After two and half years in exile, Tyson Fury returns to the ring on Saturday night in an expected mismatch against Macedonian cruiserweight Sefer Seferi in Manchester, England. In his last fight in November 2015, Fury toppled Wladimir Klitschko to become the legitimate heavyweight champion of the world. Then a toxic combination of fame, Class A drugs, sanctioning bodies, and born-again evangelicalism saw him tailspin into a depression that was played out on every tabloid front page and smartphone screen in the land.
Having become the first post-Klitschko heavyweight champion, Fury was clearly unready to be thrown from the outermost margins of popular celebrity straight into the mainstream. After being nominated for “BBC Sports Personality of the Year,” Fury’s mixture of hyperbole, surrealism, and abjection attracted immediate scrutiny from cynical tabloid hacks. Previously well known only by sports fanatics and boxing aficionados, Fury became overnight a topic of conversation on opinion pages, morning television, and the Today program. The same papers whose front pages feature a daily blend of nativist resentment and racist fantasy subsequently rushed to dole out condemnation for his litany of sins, with the Daily Mail—whose editorial policy features significant overlap with Fury’s more retrograde opinions—calling him “a bully and a bigot.” Plunged into depression, Fury had no sooner become heavyweight champion than his star was already burning out.
After nixing two money-spinning rematches with Klitschko, a two-year excommunication from the sport followed, in which Fury shuttled between seedy back alleys and boutique hotels in a seemingly random sequence of drug binges, weight gains, court battles, “Evening with…” events, and Latter-Day-style prophecies. In between nights of joyless oblivion, there were moments of unsettling honesty: Fury surfaced from his personal hell in 2016 to tell Rolling Stone that he was depressed and suicidal in an interview both surreal and sad. As he said at the time, “I beat the best man but I’m still shit.”
Now almost thirty, having shed one hundred pounds to prepare for his return, Fury remains the most interesting figure in British boxing. Both completely articulate and totally confused, Fury tends to oscillate between apocalyptic and confessional in a manner whose arbitrariness is legitimately unnerving. Not only is he a genuine outlier in the current era of hypersanitization, in which fighters tend to engage only in infomercial speak and cliché, Fury is also persistently surprising—if not always entertaining—between the ropes. Like Muhammad Ali, Fury has clearly modeled himself on smaller fighters, with a willingness to clown, switch stances, drop his hands, and dance around the ring betraying unusual stylistic influences for a man his size. Unlike Ali, whose impression of Sugar Ray Robinson was so perfectly executed as to become its own original style, Fury is confoundingly unorthodox, a bowdlerization of his own influences, whose patternless repertoire consists only in jagged diagonals and rougher edges. His fights swing wildly from the hideous to the hilarious—Fury might be the only legitimate heavyweight champion in history to have landed a punch on his own face.
Tyson Fury Punching Himself In The Face
With current heavyweight belt-holders Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder no nearer to fighting each other, Fury’s return will present another significantly lucrative option for both “AJ” and “The Bronze Bomber” in a division whose profile is higher now than it has been for decades. Although a fight with Joshua will be difficult to make—Fury is now represented by Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions, while Joshua is represented by Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn—it would also be easily the biggest fight in Britain this century. A bout with the dangerous and erratic Wilder could be as ugly and scattergun and exciting as any piece of postmodern art.
For now, Fury, 25-0 (18), has the literally small matter of Seferi to overcome. At thirty-nine, the Macedonian is a career cruiserweight whose empty record is punctuated by a decision loss to dreadful former Vitali Klitschko opponent Manuel Charr, who has likely appeared on multiple shortlists for David Haye fights. Still, boxers rarely come back from enforced sabbaticals looking anything like their former selves. For every Ray Leonard, there are many more Ricky Hattons. Although Seferi, 23-1 (21), is unlikely to last long against a resurgent Fury, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that he finds himself with a slim shot at becoming the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.
Still, for Fury, this will surely provide a cinch on the road to redemption. Whether he is sufficiently recovered from his recent dissipation remains to be seen. Only time—and the likes of Joshua and Wilder—will tell.