His ascent has been astonishing, one of the great redemptive tales in sport. What he achieved in Las Vegas with the dismantling of a previously unbeaten champion was in scale arguably the greatest by a British boxer, and perhaps up there with the most significant performances by any British athlete anywhere.
Deontay Wilder was not just beaten, he was taken apart, dismantled in the most arresting fashion by a fighter who has in the space of two years reversed profound personal and professional decline. The depths to which Fury plunged are well chronicled. His battle with mental illness has come to define him as much as his achievements in the ring.
It has been some road travelled, and so damning was the bad stuff he brought upon himself with his Old Testament rhetoric and homophobic views, there are some for whom forgiveness might never feature. Fury should know that it is not only the LGBTQ community who remain resistant to the migration from pariah to hero.
That said, Fury is a complex figure whose views on the world are shaped by the roma community from which he emerged. In the general sweep of condemnation of his character too little consideration is given to the consequences of that, to the stigma felt by travellers and the prejudice that they experience. This is not the place for sociological enquiry. Suffice is to say the beliefs and values the travelling community holds dear leaves them at odds with mainstream mores. And too often they are skewered on the chilling indifference of middle class hauteur when a little understanding and tolerance might go a long way.
The lack of recognition he felt he received after his monumental victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 was, argues his UK promoter Frank Warren, an example of this and a factor in his troubled, post-Klitschko, decline. “He never thought he got respect for what he did in Germany,” said Warren. “And I think that was part of the problem. He is a traveller. He felt they were outsiders, ‘I’m not being embraced.’ Unfortunately the people around him [at the time] were quite negative instead of lifting him. He has had his problems, some self inflicted, stupid things happened. To come back from that to where he is now is better than winning a world title.”
As a fighter he is without peer in this generation of heavyweights and on the evidence of Las Vegas loved beyond compare. His supporters adore the audacity, the courage and skill he brings to the piece. Outside his camp there was barely a voice to be heard in support for the thunder he promised in his pre-fight declarations. The pledge to stare down the most feared puncher since Sonny Liston was viewed as a disruptive ploy, just another example of the loquacious bombast that flows from the Fury locker.
His entrance, dressed in a red cloak trimmed with ermine while sitting on a throne wheeled into the arena by attendants clad in gold tunics was possibly one of the most camp ring walks in the history of the sport. It was more Frankie Howerd than Gypsy King, but Fury pulled it off with his usual chutzpah, no scenario absurd enough for this fella.
Though the ring walk attended by plumes of dry ice and rings of fire has become a central part of the drama in boxing village halls as much as Las Vegas, to maintain a sense of internal order with so much going on was impressive and beyond the scope of Wilder in his weird mask and cape fantasy. The projection was all menace, the reality completely the reverse.
For all his fearsome record and lethal air, Wilder was completely overwhelmed by the experience. From the grand opening at the start of the week to the weigh-in and through to fight night itself he must have felt, as Warren observed, that the bout was taking place in Manchester.
The American fan experience is not forged in the same tribal environment. Singing along to the Star-Spangled Banner is the limit of the American fan engagement.
After that the football songs kicked in to increase Wilder’s sense of displacement. He never recovered. With a play book straight out of the Kronk gym in Detroit, Fury was immediately in Wilder’s face. Jab, jab, boom, a big right hand smashed through Wilder’s guard to stiffen his legs early. Wilder landed with a couple of his own, but they were already desperate responses to the co-ordinated attacks unleashed by Fury, who simply walked through returning fire.
Fury did not let up. Wilder was awarded only one round by a single judge, inexplicably the second. The absurdity of that was splayed all over the canvas in the third with Wilder toppled by another brutal Fury right hand. A left to the body had Wilder over in the fifth. By now the crowd was in a frenzy, the arena an orgy of blood lust. At the end of the sixth round Wilder’s head trainer Jay Deas looked as shocked as his fighter, unable to communicate anything of value.
One minute and 39 seconds into the seventh with Wilder trapped in the corner, Deas’ assistant Mark Breland, a former world and Olympic champion, brought the slaughter to an end. Wilder and Deas were angered by the surrender. In truth the towel thrown was a mercy for which Wilder might yet give thanks.
Too many fighters have taken too many punches in the pursuit of lost causes. Thanks to Breland he might get the chance to go again.