Controversial yes, but Fury was an inspirational British sporting figure in and out of the ring over the last 12 months
Despite the boxer having requested last week that he should be removed from the shortlist of six, Tyson Fury should have won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award for 2020 – because there is no other bigger personality in British sport.
Lewis Hamilton was named the eventual winner with Jordan Henderson and Hollie Doyle second and third respectively and Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stuart Broad making up the rest of the contenders. If Fury had triumphed, the undefeated heavyweight champion would have been the fifth boxer to have won the award after Henry Cooper, twice (1967, 1970), Barry McGuigan (1985), Lennox Lewis (1999) and Joe Calzaghe (2007).
On Fury’s field of play itself, which this year meant in a ring in Las Vegas, Fury employed his outlandish humour, and his very own brand of psychology, to climb into the head of American opponent Deontay Wilder, before beating him up in seven rounds and claiming the World Boxing Council heavyweight crown in a rematch after a controversial draw in Los Angeles in 2018. What made the victory so remarkable was that Fury had been utterly transparent about his tactics for the fight, telling all who would listen – including Wilder, to his face – that “the bully was to get bullied”.
On February 23, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, carried into the ring on a throne with gold crown (his sobriquet is the Gypsy King) Fury duly set about Wilder with a relentless aggression, dropping him twice to the canvas and dominating the fight before the towel came in from the Alabaman’s corner. Fury was known as a boxer, moreover, not a puncher, and the performance resonated with fans in the arena and around the world. Fury then took to the microphone in the ring, to sing to his wife and fans in the arena. Few British sports personalities – if any – have crooned post-event, let alone post-fight.
Incidentally, the WBC heavyweight belt was the only one of the four major titles to have eluded Fury, the 6ft 9ind tall 19st boxer from the Traveller race having held the three other major titles when he defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. That year, Fury finished fourth in the BBC SPOTY awards list.
The victory over Wilder was one of the most comprehensive and celebrated victories by a British boxer abroad in history, to rank alongside Fury’s defeat of Klitschko in Germany, Lloyd Honeyghan’s welterweight world title in 1986 in Atlantic City over Donald Curry, and the victories of the likes of Lennox Lewis, Naseem Hamed, Joe Calzaghe and Ken Buchanan on the American continent.
But Fury’s year was not over in spite of lockdown. Having been open that he had been suffering from mental illness, Fury showed much about his home life, and his relationship with his family, through his Instagram social media channel when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, going through a daily morning exercise routine with his wife Paris, and often with his five children there, watched by hundreds of thousands of fans, many of whom joined in.
It was both revealing, honest, charming and at times utterly amusing as his children caused chaos, and his wife expressed her exasperation at being driven on in the workouts. What the sessions showed, in spite of his enormous fame and wealth, was that Fury kept fit for his mental health, and as he admitted last week in an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, kept his sanity. It provided an inspirational daily session for many watching, with Fury receiving thousands of messages from around the world from others who were suffering mental health issues.
On the back of it, Fury produced a book on wellness, and has become an advocate and ambassador for openness on mental health. Fury is an oft controversial figure, but has been nothing but an inspirational British sporting hero in 2020.