Thursday 26 April 2018

Blood and the Fury: why Tyson is an outcast

The new 'Irish' heavyweight champion is not a naive fool, but his outbursts about gays have made him a pariah

Ring master: Fury, who boxed for Ireland as an amateur, winning the heavyweight title last Saturday.
Ring master: Fury, who boxed for Ireland as an amateur, winning the heavyweight title last Saturday.
Tyson Fury

John Costello

He loves Jesus but hates gays. He was born and bred in England but says he is Irish. And it has been said his hate is far more dangerous than his boxing skills.

His name is Tyson Fury and he claims to be the "first Irish heavyweight boxing champion of the world". But few appear to be celebrating.

The self-proclaimed, 6ft 9in Gypsy King conquered the boxing world last Saturday night when, against the odds, he battered Wladimir Klitschko over 12 rounds to win the heavyweight title by a unanimous decision. It was not just the judges' scorecards that revealed Fury's dominance. Klitschko's face reflected the result in much more graphic detail. While Fury's remained unblemished, Klitschko's was bloody and swollen. The Gypsy King had left his mark.

The 27-year-old fighter, born in Manchester, had promised to show the world that his 39-year-old opponent would be too old and too slow for him. Few believed him.

The 12 rounds proved to be a messy, mauling affair. But Fury's height and reach advantage proved decisive. From the outset, his unorthodox style appeared to baffle Klitschko. The man from Manchester repeatedly switched to southpaw and goaded the champion by holding both hands behind his back and inviting Klitschko to take his best shot. The Ukrainian champion appeared either unwilling or unable to oblige.

By the end of the contest, Klitschko was left baffled, bloodied and bruised after the long-limbed Fury proved to be a puzzle he could not solve. And now, after delivering one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, this most unconventional of champions has been thrust upon a world that has been caught off guard, much like Klitschko was a week ago.

Fury has long been accused of being offensive, deranged and homophobic. However, love him or loathe him, with just one week as world heavyweight champion under his belt, he has for the first time in nearly a generation become a boxer who has truly captured the public imagination (even if it is for all the wrong reasons).

Tyson Fury was born three months premature, weighing in at a meagre 1lb. While doctors feared he was too weak to survive, his father, John, claims he saw a fighting spirit and hence named his son after Iron Mike, saying he would one day become "the heavyweight champion of the world".

"My father was born in Galway, along with the rest of my father's family, who are from the west of Ireland," Fury told RTÉ's Sean O'Rourke, underlining his strong Irish Traveller background. "My grandmother on my mother's side was born in Belfast, Nutt's Corner."

Fury boxed for Ireland as an amateur and has proclaimed himself the "first Irish heavyweight champion of the world". But it is unlikely this mouthy Old Testament warrior will be getting an open-top bus ride down O'Connell Street anytime soon.

In a recent newspaper interview, he spoke about how there are "only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one's paedophilia". In 2013, the British Boxing Board of Control fined Fury £3,000 for branding Liverpool fighters David Price and Tony Bellew "gay lovers" while being interviewed live on air.

With sponsors and advertisers keeping their distance, Fury has unsurprisingly been desperately trying to disassociate himself from such remarks since becoming world champion.

"You know it's all misquotes," he told RTÉ's O'Rourke. "It's newspapers trying to sell newspapers on writing bad things about me."

Despite such crude attempts at diffusing the situation, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has branded Fury "a very bigoted and confused Christian". Women's right campaigners would most likely say the same - "A woman's there to be loved, cook food and have some kids. Like Muslims have their ways, we have ours. There are girls who open their legs to every Tom, Dick and Harry. They are looked upon as rubbish. If I had a sister who did that, I'd hang her."

Even Houdini would find such remarks difficult to escape from.

Fury, however, is not just a simple bigot. He is a complex Jekyll and Hyde character who has been fighting many demons in his own life. He has battled depression and bulimia, and a traumatic childhood. His father, a former professional fighter and undefeated bare-knuckle boxer, recently finished serving five years of an 11-year prison term for gouging out a man's eye in a brawl. Tyson, however, claims to be very different form his father: "I've never been in trouble in my life. I've not got a criminal record. Never had a fight outside boxing."

While Fury is uneducated - like many Travellers, he left school after finishing primary school - he is an intelligent man. He has dabbled in local politics and in September revealed his ambitions to be the next MP for his local constituency in Morecambe, Lancashire, where he wants to stand as an independent.

"I want to make a change for the better for the place I live," he said, adding that there was too much focus in British politics on immigration and not enough on "our own brothers and sisters who are on the streets and abusing drugs and alcohol".

Fury has also said he wants to be voice for the Traveller community. But could he replicate what Muhammad Ali was for the black community? Few would believe so, given the fact his homophobic and barbaric comments have cast him as a very divisive figure in a sport crying out for an iconic champion.

But there may be hope. After taking the title and pocketing €5.6m, Fury thanked Jesus and dedicated his win to Travellers everywhere.

He then grabbed the microphone from the ring announcer and crooned the Aerosmith ballad 'Don't Wanna Miss a Thing' to his wife, Paris. This may have been cringeworthy, but it was also a genuine and heartfelt moment in a sport that is far too calculated and cold.

Indeed, the fact that millions were watching it gave the champion the perfect opportunity to show that beyond his demons and dark side there is a very warm and loving man.

However, Fury's biggest fight of his life will be convincing the world of this.

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