Now my reputation has been one of the fastest men alive
So I’m gonna see how good you are when I count to five.
Archie Bell and The Drells
Gamble and Huff (c) 1969
I don’t ride on roller coasters. Never have. As a kid they terrified me, as most things of the unknown, the uncontrollable usually did. Now decades later, and as fully formed as I’m likely to become, crown exposed and eyes narrowing, the echo of that timid narrator remains as does the preference for control and for certainty. The actions of others, whether my daughter prowling the football fields of Suffolk or unwitting fighters from Feather to Heavyweight, afford me opportunity to marvel at those with the qualities I craved and in this vicarious voyeurism, experience the gnaw of uncertainty and danger without the risk.
There is something of this in my affection for Tyson Fury, the lug from Manchester, with the big heart, bigger appetite and even bigger words.
Fury continues to defy conventional wisdom and through all the highs and lows and internal conflicts he always returns to the path less trodden. He has become boxing’s rogue alchemist, fusing the modern and the by gone, and is why I often think of him as a true Northern Soul. Just like the generation of youngsters who followed the driving beat of the lost and obscure music of Black America to the all-night hot-houses of Manchester, Wigan and Blackpool forty years ago and for who’s musical preferences the term was originally coined, he is an outlier. A natural, if troubled and occasionally awkward, rogue in a largely tailored, polished, endorsed and Instagrammed world.
Having clambered back from the edge of the abyss, a troubling descent Tyson has spoken of publicly in a quest to both understand it himself and to help those struggling with similar demons, he appears content and self-aware. There remains an uncertainty to his future, both beyond boxing and all its inherent routines, whenever that may be, and more imminently beyond every peak he reaches in the interim. I wrote in advance of his return that there remained the prospect that simply fighting again could satisfy all of his emotional needs and Seferi, and the pantomime of the bout, could’ve proved nothing more than a farewell embrace to a sport which has loved and loathed him in equal measure.
Happily, footage of his training, the evidence of his improving physique and the stream of press gold that falls from his lips whenever pressed to speak, this week’s nugget being the suggestion the public should expect “a heavyweight Sugar Ray Leonard, (anything less is a failure)” against Francesca Pianeta, encourages us to believe he can keep himself, and those of us in his thrall, on the tracks. Fury himself is adamant those dark days are behind him:
To lose that weight has been mentally, and physically, draining, that old Tyson Fury is gone, never to be seen again. The new Tyson Fury is here now.
There remain doubts about the ultimate success of his quest to reclaim what once was his. The heavyweight championship. And it is to reclaim, albeit it from two, rather one, champion. Where once I held the view Fury remained the King of the division holding, as he did, that seminal victory over Wladimir Klitschko time, and the opinion of others, has led me to a more pragmatic view.
Not least among these doubts is the selection of little known Ben Davison to take the coaching reigns of a fighter at the time barely escaped from a deep depression and suffocated by 140 pounds of blubber. A fresh beginning was perhaps to be expected, despite Fury’s historic loyalty to both family and those close to him from the beginning, like promoter Mick Hennessy, but Davison represented an unknown quantity too.
In hindsight, the choice may prove inspired and as we consider Fury’s mercurial talent and his need for both discipline and understanding to harness those skills and his psychological state, selecting a trainer without a blueprint imposed by experience and history may yet prove the logical appointment.
His current promoter, Frank Warren, is repeating the word lineal a lot these days, framing and rephrasing the ‘he never lost it in the ring’ party line to all inclined or obliged to listen. The break was just too long for this to conclusion to hold and whilst his renewed endeavour undermines the status of Deontay Wilder and the consensus argument behind Anthony Joshua too, it is sufficiently weakened by 30 months of inactivity to be refutable. That said, victory over Pianeta on Saturday night, with a top 15 opponent to follow in November and the momentum behind him, and the argument that he remains the ‘true’ champion until such time as he is beaten, will grow.
Despite the affirmations Warren continues to repeat, the veteran promoter has also made it plain from the beginning of their relationship that he viewed Fury’s climb back to the top, en route to clashes with Wilder or Joshua, as a slow process. His presence, to counterbalance the youth of Fury’s chosen trainer, is reassuring for those of us not inclined to embark on the white knuckle ride pushing Fury into one of those matches too soon would surely prove. There was evidence enough in the opening gambit versus Seferi to suggest there remained much to do, and whilst Fury’s physique and reflex continues to improve, as far as open work outs and photoshoots are representative, it would be foolish to rush toward either contest.
However, the temptation to steal a march on Joshua and his promoter of record Matchroom Sports, by securing a date with Wilder, will be ever harder to resist if Fury delivers on his Heavyweight Sugar Ray Leonard promise in Belfast this weekend. Particularly, as the current WBC champion will be ringside on pundit duty with BT Sports.
The Gypsy King always did prefer the road less travelled.