Tyson Fury And The Gentle Art Of Myth Making

Every fighter, regardless of skill or stature, will one day throw their final punch. If Tyson Fury has indeed thrown his, one couldn’t ask for a better walk-off shot than the uppercut he landed to close the show this past Saturday night, nor a more satisfying target than Dillian Whyte’s giant planet-sized head.

Here’s the thing though; Fury is not retiring. Not from boxing, not from anything. Don’t get me wrong, I know he says he is, but you can generally parallel park an oil tanker in the gulf between what Fury says he’s going to do and what he ultimately does. Fury is, if nothing else, a born entertainer. An attention junkie of the highest order. One does not simply just turn that off. The gravitational pull of center-stage is far too strong.

And as we all know, the number one rule of life in the spotlight is to always leave them wanting more.

So as Fury hinted at retirement in his post-fight interview on Saturday while simultaneously plotting his next fight — sometimes in the same sentence — the goal wasn’t so much to confuse as it was to plant seeds. Fury gives conflicting opinions so often that it sometimes appears as if he doesn’t have any, or maybe just doesn’t know what they are. And frankly, when it comes to his professed desire to call it a day on his career, it makes no difference if he actually believes it or not. The only thing that matters is if YOU believe it.

Boxing is about stories as much, or more, than it is about combat. No fighter in recent memory has benefited more from the myth making that occurs between the actual fights than has Fury. His legacy is as much allegory as it is achievement. That is in no way meant as an insult. To have his countless in-ring achievements overshadowed by the anecdotal plot-points of his fairy tale comeback story shows what he, as a man, means to his fans and his community, both local and global. His struggles outside of the ring — many self-inflicted, it must be said — have only amplified what he’s accomplished inside of it.

Fury’s introduction to the world stage was his 2015 points win over long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko, an affair so dreadfully unwatchable that no living person has ever viewed it twice.* And though that fight resembled one Guillermo Rigondeaux sitting on another Guillermo Rigondeaux’s shoulders facing a somehow even more timid Guillermo Rigondeaux perched atop another extremely drunk Guillermo Rigondeaux’s unsteady shoulders, it is arguably the biggest moment of Fury’s career. This is because it precipitated the fall from grace that would anchor the Fury mythos for years to come. The trilogy with Deontay Wilder will ultimately define Fury’s boxing career, but it’s the personal battles — drug use, mental health, weight gain etc. — in the years in between that will define his story.

*One man in Essex tried and he lived out his final days in a maximum-security insane asylum where his caretakers went through an entire crate of velcro in a futile attempt to tape his mind back together

As Fury (32-0-1, 23 KO) and Whyte (28-3, 19 KO) made their way to the ring this past Saturday night in front of a reported 97,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London on an ESPN+ televised PPV, it was billed as the biggest night ever in British heavyweight boxing. I feel like this says more about the history of British heavyweights than it does for either Fury or Whyte but hey, 97,000 people is 97,000 people. The biggest fights are rarely the best but a crowd that large is integral to the story, and that’s ultimately what this night was about.

For reasons unbeknownst to almost everyone except the fighters and their corners — and to be honest, even they looked a little confused by it — both Fury and Whyte came out in a southpaw stance. This worked about as well as it sounds like it would for two men so large it requires a complicated system of mirrors and pulleys just for them to tie their shoes. It was really all there was to talk about in a classic feeling-out round.

Whyte would spend the rest of the fight attempting to find a way inside of Fury’s massive wingspan and, for the most part, failing miserably. The action ticked up a notch in round 4 when both men discovered the joys of what elbows and foreheads can do to cheekbones and dicks and would be admonished in kind by referee Mark Lyson for doing so.

The rough stuff would ultimately be Whyte’s last stand. Plagued not so much by a lack of desire to land punches as the sheer inability to do so. In the closing seconds of round 6 Fury would land a nasty uppercut — apparently Whyte’s kryptonite — that would put the challenger on his ass and nearly keep him there. Whyte would beat the count but a glazed look and legs shakier than a Ricky Hatton bachelor party were all Lyson needed to call a halt to the action at 2:59 of the round.

After the fight Fury professed himself to be the greatest heavyweight of all time. He also announced his retirement while concurrently making plans for his next fight. He stated that he’s not in this for the money while simultaneously extolling the monetary virtues of future exhibition fights, a la Floyd Mayweather. Fury says a lot of shit. It doesn’t have to make sense. A story like his requires an unreliable narrator and no one is more suited for the job than he himself.

Fury is, of course, not the greatest heavyweight of all time. He’s arguably not even the greatest heavyweight of this young century. Does becoming undisputed by beating the winner of the rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua this summer get him closer to earning that distinction? You bet your dirty little buttcheeks it does. But as of this moment, Fury’s not quite there. His size, speed and power would be hurdles for any heavyweight in history, but like most claims of era-spanning dominance, it’s based strictly in the hypothetical.

Once again though, it doesn’t matter if it’s true. It only matters that you believe it. That’s how legends work. You weed out the inessential details until all that’s left is the inspiring highlights, no matter how parabolic.

By announcing his retirement, Fury has once again set the stage for an epic comeback. All the virtues of his previous revival(s) will only be magnified by the triumphs and struggles in between. If and when Fury comes out of his self-imposed seclusion, the narrative will once again be squarely centered around the recuperative abilities of one of boxing’s most proud over-sharers. Fury knows the power of story and there’s no better kind than an unexpected comeback, regardless of how pre-planned.

As for Whyte, he’ll be back though likely never on this size stage. He’s been waiting since like 1987 or some shit for this title shot and he turned in a display that wouldn’t be unfair to categorize as lackluster. Frankly I was annoyed at his performance simply because putting little to no effort into the biggest opportunities of your life is already my thing.

Whyte is good, if not slightly unspectacular. He can be explosive when he wants to and just as pedestrian should the urge strike him. There will always be a use for big, strong heavyweights so his career will last as long as he wants it to. How much motivation he has now that his bank account has a bunch more zeroes attached to it remains to be seen but my guess is he’ll keep his phone on for the time being.

The Tyson Fury story remains an ongoing one, fueled as much by half-truths and propaganda as tangible real-world accomplishments. And you know what? Who cares? Time is a myth-maker’s best friend. The more years that pass between actual events and our retelling of them, the more our lives begin to color and shape the story itself. We see what we want to see in the heroes we erect and ignore what we don’t.

Fury is many things to many people, both virtuous and villainous. Like always, the truth is somewhere in between and the details are fading with each passing day. What you take from the myth that has been formed around him is up to you.

It doesn’t matter if it’s true.

It only matters if you believe it.


(Photo by Mikey Williams)