Redemption Song: The Amazing Comeback of Tyson Fury
By Leonardo Donofrio
On the February 22nd Tyson Fury will face off against the formidable and unbeaten Deontay Wilder in their much anticipated rematch for the WBC heavyweight championship of the world.
Given all his has been through the fact that Tyson Fury is once again contesting for the most prized title in sport is nothing short of remarkable. He has gone from a disgraced, bloated pariah to one of the sport’s most celebrated athletes, his rebirth in America an incredible testament to his willpower, athleticism, and salesmanship.
The redemption of Tyson Fury really began with his epic battle against Wilder last December.
From legends like Jim Jeffries and Joe Louis, to icons of the modern era like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, heavyweights have always found it difficult to compete at the top level after long periods of inactivity.
At the time, only 6 months into his comeback, the Wilder fight seemed rushed and foolhardy, and few boxing experts gave him a chance.
But for Fury, as ever, the normal rules didn’t seem to apply.
Regardless of the official verdict of a split decision draw Fury simply outboxed Wilder that night. While he may not have been as sharp and fluid as he was against Wladimir Klitschko (given the rocky turbulence of his life since that defining victory how could he be?) he still had enough skills and boxing savvy to control the vast majority of the contest and had Wilder chasing shadows for most of the fight.
By round six it appeared Fury had defused the ticking time bomb in front of him; he had stolen most of the early rounds and there was an increasing look of concern etched across the scowling continence of Wilder.
But Wilder was not a man that was willing to go gently into the night. He had 39 knockouts on his record and his belief in his power was absolute. He would keep on raging.
Wilder finally caught up with Fury at the end of round 8, whipping in a frighteningly fast right hand to close the round. It was a grim portent of the violence that was to come and seemed to change the course of the fight.
By round 9 things finally appeared to be following the script that most boxing experts expected. With Fury suddenly rooted to the canvas Wilder backed him into a corner and landed two smashing right hands that finally sent him tumbling to the canvas. The writing was seemingly on the wall. After such a great start it seemed inevitable that Wilder was finally going to catch up with him.
Unbelievably though, going into the final rounds, a revitalised Fury seemed to seize control of proceedings again and the 11th was his most dominant of the fight.
Incredibly, despite his lay off and a multitude of personal problems, it was Fury who was the better-conditioned athlete and the chiselled and more active Wilder was struggling to last the distance.
While it had been an enthralling and exciting match in truth it had lacked the ebb and flow and thrilling exchanges of a truly great fight, and the narrative of the Fury comeback imbued it with a sense of drama and spectacle that probably made the fight more exciting than it actually was.
But that would all change in round 12.
It may have been a good fight after 11 rounds but by the end of the incredible and transformative 12th, it had suddenly become the stuff of boxing folklore.
Wilder had promised to ‘baptise’ Fury in the lead up to the fight. It was a vague and nebulous term that would have sounded like a tranquil benediction coming from most men, but coming, as it did, from one of the most destructive fighters in history it had altogether more sinister undertones and seemed to promise violence too terrible to even contemplate.
Fury started the 12th round full of confidence and bad intentions. He rocked an increasingly desperate-looking Wilder to his boots with a right hand and looked to be closing in for the finish. And then it happened.
The right hand that had been whistling past Fury’s whiskers for 11 rounds previously finally detonated on his chin like an atomic bomb.
Fury stiffened for a second, as if he’d been shot by a sniper’s rifle, and the following crunching left hook sent him crashing to the canvass. He lay motionless for three seconds, spread out over the ring like a giant bear rug, and the fight appeared to be suddenly over.
It was the shot heard around the world – everyone in the arena, and the millions watching on pay-per-view, gasped in disbelief. Even the American commentator, trying vainly to assimilate the unfolding drama, was lost for words. He was reduced to simply screaming, ‘mamma mia!!’ and, while hardly an articulate response, it did seem to capture the moment perfectly.
Relief washed over Wilder and he made a cut-throat gesture; no one thought Fury was going to get up. He couldn’t. This was real life. Not some Rocky movie.
But he did…
The disbelief on Wilder’s face was priceless and any fight he had still left in him evaporated at the moment. It seemed unreal, supernatural almost…
In a way though it was the baptism that Wilder had been threatening so evocatively in the build-up.
The man that somehow managed to drag himself back off the canvas and deny the salivating jaws of defeat was truly a man reborn.
He’d gone into that 12th round a great fighter but by the time the bell had rung he’d been canonised into the stuff of sporting legend.
Fury was from warrior stock, a fighting man to the very depths of his troubled gypsy soul. Could any other heavyweight in history have survived that 12th round?
The great Muhammed Ali would have found a way perhaps, grabbing and spoiling to the final bell: Larry Holmes maybe, somehow dragging himself back from the dark abyss and ungainly trying to fire back.
But it’s hard to imagine any other heavyweight surviving such a calamity. But Tyson Fury did: and not only that he came firing back at Wilder!!
As if rising from the dead was not dramatic enough Fury did not seek the sanctuary of self-preservation and, amazingly, by the end of the round, had Wilder staggering all over the ring. It was, without any doubt, one of the most incredible and dramatic rounds in heavyweight history.
More than anything else it was the remarkable heroics of the 12th round that have made Fury a global superstar and the most compelling and spellbinding athlete in boxing.
It was the talking point of the fight: no one cared about the amazing power and persistence of Wilder in delivering such an accurate and concussive punch so late in the fight.
Instead, the overriding narrative was simply: how the hell did Fury manage to get back up?! It became a metaphor for his comeback and all the out of ring struggles he’d overcome, a testament to his endurance and fighting heart, endearing him to the American public like few British fighters before him.
Bob Arum, who had guided the comeback of George Foremen, knew a boxing phenomenon when he saw one. He instantly recognised the brash, larger than life personality of Fury was an ideal fit for the American market and two months after the Wilder fight an 80 million deal with ESPN was announced, aligning Tyson Fury with a US broadcaster for his next five fights and making him an integral part of one of the biggest sports platforms in the world.
The Tyson Fury story has been an incredible, exhilarating drama, full of peaks and valleys, triumph and tragedy. Clearly, he had learned his lessons from the disastrous lapses of judgment that so marred and tainted his media profile after the Klitschko win.
The new stateside Tyson was a master at rebuilding his soiled image, spinning his mental health and drug problems into a message of hope and inspiration for millions of people.
Previously so raw and unfiltered the new Fury was more measured and mature. He was still the same wild, unpredictable Fury who could turn a press conference into a forced sing-along at the drop off a hat, but the crude and inflammatory persona of old seemed to have transformed into something far more rounded and complete.
Incredibly the man who originally pulled the curtain down on the great Wladimir Klitschko’s career, and had rescued the heavyweight division from obscurity, seems to back on course to regain the belts which he had never lost in the ring.
And, to quote the song, he had done it his way… He has always insisted it’s simply his destiny to be heavyweight king, and he may just be right. This time against Wilder he is promising to remove any lingering doubt of supremacy and will be looking for the knockout.
It would be the ultimate storybook ending to the Fury comeback.
Given everything he has achieved, and all the obstacles he has overcome, would you ever bet against him?