Tyson Fury remembers with dazzling clarity the moment he took his first step on the path to redemption, which brings him to Sin City for his life-defining world heavyweight title fight with Deontay Wilder.
It came as what he calls ‘my two years in hell’ reached their lowest ebb as he stood on a lonely country road, cloaked in depression.
‘On that day in 2017 I was down in Cornwall,’ Fury reveals. ‘I found myself walking on a road near St Michael’s Mount. I looked down at myself and saw how horribly fat I was. I felt terrible. I hadn’t trained or fought for ages and I knew that if I carried on like that I would die young.
Fury claims that intensive training in the gym and a healthy lifestyle has helped save his life
‘I’d always been at my happiest in the gym and the ring. I knew my only hope of salvation was a second chance at boxing. But I couldn’t find a way. There was too much blocking my mind, court cases and all kinds of stuff.
‘So as I stood there I reached out to God. I prayed that although it would be difficult, could he guide me back into training and fighting again. The prayer was answered. I was shown the path to do what I thought had become impossible.’
It is not his only Road-to-Damascus conversion. In his first fight with Wilder he rose still comatose from a monstrous last round punch to retrieve the epic draw which preserved both their unbeaten records.
Those two years following his multi-belt championship victory over Wladimir Klitschko had been fraught with mental illness, self-confessed cocaine abuse and condemnation of his strict Biblical views on sexuality, plus a self-imposed exile from the ring.
With his demons conquered, he can identify the benefits of even that distressing hiatus.
As we talk in a sprawling house on the desert fringes of Las Vegas where he has been living for the last two months of intense training, he says: ‘If everything had gone smoothly for the two years following 2015 we wouldn’t be sitting here today. I would already have had the big fights with Wilder and Anthony Joshua and I would be retired now.
‘But now they’re coming at a time when heavyweight boxing is a much bigger deal than it was five years ago. My only regret is that for my own health and well-being I didn’t become a gym junkie and start living clean ten years earlier. I feel so good now.
‘It’s a huge turn around. The public have changed, more so since the full story has come out in the TV documentaries and my book. Everyone loves an underdog and a comeback. This is seen as one of the biggest comebacks ever, now that people know all about the bi-polar, the thoughts of suicide and how I’ve come out of depression to become a world ambassador for mental health… That’s something they have to respect.
‘To be exact, it’s not the actual boxing that’s saved me. It’s the gym that keeps me happy. And it’s the pure lifestyle with five meals a day of proper food prepared by one of the world’s top nutritionists which keeps me healthy.
‘Everyone knows how I used to balloon up between fights. That meant that I didn’t have proper training camps, just fat camps. I didn’t keep learning about boxing. The only thing I practised was weight loss. It took me until I was 29, instead of 19, to realise that I’ve had my fill of high living, more than enough juicy burgers and pints of beer and that I had to chuck out all those diet Cokes.’
The heavyweight has excluded most friends from his preparations and also changed trainers
Friends are mostly excluded, also, as the fights become bigger and more important.
He says: ‘This one with Wilder is serious. I go to bed early and get up early. The only times I leave the house are to fulfil my contracted media commitments and go the gym.’
Visitors are restricted; his siblings come and go. His new trainer Javan SugarHill Steward – nephew of the late, great Manny Steward – is ever-present and two or three key team members are here.
But he says: ‘Basically I’ve shut out the outside world. Only my wife, my dad and my brothers have been allowed to call me.’
The sudden replacement of Ben Davison as trainer raised eyebrows but Fury says: ‘I did good in the first fight with Wilder and believe I won it despite the two knock-downs. People said if it’s not broke don’t fix it but I don’t want this second one to end up with the judges.
‘SugarHill’s not been asked to change anything, only to add other elements. To get the knock-out – and I have had recurring dreams of doing that in the second round – it’s not more power I need as some are saying but better balance.
‘I’ve always had this God-given athleticism and mobility but while that herky jerky movement puts opponents off I don’t only want to make ’em miss I want to make ’em miss and make ’em pay. This time I will be balanced and set to make Deontay pay when he misses, by taking off his lips.’
There has not been much of this trash talk so far. A respect for each other grew out of the brutal drama of the first fight.
Although Fury says: ‘I’ll have some fireworks for him this week. The suits are ready! I’m an entertainer as well as the best heavyweight in the world and we are in the world capital of entertainment.’
Fury is convinced he will relieve Wilder (pictured) of his crown and complete his collection
Not, as has been suggested, that he is thinking of taking up residence here.
He says: ‘America is a nice country and Vegas is a nice place where the sun shines a lot more than back in Morecambe. But I will always go back. That’s where my family live and family is the only thing I have in my life other than boxing. They are the key for me and my future. My wife and children.’
There is one other thing he does say he could be: ‘A psychologist. I’m being that now. I’m living rent-free in Deontay’s head. I enjoy the mind games. Like everyone else I’ve fought, he doesn’t know what to make of me. He thinks I’m crazy but he has no idea how to handle me.
‘He’s hoping that the force of that blow at the end of the first fight is haunting me. But if I didn’t want this rematch I wouldn’t have taken the fight. He’s the one worrying. He knows he’s a one-trick pony, though the trick is a hugely powerful punch. But when he goes to bed these days he’s thinking that he landed his one trick on me twice and it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t finish me off.
‘He knows that if ever he was going to beat me it was then. He saw me keep getting up and going back at him. Now he doesn’t know what I’m doing. I’m the master of the mind games. I’ve trapped him into playing my games.’
The Gypsy King is convinced that he will relieve the Bronze Bomber of the WBC crown and complete his collection of all the alpha-belts.
Fury recognises the magnitude of his rematch and believes he will later fight Anthony Joshua
But much as he knows the magnitude of Saturday night in the MGM Grand Garden Arena he still says: ‘Nothing will ever come close to the night of the 28th of November 2015. Beating Klitschko, the long-reigning champion. Sweet. Even sweeter doing it in Germany where you hardly ever get the decision. Not even knocking out Deontay in the second will top that. Although like Ali-Frazier 1 was the Fight of the Last Century ours could be the Fight of This Century.
‘Not even beating Anthony Joshua after that would be bigger and I believe he will take the fights against us now Wilder and me have stepped up to the plate. Everyone knows we’re the top three heavyweights in the world and it would be a sin if we don’t all fight each other, in any order.’
Fury is mentally so secure now that he can say: ‘There will be no relapse with me if I were to lose this fight. I can take losing a fight as long as it’s to a better man. If I meet that man and he beats me I will say fair enough and shake his hand. The only thing I couldn’t stand would be not performing to my best. That’s why I’ve trained so hard, sparred more than ever, done everything possible so I have no excuses.’
Another early night was coming as we turned full circle from that road in Cornwall. Fury says: ‘Just like I read my verse of the day every morning, I pray every night.’
So will he pray for victory? ‘I never do that,’ he says. ‘I pray that I perform at my very best. I pray that my opponent does the same so we give the world a great fight. I pray that we both get out of the ring without injury and can go home safely to our families. And I pray that the best man wins.’ Amen to that.