BOLTON (14 SEPTEMBER) BY RICO VERHOEVEN: I’ve been to England four or five times now and really love it. Coming from Holland, though, I always have to get used to the differences with the roads. You guys drive on the other side of the road and two days ago I almost got run over! I was looking at the wrong side, the wrong way, walked out and nearly got taken out. It was pretty scary. I nearly had a damn heart attack!
Despite these dangers, I always enjoy going to England and hooking up with the Furys. They feel like family to me. It’s very natural. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been away, every time I come here it feels like home.
We met about three years ago. They had a training camp in Belgium right on the border of Holland. It was really close. They were getting a lot of Dutch guys in for sparring but the sparring was turning out to be a real problem. Most of the guys they were sparring would quit or be sent away after one session. They all thought, no way, this is not for us. You’ve got one of the best boxers in Europe at the time knocking their heads off with just the jab. It was crazy. They weren’t used to it. For us, as kickboxers, it’s totally different to what we’re used to.
So, back then my trainer hooked us up with them and we started doing some sparring. They came to our gym and we did six or seven rounds. Tyson closed both my eyes inside the first four rounds, which was quite a feat considering we were wearing head guards.
He definitely surprised me. After four rounds my trainer said, “Look, he’s a big guy, he’s now going to start getting tired.” He told me to speed up. Already both my eyes were closed. I couldn’t see a lot. But I still thought I was going to speed up and kick his ass.
It never happened. After four rounds, Tyson changed southpaw! I had four rounds of him fighting me orthodox and then he turned southpaw on me. I couldn’t believe it. He was now southpaw and still kicking my a**. I looked over at my trainer as if to say, “What the hell is this guy doing?”
I didn’t enjoy getting my ass whooped, but it was a great learning experience for me. I was already at a decent level in kickboxing, sparring was always difficult for me to find, and this was something completely new. I liked it. It was difficult to hit him, but I knew if I kept on training and kept on improving, I now had something to work towards. Each time we sparred, I got a little bit better.
I got my respect from them as well. I was different to the other fighters they found in Holland. I just kept coming. Even though Tyson was beating my ass at times, I’d never stop. I’d keep coming back, keep taking my beating and, over time, I got my respect from the Furys. It was mutual respect.
I don’t want to say our sport is tougher, but when you get kicked to the body, kicked to the leg and kicked to the head, it’s not nice. It hurts like hell. But you have to keep going and push through the pain barrier. You can’t just stop. With boxing, it’s just arms. That’s the biggest difference. In kickboxing it hurts when you get a kick right on your thigh; there’s no pain like it, especially when you’re not used to it.
That ability to fight through the pain is definitely something the Fury team like about me. I’m used to being hit and hurt. It mentally makes me very strong. A strong punch to the face means nothing to me. It just makes me go, oh, is that it?
Also, in boxing you have 12 rounds. You have time to have a look around and ease your way into the contest. It’s not like that in kickboxing, though. The fights are much shorter and you’re into the action straight away. My championship fights are fought over five rounds. Most other fights are three rounds. As soon as the bell goes, that’s it, you fight. There is no time to waste.
A lot of people on the outside say Tyson is this and Tyson is that. He’s too big, too slow, he can’t do this, he can’t do that. Stand in front of him, that’s all I say. Then come and tell me he’s lacking in this department or that department. If you stand in front of this guy, he’ll knock your f*****g head off. He’s so gifted it’s crazy.
For a man of his size – so big, so heavy – he can move so well. He’ll be backing up against the ropes and I’ll think, right, now I’m going to take his damn head off! But then he’ll just step to the side and I almost fall out of the ring. I think, how the hell does he do that? He’s leaning on the back leg and is still able to move sideways. It really is crazy. He’s so skilled. He’s a natural. Orthodox or southpaw, it doesn’t matter. It’s amazing to watch him at times.
All in all, I have a good feeling about his chances going into this fight with Wladimir Klitschko. I think he has a very good chance of winning.
*** Tyson Fury challenges Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world heavyweight titles on October 24 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Tickets can be purchased from eventim.co.uk or on 0844 249 1000. The fight will be televised live and exclusively in the UK on Sky Sports Box Office ***