Tyson Fury, the travelling community and a legacy far beyond titles in the ring

The ‘Gypsy King’ toppled Deontay Wilder in February to regain his heavyweight crown and emerge as a role model for his community

Callum Room
Friday 17 July 2020 10:02
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Tyson Fury responds to Deontay Wilder blaming defeat on his outfit

It was June 2016, just a few months after he was crowned the heavyweight champion of the world when Tyson Fury contemplated ending it all.

A champion boxer suffocated by his own mental health problems; Fury’s depression had hit an all-time low. He was fighting suicidal thoughts which ultimately led to him to racing down an unknown motorway at speeds of 190mph with the intention of going straight into the oncoming bridge.

Four years on, and the WBC heavyweight champion has staged a remarkable comeback to overcome his problems and return to the summit of the heavyweight division. It is the eve of what should have been the trilogy against Deontay Wilder, who had exercised his rematch clause before the coronavirus pandemic ended all sporting events for several months.

Fury’s victory over Deontay Wilder in February marked not only a victory for himself but a victory for the travelling community as a whole. Born and raised in Manchester but originating from Irish traveller descent, the ‘Gypsy King’ prides himself on his heritage and increasingly sees himself as a champion for the travelling community and an advocate for change.

Fury’s battles inside and out of the ring have inspired those struggling both in the community and in wider society. Like others, Fury has suffered from mental health problems, turning to drugs and alcohol to help relieve the pain in times of desperation. His openness with mental health has helped to breakdown ideas of masculinity inside the community and his ability to beat his demons has given others strength, teaching them to not give up.

Fury has broken down barriers for the travelling community

His recovery has not only saved his own life but offered new hope to the likes of Jimmy McCrory, an Irish traveller and a legend of the bare-knuckle boxing world.

“He inspired me; it gave me that kick to get off my arse that I needed. I honestly thought that I couldn’t go on and that I was just waiting to die in my big black hole with depression,” said McCrory.

“I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. I blocked everything in for years, a lot of my friends committed suicide, I blocked that in. I used cocaine and alcohol to block everything out. I used to snort ounces and ounces, smoking and drinking for weeks. I wouldn’t sleep then I’d do the same thing over and over again.

“I thought if Tyson can do it and he’s got a lot more money, fame and distractions than I do, if he can do it for his kids and Paris then I will do the same for mine. He’s fantastic, he’s a gentleman. We get on well, we’ve had the same problems. If you’ve got the right support network around you anything can be defeated.

The British heavyweight upset Deontay Wilder in February

“I’m getting help myself but not too long ago I wanted to be dead, I tried to take my own life. I thought of doing the worst and I’ve sorted myself out now, I’m in a program, hopefully getting back fit again.”

On a daily basis, the travelling community faces discrimination which can have a profound bearing on mental well-being. The persecution and prejudice they experience often leads to the community becoming alienated. Fury’s success has enabled him to act not only as a precedent setter for travellers but an inspiration due to his positivity in the face of adversity.

“It’s like anything, there’s good and bad in all walks of life and unfortunately if something happens with a member of the travelling community, people remember the bad and they don’t remember the good,” McCrory adds.

“You might have one bad egg and you’ll be remembered for that one person’s actions even though you could have hundreds of other good travellers doing good things.

“People discriminate against me all the time because they see that persona, James ‘the Gypsy Boy’ McCrory. They think of that persona, a bare-knuckle fighter and they think I’m an animal, but I’m far from it, I’ve got a big heart.”

Growing up in a household where nobody talked about their mental well-being, Fury knows the importance of communication. His prominence in both the traveller community and wider society allows him to act as a beacon of hope for those in need and he is able to challenge the narrative by igniting often difficult conversations around mental health.

“He [Fury] shines a light on the issues of mental health in traveller men,” says Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Traveller Movement. “Those in the community often don’t seek the support they need due to ideas of masculinity. But equally, there is a lot of difficulty for travellers in accessing the services.

“What he is doing around mental health, the conversations certainly will open up much wider discussions and help people. Suicide rates within the traveller community are exceptionally high and it’s something we hear every other week that a young person from the traveller community has committed suicide.”

As well as championing mental health in the traveller community, Fury’s well-documented comeback has helped to break down stereotypes that wider society has of travellers. He showed incredible strength and determination to make such a successful comeback which has led to him becoming a champion and role model both in and out of the ring.

“Tyson has broken the stereotype of travellers not having ambition, not working and not doing anything. We’ve seen a young man who has broken through glass ceilings. He has a fantastic work ethic and huge determination,” adds MacNamara.

Tyson Fury has overcome his demons to regain the heavyweight title 

“He is a role model for not just travellers but a lot of young people who are coming from poor working-class backgrounds who can look at someone like Tyson and aspire to what he has actually achieved through sheer hard work and determination. On top of that, he has donated so much to homelessness and to mental health charities.”

Fury’s success in the ring has prompted documentaries, such as ITV’s Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King to be broadcast. These programs show the real lives of Irish travellers and help breakdown the misconception wider society has of the community as a whole.

“It’s a lovely documentary. These documentaries about him are really helping the community. They’re showing people a different side that has not been shown on television,” MacNamara says.

“It’s very different to say, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, which we would seriously consider as a mockumentary and ridiculing. None of us know those travellers and that is not how the travelling community live.

“You see who Tyson is, very much as a traveller and you see how Paris is as a traveller woman and you see how they live their lives. The majority are like Tyson Fury, he’s an Irish traveller, his people are from Galway, that’s what the majority of people are like that you will meet.”

While the belts that Fury wins will be what the records show, his victory against his toughest opponent yet will define the legacy of his career. His comeback showed it was possible to rise from the lowest of lows to defeat your demons and helped champion change for the travelling community.

He is an icon of the community who is breaking down stereotypes and outdated ideas of masculinity to ensure a better life for his family and others. He is a champion in the ring and a champion out of it, he really is the ‘Gypsy King.’

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