One may safely assume Tyson Fury’s encounter with the school careers advisor was one of the briefer instances of preparing the pupil to enter the workplace. Partly because Fury wasn’t there, having quit school at ten, but coming from a long line of boxers, brawlers, bare-knucklers and the odd grandmother who “was no pushover”, he was destined for the fight game from day one.
Literally. Born three months premature and needing to be revived three times when only a few minutes old, his father John, himself a professional boxer, prophesied that this child would one day become the heavyweight champion of the world. An appropriate name was thus bestowed, and so it came to pass.
Treating him with the reverence traditionally accorded such a warrior, however, has not been so easy for the public. Turning up for press conferences dressed as Batman, for example, or piling on the stones during long spells of depression have complicated his acceptance as an elite sportsman. Yet he’s always been an outrageous athlete. As a child he could bash a golf ball 250 yards with just one hand.
His terrifying immensity – 6ft 5in and 15 stone by the age of 14 – cut both ways though, as in early fights opponents would take one look at him and vanish, but word of the teenage traveller sensation spread. And while training facilities remained “basic” (including “outside Uncle Hughie’s mechanic’s shed”), as did nutrition (pies by Asda), his versatility and self-confidence, combined with some canny family cornermen saw him flatten increasingly more skilful opponents.
In turn, they led to more eccentric celebrations. After battering the American Kevin Johnson in Belfast, the post-fight festivities back at the hotel featured Fury’s singing to Johnson’s piano accompaniment. He emerged shirtless from Madison Square Garden after beating Steve Cunningham and spent his entire purse on a chinchilla coat. But after beating Vladimir Klitschko to win the world title in 2015, he was himself flattened by depression for two years, which came at him with all the tricks: paranoia, hallucinations, insomnia, multi-day drinking benders, suicidal ideation.
He was diagnosed with OCD and as bipolar, but only began the climb back up to the ring, and back down to his fighting weight (from ten stone over), when like many fighters before him, he knelt to ask God for assistance. God agreed, and once various scheduling irritations were set aside, he gave the fearsome Deontay Wilder, and the boxing world, the shock of its life when Wilder knocked him OUT COLD, only for Fury to come round at the count of five and carry on fighting. (Wilder/Fury II is in February.)
There are times in the book when Fury skates over the detail, such as “my dad was handed a prison sentence after a row with another man” – he got 11 years for gouging another man’s eye out – or unexplained fallings out with close family members, but otherwise he delivers on his “Behind the Mask” promise. Beneath the rowdy showmanship is a gifted athlete with bottomless reservoirs of determination and a rare willingness to be frank about his vulnerability to depression. Like Wilder, you may have to take him more seriously than your instincts suggest.
Behind the Mask, by Tyson Fury. Century, £20