Boxing: Gypsy Fury is ready to reach the height of his powers
British heavyweight's bare-knuckle father may have called him Tyson and he's not pulling punches as he aspires to be first Romany world champion
Max Clifford has made a name for himself, as well as a good few bob, by saving some reputations and establishing others. He likes to say he is in the promotion and protection business. Not that his latest signing needs much of either. At a tad short of 6ft 9in and topping 18 stone, Tyson Fury is big enough to take care of himself, and his moniker alone is a headline-grabber, especially as he is a heavyweight boxer who aspires to be the first Romany world champion.
Even so, Clifford is a handy man to have in your corner when celebrity beckons, as it will should Fury relieve Londoner Dereck Chisora of the British and Commonwealth titlesin a £185,000 fight at Wembley on Saturday. Apart from ensuring the gypsy giant keeps his nose clean while bloodying those of his opponents, what does Clifford see in him? Fury may have the Max-factor, but does he have the X-factor?
"I'd like to think that Tyson is the next big thing in boxing – he's certainly tall enough," says the PR guru, who worked with Muhammad Ali and boxed himself as a young amateur. "He's a nice kid, too, a regular churchgoer, and of course he's very marketable. His Romany background means he's a colourful character and he has great support. He's a proud lad and quite modest. How good a fighter he is, time will tell."
Mind you, Clifford needs a sharp word of admonition following a tasteless outburst by Fury, who threatened to "kill" Chisora in the ring, labelling him "an arrogant little prick" and a "shithouse", which has caused Chisora's manager, Frank Warren, to report him to the Board of Control. Hardly the image that Clifford is keen to project.
Tyson Fury is not only a name to watch but one to conjure with. He comes from a bloodline of fighting Furys going back to the 19th Century. His 48-year-old father, known as Gypsy John, did a fair bit of bare-knuckle stuff but he was also a British heavyweight contender, losing a 1991 eliminator to Henry Akinwande. Fury Snr named Tyson after Iron Mike, his hero, almost 23 years ago.
Like another young rising star, the Olympian Billy Joe Saunders, Fury Jnr is steeped in Romany fighting folklore, a descendant of bare-knuckle scrappers who settled differences in fields and fairground booths. Travellers might be something of a misnomer as both have lived on permanent sites since childhood – Fury has his own house in Styal, an upmarket Cheshire village – but they remain immensely loyal to their Romany roots.
"I'm proud of what I am, and that's a traveller," Fury says. "I have got Irish descent, I was born in Manchester but I'm not Irish or English, I'm a gypsy. I'll tell you what makes a traveller: you're born one like you're born black. To me it is irrelevant whether I live in a house, a caravan or a tent."
Fury is a married father of two. He had a gypsy wedding but not a big fat one. He likes to live quietly and, as Clifford says, is not a bad lad, though he probably knows a few who are. His father is serving a lengthy jail term for causing a man to lose his eye after a fight at a car auction. "I'm gutted, it was self-defence," Fury Jnr says.
Born in August 1988, eight weeks premature and weighing only a pound and a half, Fury has grown into one of the most exciting wannabes in boxing, winning 30 of 34 amateur bouts, 26 by knock-out and, like Chisora, all 14 pro fights. Despite being named after Tyson, he is not Fury's fistic inspiration. "The guys I look up to are Lennox Lewis and Larry Holmes."
Chisora was due to fight Wladimir Klitschko before being gazumped by Haye, and the fight could be revived if he wins. The Zimbabwe-born Chisora, 27, is almost eight inches shorter and has more Tysonesque tendencies than Fury in stature, style and temperament. Last year he was suspended for five months for biting Paul Butlin's ear. "I was bored," he said.
Can Tyson Fury live up to his name? Or is he just another big lump, full of sound and, er, fury? Against Chisora, who is favourite, we should find out. I believe "Del Boy" will out-brawl him but I can see a close and possibly controversial verdict either way.
Chisora v Fury, 'The Big Brawl', is on Channel 5 at 10pm next Saturday
Gypsy Kings of the Ring
Gypsy Jack Cooper
Renowned as the best gypsy fighter of all. The Romany legend's bout with Iron Arm Cabbage in 1823, lasting over 30 rounds, was among the most savage in bare-knuckle history.
Best known of modern bare-knuckle fighters, supreme in world of illegal boxing, scrapping in quarries, at horse fairs, campsites and once down a mineshaft. Died in 2002 aged 57.
Won and lost British light-heavyweight title against Chris Finnegan in 1975. Now aged 62 and serving jail term for fraud.
Billy Joe Saunders
Former Beijing Olympian known as 'The Caravan Kid', undefeated after six pro fights at middleweight. Aged 22, he is great-grandson of famous gypsy bare-knuckle champion Absolom Beeney. His father Tom also admits being involved in bare-knuckle scrap once 'to sort things out, the way the travelling community does'.
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