Wednesday 12 December 2018

Ewan MacKenna: 'Tyson Fury's comeback is one of sport's great stories - but that doesn't wash away his dark past'

Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury celebrates at the end of the 12th round fighting to a draw with Deontay Wilder during the WBC Heavyweight Champioinship at Staples Center on December 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

If the week in politics gave yet another reminder that world leaders are absolved of their negative history upon death, then the week in sport reminded us that you only need to be victorious to achieve much the same. Tyson Fury is further proof.

Yes, yes, technically it was a draw in LA, but he was the real victor because nothing causes us to grovel lower and harder in this sphere than the truly great comebacks; within a game, like Manchester United in 1999 or the Boston Red Sox in 2004 or Mayo in 2006; or out of the game and within a broader life context, like Kerrigan and Seles, Lauda and Woods.

Fury ticked both boxes with the heaviest of hands and darkest of ink.

What's not to like?

The weight loss that saw him shed someone the size of Floyd Mayweather from what became an almost unrecognisable obese frame.

The climb from the barbed and swirling depths of depression and drugs, a mental basement that often finishes a person, never mind halts them from actually succeeding.

Tyson Fury lies on the canvas after being knocked down by Deontay Wilder during their heavyweight boxing match (Mark J Terrill/AP)
Tyson Fury lies on the canvas after being knocked down by Deontay Wilder during their heavyweight boxing match (Mark J Terrill/AP)

The Traveller standing up for his people at a time when minorities are under attack in a right-wing shift.

Even the annoyance of religion dragged into sport seemed to be something wondrous here as, whatever you believe, it's hard not to think in Fury's own head it somehow hauled him from the canvas in round 12.

Every nerve and sinew stretches and tears just to root for the guy.

Lately, he's been like a giddy kid living a dream, bringing joy and fun to an area that often lacks it. In fact, after the epic with Deontay Wilder, Frank Warren was quick to put him in serious company.

"I've worked with Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno, all of those. Now, Fury's the people's champion."

He was far from alone in making that claim and there's a hint of reflex about it, but it's an interesting honour - but for what people, and why?

Every nerve and sinew stretches and tears just to root for the guy... but still you're hauled back.

For instance, if we are to talk about religion, how about this from the book of Jeremiah:

'After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.'

It's a sentiment key to analysing Fury.

A problem is he now wants this godliness to be bought and sold as a marketed miracle, when his background in faith is tethered to the most hateful and vile ideals. So was his past a sign of a person in turmoil or a window into reality?

There is always that debate of why we should look up to any sportspeople, but they cash in by being more than sportspeople. Just as styles makes fights, these days personality and outrage bring about the intrigue that creates celebrities, something Fury has always aimed to be.

So what do you write? This is hard.

* * *

If the 30-year-old was an idiot, this would be easier. Only he's not, and his past utterances were either to make a buck or a profession of his then beliefs. It's hard to know which is worse.

A few years back, Fury's then promoter Mick Hennessy talked about such comments, throwing up a paper-bag defence. "Tyson is a playful character and he often says these things tongue-in-cheek," he stated. "He likes winding people up, being controversial for the sake of it, and more often than not what he says is in jest. I can tell you he's a really good, genuine guy who means no one any harm."

And that's fine around a lot of his thoughts.

Recently he proclaimed he wanted to spend seven years studying to be a doctor, trading the sweet science for medical science. If he does, more power to him; if not, it's no big deal. It's the same over aims to meet Jose Mourinho and sing like Johnny Cash and to host a weight-loss boot camp show on TV.

But other words simply won't scrub away, even as the skin bleeds through trying. So should even one of the great comebacks wipe away his own past?

A past where he said "a woman's best place is in the kitchen and on their back"?

A past where he said he would "hang" his own sister if she was promiscuous.

A past where he angrily fumed, "Everyone just do what you can, listen to the government, follow everybody like sheep, be brainwashed by all the Zionist, Jewish people who own all the banks, all the papers, all the TV stations".

A past where he threatened journalist Ollie Holt, telling him his entourage would break his jaw and "f**k him up".

A past where he claimed, "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."

For sure, he's in a healthier space now, and it's better to die in the light than thrive in the dark. But it's also hard to know if that same dark place that brought about sexism and homophobia and anti-Semitism has perished.

No matter what corner you turn with Fury, there's another demon lurking. He may be a deep and challenging character, and that's to be welcomed, but some of the reasons for that aren't. As an example, this column has talked about both the past and present of MTK. There's an excuse made by some boxers that they need the money, thus they ally themselves with a company synonymous with Daniel Kinahan, but Fury doesn't need them. He chose them.

These are areas he refuses to be challenged on too, indeed most ills he won't touch, with doping being another. That's one more reason to stick an asterisk beside his name and row away from the love in. Back in early 2015, there was the nandrolone positive and finally a retrospective two-year ban, with UKAD saying they were worried if legalities dragged on much longer they might go bankrupt.

Maybe Fury simply bounced back from nights out where he boasted that he'd drink 18 pints followed by vodka and whisky. Maybe all his views can be put down to what that did to him. When something seems too good to be true though, take a minute and think.

If you do, you'll realise that the doping incident has been like a microcosm of Fury. On one hand, he was punished. On the other, he still denied it. It's always that way as he never refuted other beliefs when he's spoken about them, rather he tried to justify them.

It means that others shouldn't simply tell the story that he tells about himself, for that's mere public relations. Recently he spoke about giving his purse to the homeless, but again we're left wondering if it's the worst of marketing or the best of redemption.

You want to believe he's changed. You want to believe he regrets his past. Maybe if you kill all his demons, then his angels might die too.

That just doesn't seem enough though.

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