Tyson Fury: Reflections of a gypsy fighter

Britain's new heavyweight contender is proud of his Romany roots and shrugs off the Dale Farm fracas as another example of the battle his peers are always facing. Alan Hubbard meets Tyson Fury

Alan Hubbard
Saturday 29 October 2011 22:24

You might argue with the PR guru Max Clifford when he says Tyson Fury is the next big thing in boxing, but there's no way you would fancy disputing it with the young man himself. Standing a tad short of 6ft 9in, weighing in at 18 stone, unbeaten in 16 contests and freshly installed as the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion, the 23-year-old Mancunian not only looks the part but is beginning to live up to his highly marketable moniker.

When celebrity beckons, Clifford is a handy man to have in your corner, and while he exercises caution ("You never know what's going to happen in boxing") he clearly believes the fists of Fury might one day bring at least a slice of the fame and fortune of another heavyweight who was once on his books – Muhammad Ali.

"He's got fast hands, like Ali," says Clifford. "And he's a great talker. He knows how to sell tickets, how to play the game. He could be a huge star – in the ring and out. There are so many interesting aspects to him, not least the gypsy thing."

Ah yes, the gypsy thing. He may not exactly be a travelling man these days but titan Fury will tell you it's the gypsy in him that makes him what he is, coming from a bloodline of fighting Furys going back to the 19th century, a descendant of bareknuckle boxers who settled differences in fields and fairground booths. He is distantly related to the renowned cobbles scrapper Bartley Gorman, and his 48-year-old father, known as Gypsy John, also did a fair bit of bareknuckle bashing before becoming a British heavyweight contender, losing a 1991 eliminator to Henry Akinwande. You could say Tyson Fury was born to be a fighter. He was certainly christened one by a father whose idol was Iron Mike.

Fury Jnr acknowledges that the bareknuckle stuff still goes on but insists he has never wanted any part of it. "I stay away from all that. I don't go to travellers' fairs and horse-racing dos. Or anywhere that people get drunk and challenge me to a fight.

"Me being a boxer, they get a few beers inside them and they think they're Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali rolled into one and start brawling. I'd get me licence taken off me if I got involved. I'm not a troublesome person. I've never had a fight outside the ring in me life."

While "traveller" might be something of a misnomer as he has lived on permanent sites since childhood – Fury now has his own spacious house in Styal, an upmarket Cheshire village and the manor of many a millionaire footballer – he remains intensely loyal to his Romany roots. "I'm proud of what I am," he says. "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."

He hasn't lived in a caravan for years but he does occasionally sleep in one near his training base in Morecambe, Lancashire, while preparing for fights. His next is a defence of his Commonwealth title against Neven Pajkic, a tough, 34-year-old Bosnian-born Canadian – like Fury, unbeaten in 16 fights – at EventCity in Manchester's Trafford Centre on Saturday week.

"I like the feel of being a gypsy," he says. "The traveller background gives you that ultimate fighting steel, the determination and will to win, to dig deep. There's no loser in me. As a traveller you never regret anything. You do what you have to do and move on. No ifs, buts or whys."

I ask if, like other minority groups, he has encountered much prejudice because of his background. "Oh yes, I get it every day," he says. "'You gypsy bastard, you fat gypo.' All sorts of stuff. It's mainly the Facebook warriors. I know I could savage them like a pit bull if I wanted but I don't because I know every time I win it hurts them more inside."

So what did he feel about the Dale Farm evictions? He shrugs. "To be honest it was just another drip of water off the duck's back. They are going to get this sort of thing for ever. Travellers will be discriminated against for the next thousand years. Nothing will change. It's the world we live in."

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, seems a decent lad, though he probably knows a few who aren't. His father is serving a lengthy jail term for causing a man, a former friend, to lose his eye after a fight at a car auction. "I'm gutted for him but the law's the law and he pleaded guilty. The man came there for a fight and he got one but he hit me dad first.

"I visit him three or four times a month. It's hard seeing him in there but I'm hoping any success I have will help him get through it 'cos it was me dad who made me what I am. I was born and bred to be a fighter."

The Furys are a close-knit family but that doesn't always work in boxing. Fury has acquired a new Canadian trainer, Chris Johnson, after what he says was "a falling out" with his uncle Hughie, an ex-fighter who had previously looked after him.

But there is stability at home with his wife Paris, daughter Venezuela (two) and one-month-old son, Prince John James. Paris is also from travelling stock but Fury insists he was free to marry outside the community had he wished. Mind you, his views on women would hardly be endorsed by feminists. He says of Paris: "She's nice-looking and a nice person. She does a lot of housework and cleaning and cooks for me five times a day. She looks after me really well. A woman's a woman and she's there to be loved and cook some food and have some kids, not to get involved in men's business. I know your general public woman wouldn't put up with it because she would want to be involved. She'd want a pair of balls. We don't agree with that."

So no New Man, nor a material one. "Being famous or having a few quid doesn't bother me As long as there's food in the cupboard I'm happy. Money isn't my god. God is."

He became a born-again Christian five years ago. Another uncle, Ernest, is a pastor in Congleton. "I pray every night for forgiveness, for love and for knowledge, and that the world will become a better place. I also ask God to help me fulfil my potential."

Will that be the world heavyweight title? The Gypsy King is now ranked ninth in succession and though the Klitschkos beckon, Fury says they can wait. "If and when the fight makes sense, I'm up for it. At the moment it only makes sense for them."

He adds a sobering thought: "Every time I walk into that ring I know it's life or death. Him or me. That's what turns me on about boxing. I know that things could go wrong at any time. People die in the ring. If anything ever happens to me, I'm happy I have found God."

Fury v Pajkic is live on Channel 5 on Saturday 12 November. Buy tickets from Hennessy Sports, 01925 755222 or hennessysports.com

Fireworks at Wembley

Dereck Chisora, relieved of his British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles by Tyson Fury three months ago, starts his ring rehab against former Southern Area champ Larry Olubamiwo on a cracking Bonfire Night bill at Wembley Arena next Saturday.

But expect real fireworks when George Groves, the super-middleweight who decamped to promoter Frank Warren after defeating – and deflating – James DeGale, defends his British and Commonwealth titles against Liverpool's ex-champion Paul Smith.

The personable Groves, who moonlights as a stand-up comic, promises no funny business, nor the cute defensive tactics that frustrated DeGale. "This time I'll be fighting the way I like, going forward," he says.

The "Big Bang" bill-topper sees another of boxing's nice guys, the shy Scottish WBO super-featherweight champ Ricky Burns, take the riskiest gamble of his 34-fight career, moving up to contest the interim WBO lightweight title with Australia's Michael Katsidis, aka "The Brit Basher", who has twice come here and thrashed home fighters.

Fury will keep an eye on fellow traveller Billy Joe Saunders. The unbeaten "Caravan Kid" has his first title fight against Southern Area middleweight champion Gary Boulden.

The fights will be shown live on BoxNation (Sky channel 456).

Alan Hubbard


Here's your chance to win a pair of gold ringside tickets or a pair of silver ringside tickets to see Tyson Fury defend his Commonwealth heavyweight title against Neven Pajkic at EventCity, Manchester on Saturday 12 November.

Simply answer this question:

Who did Fury beat to win the Commonwealth title in July?

Email your answer to a.tong@independent.co.uk or write to The Independent on Sunday Sports Desk, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF. Entries must be received no later than Tuesday 8 November.

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