“I’m a manic depressive. I just hope someone kills me before I kill myself,” Tyson Fury told Rolling Stone just three years ago. Harrowing, painful words to speak, hear and even type as one of the sport’s most polarizing characters laid bare his mental demons.
Almost a year had passed since the “Gypsy King” had dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in front of an astonished Dusseldorf crowd, taking home three recognised pieces of the heavyweight jigsaw puzzle. The cost of this victory would become clear in the weeks, months and years that followed.
To Tyson, this feat signalled the beginning of the end. Reaching the summit of a sport you have dedicated your life to and achieving a life-long dream of accomplishments is what most athletes aspire to. After feeling void of a subsequent sense of purpose, Fury spiralled out of control and into the terrifying arms of depression, with its good friend addiction close by its side.
In May 2016, an overwhelmed Fury spoke candidly on abandoning his training camp in Holland whilst gearing up towards the Klitschko rematch. In turn, this began a downward spiral for Fury which would lead to drug abuse, alcohol abuse and a junk food binge that saw his weight rocket to a reported 392 pounds.
“From that day forward, I’ve never done any training,” he said in the same Rolling Stone interview. “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 my mind.”
If depression and addiction are to be considered close friends, then the jaded sporting star is the magnet that these two attract time and time again. Seemingly, no sport has harnessed stars that have remained exempt from the lure of self-implosion following significant success.
It’s a lazy, perhaps trite assumption that athletes find it harder to recover from mental injuries than physical, but it’s one that carries plenty of substance when assessing the downfall of some of the worlds most successful stars. Early this year I wrote a piece entitled “Mental health in boxing: Fighting the longest, hardest fight,” in which I examined the urgent need to eradicate the stigma of mental health in sport, as well as boxing. The title says it all: “The longest, hardest fight” is no embellishment to the struggle faced by a majority.
Three years since that interview and Tyson Fury is close to regaining what he gave away. Putting the “lineal” champion arguments to one side for just a second, the 31-year-old has once again climbed the heavyweight tree to form the majority consensus as to the world’s leading heavyweight.
Not only has Fury turned his career around, but more importantly his life, with new trainer Ben Davison inspiring an incredible weight loss and a subsequent five-fight unbeaten run including the meat of a Deontay Wilder draw in a sandwich of otherwise uninspired opponents.
Otto Wallin was the most recent “uninspired opponent,” however, the Swede’s performance last weekend in Vegas perhaps spoke more of Tyson Fury than it did of the challenger. Despite being hampered by a horrific cut to the right eye for a majority of the twelve round unanimous decision victory, Fury looked fairly uninspired once the Mexican-themed razzmatazz had unfolded pre-fight, with a lack of serious activity giving arguments to Wallin winning half of the first rounds.
Understandable assumptions that Fury was overlooking Wallin as a contender were underlined in the dressing room before the fight where he leads his team to pray for the health of “Tom Schwarz” in the ring, quickly being corrected to the mistaken identity of his opponent. If it isn’t the biggest names, do the Wallins, Schwarzs, Pianetas and Seferis of this world all roll into one for the “Gyspy King”?
Tyson Fury’s new addiction is training. Keeping his mind and body fit and healthy outside the ring between and during camps has given him a new lease of life in which he intends to maintain. Speaking to the BBC before the Otto Wallin bout, Fury explained the following: “I really love my job at the minute, more than I have ever done before. I used to think boxing was a chore, a job to go to.” He continued, “I trained hard for a fight and then put a ton of weight back on. Now I enjoy what I do, keep fit even when I am not boxing. I almost live my life as a routine training camp now.”
This addiction — albeit a healthy alternative to that of junk food and substance abuse — will still need close attention in the coming years. Rest, as any athlete will tell you, is as important as training, but when a focus is so deeply set on training session after training session, burnout becomes a real danger.
A healthy balance needs to be struck between training camps in order for Fury to achieve what he has left to achieve in the ring, whilst simultaneously — and more importantly — keeping him safe and healthy outside of the ring. Boxing has become an obsession for Fury once again, with an addiction to training fuelling a successful return.
Despite his critics, Ben Davison has proved he possesses a unique relationship with his fighter. The onus is also on him to strike a middle ground between “Tyson Fury the fighter” and “Tyson Fury the man.” The cut and subsequent attention on the right eye of Fury will make the months that follow a testing time for the “Gypsy King.” Facing limitations in boxing activity and a potential postponement of his February return with Wilder could see Fury spend the longest period out of the ring since his return last June.
Finding that “work-life balance” over the coming months may prove to be Fury’s biggest test to date. 12 rounds with Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder were certainly no walks in the park, but once again, Tyson Fury’s toughest opponent may prove to be himself.