it could have gone either way. Joshua’s inability to fight on the inside and his leaky defence was there for everybody to see. Klitschko has three punches – the jab, the left hook and the right hand – and Joshua got hit by all of them. His ability to get up and recover showed heart, which is great, but he didn’t throw a punch for three rounds after he was hurt. He has no long-lasting stamina. He fights in bursts and recovers.”
Then the fighting talk. “I will be controlling him with movement and my jab, and he will have to come hunting for me after being round after round down. The others in the division have only got a puncher’s chance against me and if I’m stupid enough to put my chin out there, and let some muscle-bound man hit me on the chin with a big swing, then I must be silly enough to be beaten by them.
“I will just give Joshua a boxing lesson, and I believe I would stop him late in the fight, after he’s tired of chasing me round and missing. I’m 28, not 41, like Klitschko. Joshua really is an easy fight for me.”
Fury is very confident, very lucid, and while it is hard to reconcile the image of him in his current condition with the man who pulled off that stunning win over Klitschko, he insists a meeting with Joshua for what would be the biggest all-British fight ever staged is no pipe dream.
“Eddie Hearn [Joshua’s promoter] has already booked Wembley Stadium for next April,” he insists. “There isn’t another stadium where it should take place. I would fight Joshua in October, but I believe Klitschko will take the rematch. Deep down, I don’t think they want to fight me yet. Joshua struggled with Klitschko. And I took Klitschko to school, toyed with him, put my hands behind my back, literally, while he was letting his cannons go, slipping out of the way of them. They are not ready for that.”
Fury is warming to his theme. “A lot of people have picked A J to beat me, but I’ve said many times that we are in a sport called ‘the sweet science’ and it’s not a bodybuilding contest or a strongman competition. Joshua is an easy fight for me.”
The only moment when Fury is less forthcoming is when he is asked to discuss the depression and mental health issues he suffered last year. He would rather focus on the future, although he does reveal the toll taken by suggestions he is a drugs cheat.
“To be honest I didn’t want to live,” he reveals. “If I had cheated, fine. But I have not cheated. I beat Klitschko on ability, I don’t need a drug. I’m a giant already. For them to say that about me, it sent me under. I did not want to live any more. But I feel differently now.”
Fury also admits to being “fascinated” by Prince Harry’s disclosure in a Telegraph interview two weeks ago that boxing had provided succour as he attempted to come to terms with his unresolved grief at the death of his mother.
For Fury, the support of his childhood sweetheart and now wife, Paris, has been crucial. “My wife is a very loving wife, she is there for me,” he says. “Without her, I would probably not be in the position I am today. I do owe her everything. Behind every good man is a better woman. I’ve only myself to blame for what I have done to myself, ballooning up in weight, drinking, eating junk food and not training. But through it all, Paris has been there for me. She always gives me her all, you know.”
And there is more good news for the couple. “We also have another child on the way,” Fury says with a smile. “Paris is three months pregnant with our fourth child.”
Family has been an important crutch for Fury as he has wrestled with his personal demons, but he is now “hell-bent” on coming back. “You have to be like that,” he explains. “Up until I decided to come to Spain, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to fight again. After the Klitschko fight, I had achieved my dreams and goals. I didn’t want to be the unified heavyweight champion of the world. My goal had been to beat Klitschko. I grew up watching him from 2006 when I was an amateur, and when I turned pro in 2008, my goal was always to beat him.
“And when it came, it was easy. The sponge on the canvas wasn’t easy and left me with blisters on my feet, but the hardest part of that whole thing was getting home. I had to drive home with Paris because she was pregnant and we went on the ferry from Rotterdam. That was harder than 12 rounds with Klitschko.”
Fury knows he has much to prove if he is to fight Joshua and regain his title. But the journey has started, with three hard training sessions a day helping him shed some of the weight he has piled on in the past 18 months.
“In the first 10 days here in Spain, I lost 1st 9lb. I’ve done it 24 times before. After every fight I go up between three to five stone. Then I train hard, eat right and drink plenty of water – and the weight flies off. Between fights, I find myself stagnant, bored and comfort eating. I can’t train when I’ve got nothing to train for, I’m fit for purpose and my purpose is fighting. Let’s face it, I have been overweight for a while. I needed to get back in the ring and prove all the doubters wrong. Not for them, for me.”
Fury is under no illusion that Joshua is the undisputed golden boy of British boxing, not simply in his devastating record since turning professional, but in his courteous and classy demeanour outside the ring – an attitude which, it must be said, stands in contrast to Fury, who has regularly been forced to apologise for distasteful remarks regarding everything from women, the gay community and Jewish people.
“I’m not annoyed that A J has been lifted up there by some people out there as the No 1,” he admits. “They were saying before that he could beat me. It is what it is. I am the outlaw of this boxing game – and I love it.
“I’ve been written off so many times. How many times was Muhammad Ali written off in his career? But come Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, he beat them all. And when the time comes, I’ll go through them, and all their unbeaten records will fall.
“I believe I’m the most talented heavyweight out there and the one chance they have of beating me is if I don’t prepare myself physically and mentally right for the fights, and don’t want it enough.”
And what of his past behaviour – the outrageous outbursts, the vicious remarks, and the opprobrium they have all attracted? Has that Tyson Fury really been left in the past?
“We all make mistakes in our life. A fool makes mistakes over and over again. I’ve said a lot of things in the past I’m not proud of. Far from it. Let it go, though, please. Don’t keep bringing it up.
“It’s time to move on to the next chapter. What I’ve learnt is not to talk about anything other than boxing – but I will entertain and be the lovable rogue, sure. Boxing is a serious business, but it’s an entertainment industry as well, so I am here to entertain the people that come out.
“Beating Klitschko was my Everest moment – not just defeating Klitschko, but toying with him – and it will never be done again. But the goalposts have moved and new goals and new challenges have to be set. There has not been a target I have ever set myself in my life that I did not achieve. If I set my mind to something, I do it.”
Having been around Fury for almost a decade, my feeling is that there has, indeed, been a small shift in his outlook, and it is clearly for the better.
He will not change the singing, the outlandish Batman suits or the quickfire banter, but the demons have gone; a positive verdict at his hearing on Monday and the fighter can fly again.
“I’m not coming back to prove any doubters wrong,” he says, as we part. “What I’m doing is for myself, to get fit again, set myself a goal, lose 100lb in weight, and take the other undefeated heavyweight champions out one by one.
“I’ve had hurdles, the worst kind of hurdles. I’m over them and back on track. When I come back it’s going to be a new, refreshed Tyson Fury. The world’s dominant champion.”