Profile In Dreaming: The Gypsy King

If Rocky had been written today, it would have been inspired by Tyson Fury. The man at the center of the greatest comeback in the history of sport. From world champion to drunk, drugged out, depressed, and obese - back to world champion, in a sport that offers no margin for error. A man that got up from one of the most powerful combinations in boxing. A man now dubbed "The People's Champion" for all the work he does around mental health issues. His story is as inspirational as it is surprising. A testament to the power of the human spirit in the face of the greatest demons.

The baby boy was born three months premature in a rough part of Manchester, England. He weighed just one pound and started his life in intensive care. The doctors didn’t expect him to live for longer than a few days.

His father watched him from behind a glass wall. Totally powerless. Unable to do anything to help his son. For a man with a professional boxing background, who was used to fighting for his life, this was the ultimate form of torture. And he had been through this before. His wife had been pregnant a total of fourteen times, losing ten children prematurely.

The odds were against his son’s survival, but his father believed. He was a tough, resilient man, who came from a long lineage of bare-knuckle fighters. He had been knocked down countless times, but he always got back up. He had witnessed other men beat impossible odds and he was confident his son would do the same.  

Sure enough, the boy survived. The experience set the tone for how he would live his life. Proving people wrong. Prevailing when nobody believed he could.

His father named him after a famous champion, explaining: “I remember looking at him and thinking, he'll be seven feet tall, twenty stone, he's going to be called after Mike Tyson, and he'll be the heavyweight champion of the world.”

It turned out to be a prophetic choice. The boy’s name was Tyson Fury.

Fury is of Irish Traveller descent, a group that is also referred to as “gypsies.” His family was poor. His father’s boxing career didn’t provide enough to make ends meet, so he tarmacked roads for a living. Fury soon joined him, dropping out of school at the age of eleven.

He started boxing one year earlier, under his father’s tutelage. By the time he had stepped into the ring, Fury had grown into a giant, a far cry from how he had started life. He towered over his peers to such an extent that he won his first fight by default. His opponent was so terrified by his size that he ran away.

Fury took another major psychological leap forward when he stepped in the ring with his father, breaking his ribs with one blow. Aged fourteen, he was already six foot five. Fighting was in his blood and he now had the size to back it up.

He made his amateur debut a few years later, representing England and Ireland. In 2006, he won bronze at the AIBA Youth World Boxing Championship and followed that up a year later by winning the EU Junior Championship. He was ranked third in the world for his age group. In 2008, now twenty years old, he won the ABA super-heavyweight title and turned professional.

Fury won his first seven fights comfortably, before facing John McDermott for the English heavyweight title. He won by a controversial points decision and was forced to have a rematch, which he won decisively by total knockout.

On July 23 2011, Fury faced Derek Chisora for the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles at Wembley. He won by unanimous decision, outboxing the more experienced Chisora, who has five years his senior.

He continued apace, dominating every opponent he faced until he earned a title fight against Wladimir Klitschko, who had gone 11 years without defeat. He was also twelve years older than Fury, more experienced, and heavily favored to retain his title.

Fury surprised the world by winning the fight on a unanimous decision. He was the unified heavyweight champion. It was the pinnacle of his sport. He celebrated by singing a version of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” to his wife Paris.

Unfortunately for Fury, things took a turn for the worse from there. He went on an alcohol and drug fueled bender for several months. He gained an extreme amount of weight, exceeding 150 kilograms. His mental and physical health deteriorated to a dangerous degree. He explained his situation in an interview with Rolling Stone in October 2016:

“I’m going through a lot of personal demons, trying to shake them off, this has got nothing to do with my fighting – what I’m going through right now is my personal life. I've not been in a gym for months. I've been going through depression. I just don't want to live anymore, if you know what I’m saying. I've had total enough of it. Never mind cocaine. I just didn't care. I don't want to live anymore. So, cocaine is a little minor thing compared to not wanting to live anymore. I am seeing help, but they can't do nothing for me. What I've got is incurable. I don't want to live. All the money in the world, fame and glory, means nothing if you're not happy. I'm seeing psychiatrists. They say I've got a version of bipolar. I'm a manic depressive. I don't even want to wake up. I hope I die every day. And that's a bad thing to say when I've got three children and a lovely wife isn't it? But I don't want to live anymore. And if I could take me own life – and I wasn't a Christian – I'd take it in a second. I just hope someone kills me before I kill me self. I'll have to spend eternity in hell. I’ve been out drinking, Monday to Friday to Sunday, and taking cocaine. I can’t deal with it and the only thing that helps me is when I get drunk out of me mind.”

Fury had hit rock bottom. He had come full circle. Once again, few expected him to survive, let alone participate in a professional boxing fight ever again. By February 2018, Fury had vacated or been stripped of all his titles, and was locked in the biggest bout of his life: the one against himself.

He had been charged with taking a banned substance, nandrolone, in February 2015 and his boxing license had been suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control. He now faced a court hearing with UK Anti-Doping (UKAD).

After months of discussions, UKAD announced that they had agreed to resolve the charges and Fury was free to reapply for his boxing license. He blamed the elevated nandrolone levels on eating uncastrated wild boar and insists he was innocent until today.

Fury was back and he had his eyes set on Deontay Wilder and the WBC heavyweight title. He began his comeback on May 20, 2018, losing over 100 pounds to get into fighting shape. He coasted to victory in his first fight, following it up with another easy win, before he took on Wilder on December 1, 2018.

The two men fought to a controversial split decision draw, which meant that Wilder retained his title. But most observers felt that Fury had edged the bout. The fight will be remembered for what happened in the twelfth round. Wilder landed a combination that would have knocked out almost anyone. Fury was flat on the floor. The crowd and commentators thought the fight was over. Somehow, he beat the count and reemerged to finish the fight.

Fury won the rematch decisively. The fight was stopped midway through the seventh round after Wilder’s corner threw in the towel. It was a bout Fury had dominated and it marked the culmination of years of struggle to return to the summit of the boxing world. He was the first man to defeat two champions who had ten or more defenses of world titles. He was also the first heavyweight in history to have held the WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, and The Ring Magazine titles.

Fury had beaten the odds once again. Overcoming depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and deeply rooted mental and physical struggles to become champion of the world. In the process, he had written the greatest comeback story in the history of boxing.

While he remains a controversial figure for some of his beliefs and public comments, it’s hard not to admire his resilience in the face of his demons. His journey serves as a reminder that life might knock you down sometimes, but you always have the ability to get back up again. You can overcome any challenge that comes your way.

Tyson Fury has achieved the seemingly impossible more than once. The gypsy born prematurely has gone onto become the heavyweight champion of the world despite the fact that the odds have been stacked against him his whole life.

As far as he’s concerned, he’s only just getting started. “I feel I have a story to tell, a massive one. The stuff I've been through, depression, mental health problems. It can help and inspire others. From 18 stone to 27. From a clean-living man to drugs and alcohol and back to the heavyweight world champion again. I hope the legacy and story I leave behind will help others in the future of what to do and not to do."

Here are some things you may not have known about Tyson Fury:

  • Before he and his wife married, he slept in a caravan and she slept inside her parents’ home.
  • When he was asked who else in the world he would like to fight, he answered “I’d have a bare-knuckle Gypsy fight with him.”
  • He dressed up as Batman for a press conference with Wladimir Klitschko and fought The Joker.
  • He punched himself in the face in a 2009 fight with Lee Swaby.

And three lessons from his life:

Be yourself.

Tyson Fury has courted controversy on numerous occasions, voicing beliefs that were considered to be hateful, homophobic, sexist, and anti-Semitic at various points in his career. For example, before his first fight at Madison Square Garden in 2013, he told a reporter that he would hang his own sister if she was promiscuous.

A man with a troubled past, from a group that had historically faced discrimination in the UK, he had always felt like an outsider. It didn’t help that he was bipolar and depressed. He rebelled against his perceived outcast image by making controversial and shocking public statements.

But, deep down he knew that he was misrepresenting himself. He apologized publicly for his behavior and explained: “I don’t have any hate for anybody. I’m not homophobic, I’m not racist. I’m not against any people. All I have for people is love. At the end of the day, we’re all brothers and sisters in God.”

Fury wore his heart on his sleeve. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his mental struggles or speak his mind on sensitive issues. His authenticity gave him charisma that had missing from boxing for a long time. Legendary promoter Bob Arum stated that he “hasn't seen a fighter with that much charisma since Muhammad Ali.”

By being himself in a sport where most contenders lacked personality, Fury stood out. It didn’t matter that he made outrageous statements or acted foolish at times. His experience shows that being authentic can give you charisma and endear you to people. And even when you court controversy, being yourself is the best way to make amends.

Never Give Up.

From dangerously undersized as a newborn to a towering giant as an adult, Fury’s path to greatness has been from one extreme to another. From on top of the world to the depths of despair. From fighting fit to obese, drug and alcohol dependent. And back again.

Fury has had to overcome obstacle after obstacle to break new records in a sport with no margin for error. He was knocked down by one of the hardest hitters in the game and he beat the count. He was counted out by his doctors as a baby and he survived. He was written off by everyone in boxing and he came back.

He has made arguably the most unlikely comeback in the history of sports. And he has done it through sheer self-belief and strength of will.

It’s clichéd, but it’s true. It’s never over until it’s over. It’s never over until you believe it’s over. Fury never gave up, even when the world thought he was finished. He fought back from the depths of depression and obesity to reclaim the world heavyweight title. Believing in yourself is the first step to achieving the impossible.

Find A Higher Calling.

Fury’s comeback trail was fueled by a newfound purpose to shed light on mental health issues. His experiences had shown him how challenging it was to overcome depression. He became aware of the impact these issues could have on the average person and he resolved to make a difference.

As he explained, “I ain't just getting into that ring to make myself or my family proud. I'm going in there because people need me. I suffered for years from depression and anxiety and I didn't understand what it was, because I had never been educated about it.”

Over the last few years, Fury has spoken openly about his mental health struggles, using his platform to shed light on the issues and encouraging people to seek help. He uses his example to empower people and instill belief that they can overcome their issues.

“If I can show the world that you can come back from [depression], and get back in shape and to the top, then anybody can do it.”

Fury has been dubbed “The People’s Champion” for his work on mental health. He has turned a negative in his life into a positive, but using it as motivation to drive him to become a more successful boxer and a better person.

By finding a higher calling for his career, Fury has given himself a new lease on life. Driven by a strong sense of purpose, he has become more resilient. When we identify a mission for our life, a greater goal, it can serve as a North Star and a source of strength when things don’t go our way. It can also give us the extra push we need to get through the tough times when they do arise.