“If a man has character, he has a typical experience, which always recurs.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
There was a moment during the Klitschko v Fury London press conference on Tuesday in which Tyson Fury became a prophet. After all the shenanigans and panto-style merriment, the 6ft 9 Mancunion looked world champ Wlad Klitschko in the eye, jabbed a finger in his direction and said, “you just make sure you show up on October 24th!” Unlike much else during the previous hour of giggles and slapstick, those words were spoken in earnest – the big man knows the disappointment of cancellation only too well.
Whatever your personal view of Tyson Luke Fury (and few high-profile sportsmen seem to divide opinion as much as he), it is impossible to dispute he has that intangible quality known as character. Maybe a bit too much of it – turning up at a heavyweight title press conference in a yellow Lambo dressed as Batman, then rolling around on the floor in a mock-fight, taunting the champ, royally taking the piss out of the assembled media – there aren’t too many other fighters who could pull off such antics and retain credibility. Yet with the table-flipping, post-fight crooning, headline grabbing Fury, it’s simply what we’ve come to expect.
Few things are more upsetting to a boxer than a wasted training camp. It means money down the drain, a lot of physical effort for nothing and a psychological peak that must somehow be unscaled and levelled. Enduring all of that for what should have been a career-defining fight can be intolerable. It is to Fury’s credit and in keeping with the more sensitive, philosophical, even likeable side that has emerged in interviews over the last year that his first words on learning of Klitschko’s withdrawal were not about himself.
“Don’t feel sorry for me” he wrote on Twitter, “I’ll be OK. I’m sorry for the fans again as they are the biggest losers here. Flight and hotels, travel, sorry guys.”
Yet behind the keyboard or phone on which that message was written, after missing out on an opportunity to be undisputed champion, one of the unluckiest men in boxing must be wondering what he has to do to get a top-level opponent to show up.
(To avoid lots of pedantic emails coming my way let me state I am aware that technically the fight was not for the undisputed title, but come on, Wilder? Really?)
It is too early, with its protagonist only 27 and still yet to reach its apex, to guess how Tyson Fury’s career will be remembered once it is finished. Boxing historians will doubtless pick up on certain key themes. Mike Tyson for example, is defined as much by biting Holyfield’s ear as by destroying Michael Spinks in 91 seconds. Ali has come to be an icon of civil rights, renowned for his words outside the ring as much as the Rumble in the Jungle or dethroning Sonny Liston and no matter what he does from here, one of the most enduring images of George Groves’ pro years will always be him lying on his back like a broken doll after being pole-axed by Carl Froch.
You suspect that whatever Fury does or does not achieve in the sport of boxing, a major part of any future retrospective will revolve around the fact that time and time again, major opponents pulled out of scheduled dates with him. David Haye did it twice at the end of 2013 / start of 2014, resulting in the cancellation of a contest said to be worth £10 million. In July that year he was then set to face Dereck Chisora, who withdrew through injury, although that bout eventually went ahead four months later. Fury’s fairly routine victory over former WBO Europe champ Christian Hammer in Feb 2015 paved the way for the Klitschko Pay-per-View bonanza, only for Wladimir to pull out due to a calf strain. It is alleged that this latest disappointment has cost Fury as much as £30 million in earnings.
That’s four times in the last couple of years. Four high profile fights against elite heavyweights postponed or abandoned. What on earth is going on?
In the first instance David Haye appeared a week before their scheduled fight with a slightly suspicious looking cut eyebrow. Rumours flew. No-one other than Haye and his camp will ever know, but many believed a razorblade, rather than a glove may have caused that injury. “Who spars that close to a major contest anyway?” They cried
There then followed the shoulder problem and Haye’s semi-retirement, putting the mockers on the new date. Such was Fury’s disappointment at the time that he talked of walking away from boxing altogether. There certainly exists a school of thought that in both cases the problems lay more in Haye’s mind than his body – somewhere along the line, he decided he didn’t want a Fury fight.
That accusation can’t be levelled at Dereck Chisora, who did turn up for their rearranged contest with a healed hand. Of course the Finchley man, who once gave Vitali Klitschko a torrid evening in a challenge for the now devalued WBC belt was brushed aside by Fury in a one-way drubbing. This brings into focus the other variable. Fury the fighter has improved beyond measure since his days as a flabby novice. Following his effortless disposal of Hammer, up stepped Wladimir, Dr Steelhammer himself, a measured and educated gentleman of the ring.
Such is the esteem with which the long-term champ is held in boxing circles that few dare suggest anything underhand about the last few days’ events. Yet some have pointed out that during the early phases of promotion Fury was often happy to play second-fiddle to Wlad, listening to his wooden monologues and restricting himself to the odd remark about the champ being ‘boring’. Klitschko responded with his tried-and-trusted therapy line, saying that he would make Tyson a better person by beating him in the ring.
Wladimir probably expected a similar routine this week, but Fury showed little respect for his status or manners and dominated the event from start to finish. Experts in body language will correct me if I’m wrong, but behind the steely demeanour and robotic voice I thought I detected signs of irritation and awkwardness in the champion.
It is not too much of a stretch to believe there may be some gamesmanship at work here. Neither Wlad nor his brother have been averse to utilising extra edges in the past and this particular challenge is a different proposition for Vitali’s younger sibling than Bryant Jennings or Alex Leapai. Fury after all, is a fighting man, from a fighting background. He has been fighting all his life. The traveller scraps he grew up with are some way from Queensbury rules and have bred in him the recklessness of one for whom violence is commonplace. The most dangerous man of all is one who doesn’t care for his own safety. On the sites, gouged eyes, torn mouths and ripped ears are not uncommon. Klitschko’s jab-and-grab may have dominated the weakest division of the noble art for the last decade, but he has rarely been out of his comfort zone in that time, feasting on smaller, inept opponents. Fury has the size and reach advantage and maybe, just maybe, by acting the loon, the psychological advantage too. Has he unsettled the Ukrainian? Its not impossible.
If Klitschko doesn’t want the fight anymore, as Fury believes, we will soon find out. A promotional or contract ‘issue’ will cause problems with the new date. Negotiations will stall. Arrangements will drag on and for not-fully-revealed reasons the bout will never happen. As Fury is the WBO mandatory, such a scenario would lead to that belt being stripped from Wlad and becoming vacant, with the Manchester man in line to fight for it first – some sort of consolation.
Alternatively Klitschko may be committed to a Fury fight taking place, but simply hoped to upset his opponent’s preparation. Perhaps he felt the travelling man’s intensity at the presser was little too hot and a delay of several months could take the wind out of his sails. Tactically, it might make sense.
A minor calf injury a month away from the fight is not, after all, an insurmountable problem. It would affect roadwork and sparring for a week or two, but many have fought with far worse. Fighters have been known to box with damaged hands, torn biceps, even broken noses. If Klitschko had been resolute in wanting the fight to go ahead, it could still have happened.
Whatever the reasons for this (and the most likely explanation is the straightforward one, that a minor leg injury has disrupted his training, – Wlad is not getting any younger) it has resulted in yet another delay in Tyson Fury’s career. He must handle it well, stay focused and not go too far off the rails. Bitter experience will have taught him that.