Fury’s triumph ‘the greatest comeback in sport’

World champion: Tyson Fury said people wrote him off because of his bald head and fat belly. © Getty

Can boxing be a force for good? One man has shrugged off his demons to become champion of the world. But the sport can lead to death and causes an alarming incidence of chronic brain injury.

He was taking a lot of drugs. He was drunk most days. He weighed 27 stone (171 kg).

He said that no one would ever accept him because of his Irish Traveller background.

He opened up about suffering from bipolar disorder and said that he no longer wanted to live.

But on Saturday 22 February 2020, Tyson Fury became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Under the bright Las Vegas lights, the self-styled “Gypsy King” overcame the American boxing legend Deontay Wilder.

It was a bruising battle, with Fury on the front-foot throughout. In the seventh round, Wilder’s team threw in the towel.

It was a fight which promoter Frank Warren dubbed, “The best performance I have seen from a British boxer in the ring. It is the best comeback in sport, not [just] boxing.”

In 2015, the 6’9” fighter was on top of the world. He defeated Wladimir Klitschko and became world heavyweight champion.

However, in the months that followed, he descend into a self-inflicted pit of despair and lost all his titles. Unsavoury comments about women, same-sex relationships and Jews became public. Drug addiction and binge drinking contributed to severe weight gain. He thought about suicide.

In 2016, Fury gave a chilling interview to Rolling Stone magazine. He felt that he had been unfairly persecuted because of his ethnicity. He thought that the boxing world was corrupt and wanted to see him fail. He was considering retirement.

“It’s been a witch hunt ever since I won that world title,” Fury said, “because of my background, because of who I am and what I do – there’s hatred for Travellers and gypsies around the world.”

However, in a Hollywood-like transformation, Fury cut the drink and the drugs and started training again. He mended ties with his family and set his sights on boxing glory once more. Competitive success was the light at the end of the tunnel.

This weekend, his story came full circle. He once again dominates the sport that almost ruined him.

So, can boxing be a force for good?

Knockout blow

No, any sport that relies on attacking and maiming another person will always do more damage than good. Hurting another person can never be an objectively good thing. There is something distinctly medieval, even gladiatorial, about paying to watch individuals hit each other in a small ring. The medical community has also been clear about the danger of repeatedly receiving blows to the head.

On the other hand, boxing is an elegant and well-respected way of channelling natural violence and competitiveness. Two impeccably trained individuals enter a ring and fight. Only one emerges victorious. It is an honest and simple sport that harnesses the aggression of the spectators and boxers alike. The violence is always controlled and restrained. The art is in the duel, not the damage done.

You Decide

  1. Did you already know about the Fury vs Wilder fight? Did you think that it was important?
  2. Is boxing too violent to be described as a sport? Should people ever be encouraged to punch one another?

Activities

  1. Research the life of another sports person who overcame the odds to find success. Compare his or her story to that of Tyson Fury.
  2. Imagine you are the trainer for an up-and-coming young boxer who has a history of personal problems. Write a speech on one side of paper, motivating him or her to take their career seriously.

Some People Say...

“Boxing is the toughest and loneliest sport in the world.”

Frank Bruno, British boxer and former heavyweight champion

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In 2005, the World Medical Association wrote: “Boxing is a dangerous sport. Unlike most other sports, its basic intent is to produce bodily harm in the opponent. Boxing can result in death and produces an alarming incidence of chronic brain injury. For this reason, the World Medical Association recommends that boxing be banned.” We also know that a wide range of other contact sports can result in brain injury: American football, rugby, ice hockey, and professional wrestling (to name a few).
What do we not know?
How the benefits of boxing balance against the risks. The lives of successful boxers, such as Muhammad Ali, demonstrate that these benefits can be substantial. In 1999, Ali was awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Century. During and after boxing, he used his position as the “greatest” to serve humanitarian and civil rights causes. It is doubtful, as Ali himself notes, that he could have achieved so much without being one of the greatest boxers and certainly the most outspoken boxer of all time. Such benefits, one could well argue, form a strong counterweight to the risks that Ali took to his health.

Word Watch

Irish Traveller
Ethnic minority with significant populations in the UK, Ireland, and the US. Usually Catholic, small-tight knit communities, that are not tied to any one location.
Bipolar disorder
Mental health condition formerly known as manic depression. A sufferer’s mood will switch from one extreme to another, often for many days at a time.
Heavyweight
Category of boxing competition reserved for those who weigh more than 91kg.
Deontay Wilder
American boxer who was heavyweight world champion between 2015 and 2020.
Threw in the towel
In boxing, the fight ends when one fighter’s team literally throws a towel into the ring. This means that they acknowledge that their fighter has lost.
Promoter
A boxing promoter is in charge of setting up and paying for everything involved in a boxing match, and often makes a lot of money in the process.
Wladimir Klitschko
Ukrainian heavyweight boxer who dominated the sport for almost a decade until his defeat to Fury in 2015. He won Olympic gold in 1996.
Maiming
Hurting, injuring.

Subjects

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