By Steve Douglas
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOLTON, England _ As Tyson Fury prowled the practice ring, stopping regularly for some shadow-boxing and imagining Wladimir Klitschko on the end of his punches, his father looked on with pride.
“They wrote him off, saying he wouldn’t live,” said John Fury, recalling the day _ 27 years ago _ when the second of his six sons was born three months early, weighing just one pound (.45 kg).
“I told them, ‘It’s his destiny to live, and I’ll tell you one better than that _ he’ll end up nearly 7 feet (2.13 metres) tall, 20 stones (280 pounds/127 kg), and be the heavyweight champion of the world. And his name’s going to be Tyson, after Mike Tyson.”’
It could turn out to be some prophecy.
Tyson Fury is now 2.09m (6-foot-9) tall, weighs 255 pounds (116 kg), is unbeaten in 24 professional fights, and says he is ready to shake up the heavyweight division by taking the WBA, WBO and IBF belts off Klitschko in a world heavyweight title fight in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Nov. 28.
If he wins, the boxing world had better watch out. Fury might be among the most colorful and interesting characters in sports.
Born in Manchester, he is of Gypsy heritage _ he calls himself “Gypsy King” on Twitter _ and comes from a bloodline of bare-knuckle champions on both sides of his family. Fury is deeply religious. He wears Ugg boots. He appeared at a recent news conference dressed up as Batman, and wrestled a man wearing a Joker costume to the floor. He’s a wannabe politician. He has suffered from depression and successfully battled against bulimia. And then there’s his eye-catching name.
“If I can’t fight, nobody can,” Fury told The Associated Press in an interview at his gym in Bolton, northwest England. “Like a racehorse is bred for racing, I’m bred for fighting. Nothing else. I’m what you call a pure-bred. Pure-bred fighter. Pure-bred idiot.”
An hour in the company of Fury and his entourage _ all family members _ is entertaining. The conversation switches quickly from his pride at his Gypsy background to his faith, his future _ he says he could become a pastor after retiring from boxing _ his distaste for material goods, and his belief that he’ll become a boxing legend.
“There has been no one like me,” he says.
In his small gym, there are drawings of boxing greats on every wall: Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb, Muhammad Ali. A drawing of Fury himself is just to the right of Louis.
One of the good-luck messages written by youngsters who train at the gym reads: “Hell Hath No Fury Like Tyson.”
“As I’m in this room now, I’m like a fish in water,” Fury said, with intensity in his eyes. “It’s my place. It’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m never happier than in a boxing ring.”
Fury is in the best shape of his life and is about five pounds (2.2 kg) lighter than his usual fighting weight, according to his trainer and uncle, Peter Fury.
“He’s’ 110 per cent prepared,” Peter Fury said, shrugging off the fact that the fight against Klitschko was delayed five weeks after the Ukrainian was injured in training. “This is the stiffest test Wladimir has had in his career.”
Tyson Fury describes Klitschko as “the ultimate in heavyweight history” because of his 26 title defences, but says the heavyweight division needs a change after a decade of dominance from Klitschko and his brother Vitali.
“He’s very good at boxing, not a very good entertainer,” Fury said of his opponent. “Unfortunately, fans have had to put up with it for a long time. He’s been able to get away with it because of his athleticism and size over the other victims. They go in there without a chance. But that’s where I change it all. I’m taller, heavier, younger, fresher, faster.”
It will be a huge step-up for Fury, who is a former British, Irish, European and Commonwealth champion.
He could also be inspired by the return of his father in his corner. John Fury _ a former bare-knuckle fighter nicknamed “Gypsy John” and also a one-time British heavyweight contender _ was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2011 for gouging out a man’s eye in a brawl.
He is out on parole and has been given special permission to travel to Germany
“We’ve been through a lot, you know,” John Fury said. “But nothing is going to stop him now.”