Tyson Fury's road: Rejuvenated heavyweight boxer ready for Wilder
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The sun shines on Tyson Fury every morning in California.
The larger-than-life heavyweight from Manchester has found comfort and calm far from home. Whether training in the high-altitude seclusion of Big Bear or sampling Los Angeles' good life at a Lakers game, Fury believes he has found the proper place to start again.
"It's been a long, hard road with many obstacles in the way," Fury said this week. "I think it's all been well documented. But it didn't get me. I found a way. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, more determined. My story has got more pain in it now. I believe that rain has passed and the sun is shining brightly."
When Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) takes on Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) at Staples Center on Saturday night in one of the biggest heavyweight bouts in years, he is fighting for a victory in the ring that would mirror his extraordinary comeback from the brink of personal disaster.
The friends and co-workers who know every detail of Fury's remarkable rise and incredible fall sometimes marvel at his recovery from depression, drug abuse, heavy drinking and spectacular weight gain during a fraught, decadent two-year spiral.
Not many fighters have reached the pinnacle of their sport as sublimely as Fury did when he defeated the seemingly unbeatable Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015.
And while many boxers have fallen hard and fast after their greatest triumphs, not many have dusted themselves off and resumed their careers with the vigor displayed by the 30-year-old man named after Mike Tyson.
'Bald, big-bearded hulk of a man'
"To see where he's at today is a testament to this man and what he's done," said his promoter, Frank Warren. "Coming from rock bottom to being here, not as the contender but the lineal champion, it's truly remarkable. He's been a consummate professional for the last year. He has already answered a lot of questions about himself, and now he has to answer the biggest one."
Everything about Fury is enormous. The self-described "bald, big-bearded hulk of a man" is a thick 6-foot-9 with a voice that can sound like tires on gravel, yet he carries the physical presence of an elite athlete, not a bar bouncer.
Fury showed that athleticism while carving out a spot in Britain's crowded boxing landscape. He patiently maneuvered his way into a shot at the peerless Klitschko, and he dominated the long-reigning champ with a persistent jab and canny strategy in a shocking unanimous-decision win.
And then it all fell apart. A lucrative rematch with Klitschko had to be scrapped when he tested positive for cocaine use after a summer of partying, and he gradually lost all the title belts he had claimed. Fury also made a series of homophobic, sexist, transphobic and anti-Semitic statements in interviews, thoroughly eroding the goodwill established by his unlikely victory.
Fury apologized for some of his missteps, and he remained candid about his struggles with depression and the type of compulsive behavior that left him weighing nearly 400 pounds after a months-long diet of cheeseburgers, cakes and lager.
'I am the people's champion'
Fury didn't get himself together again until last year, and Britain's licensing board reinstated him in January. He returned to the ring for two moderately impressive wins over outmatched opponents last summer— but those were proper warmups for this shot at Wilder, Fury says.
"It took me about 2 1/2 years to actually start missing the sport," Fury said. "Once I started missing it, the fire re-lit again. I'm just happy that I've worked to reach this position again. As for the titles being taken away, they didn't get taken away. I gave them away myself because I had mental problems. I stand here as an ambassador for mental health, and I am the people's champion. I've got millions of people around the world that look up to me. I'm fighting for those people."
Fury never lost the ability to sell a fight. He cultivates a personality as a likable, garrulous brute, and he is a comic counterpart to the similarly verbose Wilder's more aggressive verbal style.
Earlier this week, Fury walked around Los Angeles with a video crew, asking people if they had ever heard of Wilder. He says he found only two boxing fans who had ever heard the name.
When they faced off at their final news conference Wednesday, they nearly came to blows — and while their camps held them back, Fury responded by ripping off his shirt.
Fury scoffs at any worries about ring rust or Wilder's fearsome punching power. After everything Fury has beaten to get back in the ring, he seems genuinely calm and grateful for the opportunity to get to work.
"I believe everybody deserves a second chance," Fury said. "I mean, just look at me."