I am suffering all the time,” Tyson Fury says calmly of his constant struggle with depression as we look out of the window at the very start of fight week. We’re just a five-minute stroll from Wembley Stadium where, on Saturday night, Fury will apparently make his final walk to the ring as the world heavyweight champion when he defends his WBC title against Dillian Whyte in front of a roaring crowd of 94,000 .
But now, on an ordinary Tuesday morning, the 6ft 9in giant talks softly about his mental health and retirement while people two floors below gawp up at him. They can see his huge frame from street level and men and women, young and old, wave enthusiastically. They’re shouting his name but behind the thick sheet of glazed glass we can barely hear them.
Fury waves back as he says of his bleak moments: “I’ve learned to manage it a bit better now. Before I didn’t really understand it. Now I know more and what to do to manage the problem.”
This week it was reported that one in 10 deaths in the Irish traveling community are caused by suicide. Fury, the self-proclaimed Gypsy King, is proud of his heritage, but he shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s just Ireland. It’s the whole world. It’s the biggest killer of men under 35[in Britain].”
At that very moment a group of boys are jumping up and down in excitement on the street outside. “All right, boys?” he says gently.
He turns back to me. “It’s a massive, massive problem. It’s like a pandemic. Lots of people are taking their lives today because they don’t know where to go, they don’t know what to do.”
I have interviewed Fury many times and we often end up back where we started – on the day in November 2011 when I went to see him at his home, which was then a modest bungalow in Morecambe. I sat with Fury, his wife, Paris, their two-year-old daughter, Venezuela, and their baby son, Prince. Fury, now a father of six, remembers it vividly: “I was even depressed back then.”
The young heavyweight, who had just become British champion, said in 2011: “I feel calm in the ring but right now, I feel like smashing this place up. There is a name for what I have where, one minute I’m happy, and the next minute I’m sad, like commit-suicide-sad.”
The fighter half-joked in subsequent years that I was “the first man to see the darkness of Tyson Fury”. But he always acknowledged the depth of turmoil he felt that day and between late 2015 and early 2018, when he retired from boxing and ballooned to 400 pounds while drinking heavily and taking cocaine. Fury had been so depressed he nearly ended his life by driving his car over a bridge at 160mph.
He looks in good shape today and, as always in a one-to-one setting, his complexity and intelligence are obvious. But the small crowd outside continues to grow as word spreads that he has arrived in Wembley. He nods when I say he must get tired of the attention.
“It’s difficult because your life is not your own. I’ll be glad when it’s all over, after this fight. I’ll just distance myself from everything. No more Mr Celebrity Boxer, none of that.”
When a great fighter tells me he is about to have his last bout I always offer a skeptical look and ask: “Do you mean that?”
“Oh, it’s definitely the last one,” Fury says. “I’ve earned plenty of money, won plenty of titles, done everything I ever wanted to do. Sounds like a good one to go out with.”
I also know how much Fury loves being in the ring and that, for all its dark and unsettling flaws, there is nothing like boxing. How will he replace the sheer intensity of Saturday night as he and Whyte walk towards each other at the first bell?
“It’s not the competition that drives me. It’s the training. So as long as I can stay fit and active and mentally well, I’ll always train. My dad’s nearly 60 and he trains every day. So I’ve got no excuses.”
Assuming he beats Whyte, surely he would want to win the undisputed heavyweight championship against Oleksandr Usyk? The brilliant Ukrainian dazzled Anthony Joshua last September to win the IBF, WBA and WBO world title. “For what reason?” Fury asks. “Money or belts? It’s got to be one or the other, hasn’t it?”
I know it is ultimately a meaningless word in a dirty business, and that the alphabet bodies’ various baubles symbolize the chaos and corruption of boxing, but I say it anyway: “The belts.”
“But I’ve won all the belts, haven’t I?” Fury retreats. “Belts don’t really mean much to me.”
Fury was knocked down four times in his brutal trilogy against the hard-hitting American Deontay Wilder, but remains unbeaten after 32 fights. After their thrilling battle last October, Fury hunched over the ropes in a silent and tearful prayer. But he denies that thoughts of retirement are underpinned by an awareness of the punishment he has already absorbed. “It’s got nothing to do with taking blows or my age,” he says. “Just enough is enough. When is enough enough? When you’ve got enough money? When you’ve achieved your dreams? Or is it enough when other people say so? Am I living for the world or myself? I’ve got a wife and six kids I’m not really interested in anything else.”
Fury pauses and then, as is his way, sounds grandly philosophical. “As Julius Caesar said, there’ll always be somebody else to fight. Another battle. There’ll always be somebody.”
He smiles when I say his wife must be relieved, if she believes him, that his boxing career is almost over. “Yeah, I promised Paris that the last Wilder fight would be the final one. We made a deal and that was it. But I’ve come back one last time. She accepted it because I wanted the last fight to be at Wembley.”
I also don’t believe he will walk away on Saturday but, if he does, would he feel sad? “No. I’m happy for the good times and happy for the bad times. I’m happy for the indifferent times. They’re all a blessing.”
The past two weeks have been extremely difficult for Fury. Daniel Kinahan, who is accused of being the leader of a violent drug cartel, has advised Fury in the past and even brokered some of his most lucrative fights. Fury has previously thanked Kinahan for his help on social media and been happy to be seen smiling alongside the notorious Irishman. Last week, in a blistering press conference, the US ambassador to Ireland confirmed that it’s now a priority of the president, Joe Biden, and his government to bring Kinahan to justice. The US state has imposed sanctions against Kinahan and his family, offered a $5m reward and warned that anyone who does not cut ties with him will become part of their criminal investigation.
Fury doesn’t want to talk about Kinahan but questions have to be asked. I end up writing 10 times the amount of words about Kinahan than Fury this week but the boxer stonewalls me: “You know what? Rule number one for me is I don’t get involved in other people’s businesses. Therefore I’ve got nothing to say about any of it. Because it’s not my business, I don’t get involved. I stay in my own lane, because I’m just a boxer. That’s all I can say about that matter.”
Even when we return to the subject Fury is emphatic. “It’s got to do with me now, has it? I’ve got my own troubles to look after with six kids and a wife nagging me to death for not being at home to help. I’ve got a man who wants to punch my face in [on Saturday]. Anything else is out of my control.”
Just like boxing, like life itself, Fury is a twitching mass of contradictions, inspiring and disturbing in equal measure. In a 2013 interview which was a murky celebration of his culture as a Traveller, Fury stressed his disdain for women he described as promiscuous. “If I had a sister who did that,” he said shamefully, “I’d hang her.”
In November 2015, he boxed like a chess grandmaster as he beat Wladimir Klitschko in Germany to become the WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion. Six months later I again despaired when he used biblical references to claim that homosexuality was a sin.
Then, in December 2018, on the wild night when he sealed his comeback, Fury did something extraordinary. After revealing the trauma of his depression in a raw and moving documentary which changed the minds of so many people about issues of mental health, he met the unbeaten Wilder for the first time. Fury had not had a serious fight in the ring for three years but he walked to the ring like a man who had come back from the brink.
Gala’s Freed From Desire, the old Euro-screamer from 1996 which had since become a football anthem, resounded. Fury, resurrected from near death, whipped the hood from his head and blood along. Two days before he’d looked like a biblical figure with his Old Testament beard and fire-and-brimstone ranting at Wilder, but he seemed born again. He was clean and sleek, his shaven face dancing with life.
In a brilliant display he outboxed Wilder, only to be poleaxed in the last round. I sank into my seat as Fury collapsed in a heap, his head hitting the canvas. He looked unconscious.
Wilder made a throat-slitting gesture while Fury lay limply on his side, his left leg stretched out. As the referee’s count reached six Fury started to move. At eight, he began to push himself up. I felt myself rising with him, in disbelief.
Fury ended the fight in utter control as he pummeled Wilder, who held on desperately. The bout was ruled a draw, controversially, but Fury pointed out that his real victory had been in surviving depression. He knocked out Wilder twice in their two rematches.
“I’ve not heard from Deontay since the last fight [in October 2021],” Fury says. “I wished him happy birthday and I heard nothing from him. I even invited him to come out to Florida to do a bit of training, have a barbecue with the family but he didn’t take me up, which is a shame. You would think after all those hard fights we’d learn to love each other.”
He and Whyte respect each other and there has been no needle between them. Fury shakes his head when I ask if he enjoys the barbed buildup more when facing a swaggering Wilder. “I enjoy them all. They’re all important. I don’t look at boxing like a sport or my way of earning a living. This is everything to me. Boxing is my life. It’s been my life since I was 12 to being a man of [nearly] 34. There is nothing else. Boxing is everything to me.”
Fury does not sound like a man about to walk away from this tangled and vicious old business. As we look outside the window again at all the people still beaming and waving, Fury says: “I often step back and think about it all. It’s been an amazing trip with so many highs and lows. So much darkness and so many good, learning episodes. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”