Tyson Fury: Fists of fury

He is as proud to be a Gypsy as he is to be heavyweight champion. He talks to Steve Bunce about life on the road and tomorrow's title defence

In the boxing world there are dozens of Gypsy boxers learning their trade in legal and illegal rings and often as betting sideshow attractions whenever other travelling people gather for a wedding, a christening or to sell a horse or two. There are others who just like to strip and fight.

Tyson Fury is the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion with impeccable Gypsy credentials on both sides of the ropes and is increasingly becoming a leading figure inside a culture that revolves around men trading punches. Fury, by the way, is not a muscle knucklehead and has a gentle voice, gentle way and the looks of a Thirties leading man.

Thankfully, Fury never has to now take his shirt off and shape up like "real men do" when he or his family is insulted, or somebody steps over the line and talks about his father. He never has to strip down now but, make no mistake, he would if pushed.

"I've had hundreds of challenges at traveller gatherings," said Fury. "They get a few beers in them and they start thinking they are Tyson or Ali; throwing punches, swearing and jumping around with their big fat bellies. I'd love to knock a few of them out.

"It's part of my life but I'm British champion and if I knocked out all the jokers they'd go straight to the police and that would be the end of me as a fighter.

"When I'm ringside I don't mind ripping my shirt off and challenging other boxers because the crowd love it when I do that. I did that with [Dereck] Chisora at the O2 and told him to fight me like a man and to stop running away. The security walked me out of the building but I made my point. It was just a bit of pantomime and I have to say that Chisora is a nice man, a real man for fighting me," said Fury, who beat Chisora to win the British title in July.

Fury defends his Commonwealth title in Manchester tomorrow night against unbeaten Neven Pajkic, a Bosnian who is now Canadian. He is the fourth unbeaten heavyweight whom Fury has met in his last six fights.

"I'm a Gypsy fighter and that means I will never turn away from a proper fight – I don't mean a fat idiot on a site somewhere – this kid is tough and he has been very rude about my family. He's been rude about my wife, Paris, and my dad. This is personal and I want to really beat him," said Fury.

Anyone insulting Fury's father, Gypsy John, a professional fighter from the Nineties, would touch a severely raw nerve with the son who worships him. Gypsy John is in prison, serving an 11-year sentence for a fight that ended with a man losing an eye. According to one view, a long-running and predictable family feud ended when three men got into a fight with Gypsy John one day. It was brutal, with grown men desperately grappling and biting each other's faces; a man lost an eye. "My dad did what he had to do. It's not been easy."

Violence is never as much fun as it is portrayed in the snippets that have been on television or in films made about the Gypsy life. It's a serious business for Fury and not one that he enjoys watching trivialised in the press or on television.

"You are born a traveller," added Fury. "You can't make out you're a traveller just like you can't make out that you are black. There are far too many plastic Gypsies at the moment. It's my life and it's what I am and even if I had £10m I could still sleep in a caravan." The £10m, by the way, is an easily reachable sum if one or two fights fall into place.

"Don't worry, I will never change. I'm not on a mission to be the King of the Gypsies but I do want people to realise that there is more to the way I live than a big wedding, 'grabbing' and hundreds of kids without shoes running all over the place," said Fury, with a reference to hit TV show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding; a show that divided opinion both inside and outside the travelling world.

"There were a lot of lies in it, a lot of fakes in it and I didn't recognise a lot of it. I'm from a higher class of Gypsy than many of the people in the film. To be honest, it made us look like animals and act like animals. The show really pissed me off," added Fury, who is unbeaten in 16 fights, stands 6ft 9in and weighs in at just over 18 stone.

A balance to his gentle and giving nature is the gloom that has been part of his life for many years and he has spoken of his "depression mode". The birth of his two children has balanced his life but still his head remains fragile. The boxing, he explains, keeps him sane. He will need to be handled with care if he loses for the first time as a pro. He has also become, like thousands in the travelling community, a born-again Christian. A move, he admits, that was inspired by his quest for meaning. "I do sometimes think life is pointless and that is where the boxing comes in," he says.

Fury is a tremendous talent, a fabulous antidote to the long list of gutless American challengers for the heavyweight title. "I want to bring heavyweight boxing back to the days when the champion was a hero," said Fury. "I mix in a bit of pantomime before the fight but when the bell sounds it is all action. That's all I can do, that's all any man can do. I don't know how some people hold their head up and still call themselves boxers."

Fury: Life and times

Name Luke Tyson Fury – his father named him after Mike Tyson.

Height 6ft 9in.

Weight 18st.

Reach 85in.

Style Orthodox.

Early life Born on 1 June 1988 in Manchester to an Irish traveller family with a long history in bare-knuckle boxing.

Honours Represented both Ireland and England at amateur level

Amateur His record stood at 34 fights, 30 wins, 26 wins by KO and 4 losses.

Pro His record stands at 16 fights, 16 wins and 11 wins by TKO.

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