LAS VEGAS, NV. -- For centuries now, fighting has been the Fury family business. A clan of Irish Travellers, the Furys were fighters -- the bare-knuckle variety, mostly -- the way other families were cobblers or farmers or blacksmiths. They've fought in mine shafts and quarries, in pubs and on street corners, on rooftops and in basements.
But never here, in Vegas, the fight game's global epicenter. Until now. Until Tyson Fury.
"They've been waiting for this for hundreds of years," he says. "And I finally arrived."
It occurs to me now, seated on the balcony of a high roller's suite high above The Strip, that this is exactly what heavyweight boxing needs. It's been a while since there's been a champion who spoke of himself in messianic terms.
"When I was a young boy," Fury says, "I said, 'I'll never go to Las Vegas unless I box there.'"
On Saturday night, at the MGM Grand Garden, it'll finally come to pass. Fury will fight WBO No. 2-ranked Tom Schwarz (24-0, 16 KOs, all but one of those contests in his native Germany). It's a presumptive tune-up for the most anticipated heavyweight bout since Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in 2002. Wilder-Fury II -- on track for early 2020 -- will be a better fight, of course, as they've already produced perhaps the most thrilling draw the division has ever seen, but also because Tyson Fury endured his demons infinitely better than his namesake.
He has an intuitive understanding of his role here: not merely as a fighter, but headlining a show on The Strip. "If it comes, it comes," he says when asked about the prospect of knocking out Tom Schwarz. "But you will be entertained. If I don't entertain the fans, I don't deserve to be here."
He gets it, you're thinking. He's perfect for Vegas. It's a perfection abounding in irony. As conceived by the mob, and perfected by their even more ruthless corporate heirs, Vegas is a relentless mathematical proposition. It's not about luck, merely the artifice of luck. It's about probability. And Tyson Fury is the least probable man I've ever met.
Vegas didn't get to be Vegas on long shots like Tyson Fury. Two years ago he was pushing 400 pounds -- drinking, drugging and suicidal. The victory he'd predicted since adolescence -- beating Vladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight title -- left him existentially bankrupt. The smart money, as he volunteers, had him destined for "a padded cell" or "mashing me car into a bridge." Today, in the wake of Anthony Joshua's TKO loss to Andy Ruiz, and Deontay "I want a body on my record" Wilder's heel turn, Fury isn't merely the most promotable heavyweight, he's likely the best.
Consider his assets: a $100 million contract (his figure, not mine) with Top Rank/ESPN. At 6-foot-9, he's the most nimble big man not in the NBA. His 85-inch wingspan makes for the longest reach in boxing for a championship-level fighter. And unlike Wilder or Joshua, he didn't fail at something else (basketball or soccer, respectively) before turning to boxing. In fact, at 30, Fury doesn't remember a life before boxing.
"It wasn't something that I learned at 20, like some of these boxers of today," he says. "I'm born and bred to fight. They come to boxing because they can't do football or basketball or baseball or whatever else. I didn't want to do anything else. I'm born and bred to fight."
He has what both Wilder and Joshua seemed to lack when tested -- fighting instincts honed early with a sense of craft. What's more, Fury will enter the ring on Saturday at about 260 pounds.
"I don't know anybody in the history of boxing who lost that amount of weight," he says at the outset of a typically Fury-esque monologue, "anyone who'd been out for three years, been on drugs and alcohol and suffered with mental health problems... to come back after six months (of training) and beat the so-called best heavyweight out there, that ain't been done before. It ain't humanly possible. But it wasn't done by a human. I believe it was divine intervention... I'm the only man in history who can come to someone else's country, get robbed and still get a draw. How does that work? No one will ever know, because I don't know."
He's talking about the Wilder fight, of course. If the judges had a split draw, Fury won by every other measure. While Wilder has freaky power -- more than anyone I've ever seen -- Fury used it to upstage him, getting up off the canvas in the 12th round, a blinking homage to The Undertaker. For all the drugs and booze, his jiggly flanks and suicidal thoughts, in that moment it was impossible not to root for Tyson Fury.
It's not just the division but perhaps the sport itself that changed in that moment. If there's to be an actual heavyweight renaissance, it started right there. But that's not how the evening began. Rather, there was a widely held presumption that the erstwhile fat man, still psychiatrically vulnerable, was simply cashing out against the biggest puncher of the era.
"Everybody and his dog thought I was getting knocked out in two rounds," Fury says.
Who's everybody, I ask.
"Me dad, me brothers, me wife," he says.
Wow. His dad, John Fury, was 8-4-1 as a pro heavyweight back in Britain, but legendary as a bare-knuckler, a standing that entitled him recognition as a "Gypsy King," one of several on either side of Tyson's family. It's tough, as Tyson says, when the patriarch picks you to lose, though not exclusively by KO: "My own father told me, 'You probably won't even get knocked out; you'll get put in a wheelchair for life.'"
What did you tell him? I ask.
"That I've been traveling the world for 11 years to find someone to do it, and if Deontay Wilder's the man, let it be."
Tyson and his father didn't speak for seven weeks.
For the record, John Fury didn't believe his son couldn't beat Wilder, but that he wasn't ready.
The best way out of his depression, Tyson learned, lay in the routine discipline of a fighter's life. He found a new trainer, then-24-year-old Ben Davison, and together they worked two or three times a day.
For his comeback fight, June 2018, against somebody named Sefer Seferi, he dropped 112 pounds, weighing in at a less-than-toned 276. Two months later, against the inestimable Francesco Pianeta, he was 258 -- just 11 pounds over what he'd been for Klitschko. Still, by Fury's own admission, he wasn't yet himself: "When I originally came back, I was supposed to have four bum fights, then was going to reassess the situation."
Instead, he reassessed after two fights in nine weeks. Patience was never his virtue. If Anthony Joshua wouldn't fight him, the WBC champion would. Bring on Wilder.
"You worked all your life to get to this position," John Fury told him. "And you're chucking it all away."
Along with the family name, of course.
Tyson understood. Even to his own blood, it seemed like a short end play, as if he were cashing out. But it got him this far, a rich man looking over The Strip, his name and CGI likeness on one marquee after another to herald his arrival.
"I don't know anybody who could've done it," says Tyson Fury. "Only me."