Tyson Fury vs Otto Wallin: The ‘Gypsy King’ returns to Las Vegas’ golden minefield to walk in iconic footsteps

Take the glory, the money, the fame; leave the vanity of celebrity for all those others walking the acres of casino floors

Steve Bunce
Las Vegas
Monday 09 September 2019 11:29
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Tyson Fury says he looks forward to fighting Deontay Wilder again

Tyson Fury was 20 when he turned professional, 22 when he won the British title, 27 when he won the world title, nearly 29 stone when he lost his way and now, at 31, he is right in the middle of his true heavyweight years.

On the heavyweight road, he has moved through trainers, promoters, television companies and left leisure centres in Britain for the eternal, burning bright lights of Las Vegas. It is a city that knows a thing or two about genius, about charlatans and about boxing fairy tales. Fury is loved in this city of shifting loyalties.

On Saturday, he fights a Swedish heavyweight prospect called Otto Wallin in the T-Mobile Arena, his second outing here, and there is now a growing sense of a residency. In Las Vegas, the most transient of cities, a man can feel at home quickly after a big breakfast, a free coffee, a dollar-investment in a rolling fruit machine and Fury has embraced the place and sucked in that feeling. The reverse is true and a fighter can feel isolated, unwanted here in a second of precious Las Vegas time. The fights have to get harder after Wallin to keep the public coming.

In Las Vegas he has now met Mike Tyson, the man he was named after, and no doubt the pair swapped war stories from their days on boxing’s frontline of heartbreak and joy - there is nothing the first Tyson has not been through and his darkest depths of despair have been visited by the second Tyson. Their Las Vegas days will now belatedly unite the pair. “Cool guy,” they both offered after meeting.

It is a strange city of the docile and the fabulous, a perfect last resort for heavyweight boxers. It’s boxing’s ultimate melting pot of talent, failures and the men and women who arrive are on missions. The wannabe fighters, having moved from all over the world, queue outside Floyd Mayweather’s gym, hoping for an invite, dreaming of discovery, preening in expectation. It’s a horrible meat market to witness.

Sonny Liston, the baddest of heavyweight men, fought and won the first ever world heavyweight title fight to take place here in 1963. He needed just 130 seconds to ruin Floyd Patterson. Seven years later, Liston, by now a resident, was found dead in his apartment. It was heroin, the police said: “Bullshit,” shouted Liston’s loved ones. The death remains a Las Vegas heavyweight mystery. It’s not the only one, old champions die here all the time with or without ceremony.

The great Joe Louis was next to Ali at Liston’s funeral and Louis, for a time, was a “meeter and greeter” on the doors at Caesars Palace. Sadly, sweet Joe was heavily sedated most days and he was prone to landing perfect left hooks on the chins of eager tourists. Louis, like Liston, died in the city and there is a mystery attached there. Louis has a statue and Liston a simple sign at the burial ground where he faces eternity as the only adult in the children’s section. Liston’s last resting place is perhaps the perfect Las Vegas parable: The world’s most feared man buried with the innocent.

Mike Tyson returns to his dressing room in the MGM Grand after being defeated by Evander Holyfield

Muhammad Ali slipped in and out of Las Vegas in the Seventies, fought in the rings and kissed the diamond-studded tunics of Elvis Presley in hotel penthouses. However, it was a few years later that Tyson became the true Las Vegas heavyweight idol; it was his fighting playground, making millions, biting ears and buying tigers that defined his decade of wins and losses. Lennox Lewis tried it, Vitali Klitschko had a pit-stop and Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe shared over 30 unforgettable rounds. A Tyson fight week was a special type of crazy, especially at the end when his legal medication would have dropped a rhino.

And way below the popular memory line, heavyweight men like Candy Slim Merritt, the damaged Ike Ibeabuchi, former champion Michael Dokes and giant Cuban Jorge Luis Gonzalez begged and fought and died or vanished in this truly heartless city. They went down into the darkness with their bandaged hands extended, collecting a last dollar for a final fix, a bus fare or just an old-fashioned beer.

Muhammad Ali defeats Floyd Patterson in the 12th round at the Las Vegas Convention Centre

So, welcome back to Las Vegas Tyson Fury, and once again take from this place of trickery, demons and deceit, the finest bits. Take the glory, the money, the fame; leave the vanity of celebrity for all those others walking the acres of casino floors. Wallin is the perfect man for another, slightly more difficult fight in a city which has been searching for a new heavyweight hero now for over 25 years. Welcome back, big lad.

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