In April Tyson Fury was finished with boxing, but now he has realised he just cannot live without it.
Fury puts his WBC world heavyweight championship on the line on Saturday as he fights fellow Briton Derek Chisora with 60,000 watching at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
After defeating Dillian Whyte with a stunning sixth-round stoppage in front of 94,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in the spring, Fury said: “This might be the final curtain for the Gypsy King.”
But Fury, born three months premature, weighing just one pound and not expected to live, has been a fighter all of his life. And he just can’t stop.
“For four months I was retired and I was back in that moment when life was very dark and very dull,” Fury told BT Sport.
“I ain’t back boxing for a belt, more money, to win five fights or to unify the division – I’m back boxing because of this,” he added, pointing at his head.
Fury’s battle with mental health problems has been well documented. After he stunned then champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 to pick up the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO belts, Fury spent two and a half years out of the ring.
He has since described himself as becoming “a fat pig at 28 stone, drinking and taking drugs on a daily basis” and that he “suffered with depression up to the point of suicide, anxiety attacks, everything, you couldn’t get any lower”.
After that victory over Whyte, Fury, with 32 victories and one draw, felt he was slipping back to how he had been in 2017 and had to act.
“I know now I can’t live a normal life, it’s not going to happen. It was going downhill rapidly,” said the 34-year-old Morecambe fighter. “I don’t know any other way of keeping sane, without boxing I’m nothing.
“I’m very selfish because I should’ve walked away in April when I said I would but I’m back for more punishment, an idiot really, but what can I do?”
‘Putting out the bins and picking up dog poo’
His former trainer Ben Davison, who helped Fury lose 10 stone to get back in the ring a few years ago, felt Fury did not expect to fight again.
“When Tyson said it, he 100% believed in that moment he would retire,” Davison told BBC Sport. “But it’s probably mental health, he got bored and wanted something to do.
“He loves boxing and got back to it. He’s a fantastic athlete, always ready to do the rounds, relaxed and in control.”
Promoter Frank Warren said he was happy Fury was boxing again, but would have told him to quit if it was bad for his health.
“He had five months and he was putting the bins out and picking up dog poo – it drove him crazy,” Warren told BBC Sport.
“He told me he didn’t want to fight anymore, but he had said that a couple of times. Whatever he wanted to do I was with him.
“If I thought he shouldn’t be fighting I’d be the first one to say it. I’d tell him to give it up. He wouldn’t be the first fighter I’d said that to.”
‘The best heavyweight of a generation’
Since his return in 2018, Fury has fought eight times, including a thrilling trilogy with American Deontay Wilder, but has admitted the gruelling fights are taking its toll.
“I turned pro at 20, I’m like an old banger Ford Escort with 250,000 miles on the clock,” he said. “Every part of me is battered to pieces – joints, elbows, knee, back, I’ve got some severe mileage on the clock.”
Former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton, now a BT Sport pundit, feared Fury would have too many fights, but believes he is “in the right head space” for Saturday’s event.
Frampton said: “I asked him ‘at some point it has to end, what do you do then?’
“The answer was pretty dark. At some point he’s going to have to figure out he can’t go on. He can’t box when he’s 60.
“There’s other things that can fill that void, maybe training or managing fighters.”
“My only concern for this fight would be he’s beaten Chisora twice before and may overlook him. But if Fury’s switched on, he’s the best heavyweight of a generation.”
Chisora steps in as Joshua and Usyk have to wait
There was a lot of criticism on social media when 38-year-old Chisora – a boxer that has lost three of his past four fights and suffered 12 defeats in his 45-bout career – was named as Fury’s opponent.
Fury beat Chisora in a wide points victory in 2011 when they fought for the British and Commonwealth titles and again in 2014 when Chisora was retired by his corner at the end of the 10th round in a contest for the British and European belts.
Warren said Chisora was the highest ranked available heavyweight, while potential fights with two-time champion Anthony Joshua and reigning IBF, IBO, WBO and WBA holder Oleksandr Usyk fell through, although the Ukrainian could be next if Fury wins.
Chisora remains a hugely popular fighter with his relentlessly attacking style and the fact he never ducks a challenge. Fury himself called Chisora a “folk hero” and said he and his children cheered him on when watching his fights.
He may well have lost 12 times, but seven of those came against men who have held a world title, with three defeats against those who have challenged for a world belt.
Nevertheless, Fury is odds on favourite at 1-20, while you can get odds of 14-1 on Chisora, who would become the fifth oldest heavyweight champion if he caused an upset.
“I rank Chisora as highly as I rate Usyk,” added Fury.
“I’ve trained as hard as I would do for anyone and if I didn’t I would be an absolute idiot. I definitely won’t underestimate Chisora.”