Tyson Fury vows he beat Deontay Wilder the first time, ready to do it again

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Boxer Tyson Fury attends a press conference with Deontay Wilder in Los Angeles, California on Jan. 25, 2020 ahead of their rematch in Las Vegas on Feb. 22. (Photo by Ringo Chiu/AFP via Getty Images)

HENDERSON, Nevada — The camera crew inside the tiny gym tucked inside a strip mall a few miles from the hustle and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip is the only clue that one of the middle-aged men working out isn’t your average Joe trying to drop that extra bit of belly fat.

There is no large entourage. There is no boombox with obnoxiously loud music to advertise his presence. There isn’t much of anything except a giant of a man intent on doing everything he possibly can to right what he sees as a wrong, to prove to the world that, yes, he’s its No. 1 heavyweight.

Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion, grins and says, “Feb. 22 isn’t that far away,” as he hops onto an elliptical trainer to begin a workout in preparation for his pay-per-view rematch with WBC champion Deontay Wilder down the road at the MGM Grand Garden.

They fought to a split draw on Dec. 1, 2018, at Staples Center in Los Angeles which left both men wholly unsatisfied. Wilder knocked Fury down and, he believes, out in the 12th round. Only a mistake by referee Jack Reiss, Wilder feels, kept him from having stopped Fury and kept his knockout run alive.

“He’s knocked out every man he’s ever faced,” Fury says in that gravelly voice of his before grinning devilishly and adding, “Except one.”

Both men feel they won the fight and Fury thinks the decision wasn’t even close. He’s perplexed by how anyone could have watched that bout and felt Wilder had won, but he’s been around boxing long enough to know that judging is an imperfect science, at best, and sometimes a lot worse than imperfect.

It’s why he’s vowing to knock out Wilder within two rounds in the rematch and insists the harsh words are not just a ploy to build interest in the fight.

“I don’t care if it sells 10 pay-per-views,” Fury says of the bout that will earn him tens of millions of dollars, helped by proceeds of the Fox Sports/ESPN+ pay-per-view sales that are expected to exceed 1 million and could reach 2 million. “I’m here to win.”

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder have their hands raised by referee Jack Reiss after fighting to split decision draw on Dec. 1, 2018 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The promoters are left to find ways to best promote this epic bout. It’s the quintessential match, pitting the charismatic slugger against the brash boxer.

Fury promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank is more prone to hyperbole than the next guy, but his opinion that the fight will do mega-business and be the biggest heavyweight match in the sport since at least the 2002 bout between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis in Memphis, Tennessee, is hardly out of the mainstream.

“This is a massive, massive pay-per-view,” Arum said. “ … With the combination of ESPN and Fox, and the interest in this fight and how great the first fight was, we’re going to set heavyweight records for pay-per-view.”

That would mean in excess of 2 million sales, which would be roughly seven times what the first fight sold.

Tyson Fury an inspiration to those with mental health issues

Regardless, the affable Fury is a different man this time around, not so much the life of the party. Some of it is because of his well-reported mental health problems, in which he has dramatic mood shifts in short periods of time.

Not long after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 to become the IBF/WBA/WBO/lineal heavyweight champion, his life nearly fell apart. Beset by undetected mental health issues, he ballooned to more than 400 pounds, was out of the sport for more than two years and came close to taking his own life.

But much of his shift to a grim-faced, determined man is because he’s a vicious competitor and desperately wants to avenge the draw and defeat Wilder conclusively this time around. He’s banned cameras from his boxing workouts because he wants his entire concentration on listening to trainer Javan Sugarhill Steward and not on trying to be, as he so often is, the life of the party.

“It’s about working and getting better every day to be the best Tyson Fury I can be come Feb. 22,” he said.

He can never fully escape his past, though. Since going public with his very personal story about mental health problems and suicidal thoughts (and actions), he’s become an inspiration to those who also suffer and feel their lives lack meaning and that their problems are too big to overcome.

Tyson Fury taunts Deontay Wilder during the first round of a WBC heavyweight championship boxing match, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

He’s gotten letters from around the world, from China to the U.S., from France to Nigeria, from Australia to Russia, thanking him for speaking out on an often ignored issue and asking him for support.

As he was preparing to do his road work one recent morning, he was stopped by a large man that he at first eyed warily.

“He came up behind me and said, ‘Tyson,’ and he looked intimidating,” Fury said. “Massive guy. I wondered, ‘What’s he going to do? Is he going to stab me or something?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what’s up?’ And he says, ‘Well, I’ve searched for your house for about four hours. I’m about to kill myself but I just wanted to speak to you before I did.’ ”

That kind of approach would stop anyone in their tracks, but Fury understood the man at a level better than most, because he’d been in that same position not so long ago. He had his Ferrari up to 190 mph an hour and was going to drive it into the pillar of a bridge to end everything. A voice inside of him, he said, spoke to him and urged him to reconsider.

So Fury instinctively had a feel for what to do.

“I asked him why he wanted to kill himself, and I started joking and I got him laughing,” Fury said. “He started telling me the things that were making him want to kill himself. And when I heard it, they weren’t things that were any reason to kill yourself for. I explained that to him. I said, ‘Hey, this is no reason to kill yourself,’ and I made him do a four-mile run with me.

“He was overweight. He was about 400 pounds, but he finished it. I was talking to him and going over all the stuff he was doing in his life for the four miles. We got back and I said, ‘Now, you’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?’ He said ‘Nope. I’m going to go back home now to the wife and daughter. Everything is going to be all right.’ Since then, I’ve had messages from him saying thank you. It was an unbelievable experience, but it’s just one of many stories.”

Tyson Fury: ‘This isn’t some joke or show’

He’ll continue to try to inspire. He’ll continue to try to entertain. When a reporter notes that there aren’t many like him in boxing with his ability to charm a crowd and take over a news conference by singing and laughing and joking, he offers a correction.

“There’s no one like me,” he says, proudly.

And he’s right. There are no other 6-foot-9 heavyweights who are light on their feet and who can get hit flush on the chin by arguably the greatest puncher in the sport’s history and get up to continue the fight.

That he’s a deadly serious competitor is often lost amid the pranks and the wisecracks and the songs he’ll sing.

“I’m a fighting man and there is nothing I would rather do,” he said. “I just love it. It’s who I am.”

He pauses for a second to think of the right words. It’s as if everything that happened since Dec. 1, 2018, flashes through his mind in a couple of seconds.

“I’m a fighting man from a fighting family and fighting and winning is what I am about,” he says. “What can be better than walking into a ring to see another man who has done all the work and done all the training and who thinks he is better than you and that he can beat you, and then going out there when the bell rings and proving him wrong? That’s what this is all about. This isn’t some joke or show. This is deadly serious business and I’m here to win this fight on Feb. 22.”

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