When Tyson Fury returns to the ring in 2021, it will become one of the biggest boxing events of the year. Fury, one of the sport’s biggest stars, became world heavyweight champion for the first time five years ago today.
But the fight, and Fury’s crowning moment, almost never happened as the English boxer’s camp threatened to pull out on the afternoon of the fight due to a row over the thickness of the canvas.
Fury’s uncle and former trainer, Peter Fury this week told ESPN he discovered the spongy canvas by chance, and just in time.
“I was lying on my bed in my hotel room when I thought I will go and check out the venue, so I then went on the bus with [Tyson Fury’s then promoter] Mick Hennessy to the venue to check it out,” he said.
“That’s when I found out about the canvas. If I hadn’t thought to go along that afternoon, there wasn’t a lot we could have done when we turned up later for the fight.
“Me, Mick Hennessy and the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) representative dealt with it, I remember having to dispute it with Vitali Klitschko and eventually we got them to pull it up on a safety issue. But make no mistake about it, it was getting called off at one point. I said to the German boxing commissioner ‘you are lifting it or we are going home, there won’t be a fight.’
“Tyson could have lost all his money for the fight, his mandatory position and shot at the world titles, and it was a massive opportunity. But I was not going to sacrifice my fighter for money or a mandatory position.
“Fortunately, they saw sense, but it came close to getting called off. They took the canvas out because Tyson had no chance of winning if it was left in because he was a mover, they had trained on that canvas for three months and it would have taken Tyson’s legs away after three rounds because it was too soft. It was like a marshmallow. This canvas would sink you almost to your ankle, it was really spongy. There were two or three thick sheets of sponge to it. We got it sorted and he was able to have a fair crack at it.”
But that was not the only crisis Peter Fury had to handle at the Esprit Arena in front of 55,000 fans.
Klitschko, then 39, began the fight as the favourite to retain his belts, but fleet-footed Fury took control from the first bell, boxing behind his jab and keeping on the move. The Ukrainian, who was boxing in front of his adopted home fans in Germany, could not land any punches as Fury frustrated him.
But Fury, 27 at the time, had to be reassured in the corner approaching the halfway mark.
“Not a lot of people know this but I remember four or five rounds went by and he came back to the corner and said to me ‘my legs are going’,” Fury said.
“I told him there was nothing wrong with his legs, and said just do more feints instead of jumping, keep Klitschko at bay, go for a walk and we will come back in the round after. Before he went out I said ‘how are your legs?’, and he said ‘perfect’. That was the only bit of concern all fight.”
Fury executed a gameplan he had worked on with Peter, in a tireless and educated display.
“Klitschko is very sure of himself and is a perfectionist in the way he speaks, the way he fights, the way he dresses,” Peter Fury said.
“We drew a game plan to his personality to deal with him. If a person is not there, you can’t hit them. Tyson came out with lots of movement, so he was not throwing any punches. We showed him something he had never seen before, and it made Klitschko stand still and he couldn’t get anything off.
“Klitschko had never seen anything like Tyson. He realised he wasn’t going to slow Tyson’s legs down. Now he had to face someone with quicker feet than him.”
According to trainer Fury, it started to go wrong for Klitschko before getting in the ring. He said: “Though, more than getting to him mentally, Klitschko knew he was going to have a hard fight on his hands and when that canvas got pulled out this was going to be harder than a lot of people thought it would be for him.”
Tyson Fury went on to deservedly earn the judges’ decisions of 115-112, 115-112 and 116-111 to become Britain’s first world heavyweight champion since David Haye lost the WBA version of the world title to Klitschko on points in 2011.
“It was a lot to deal with out there,” Peter Fury added.
“I remember a lot of politics but we got there in the end and it made the win even more fantastic and made a young man fulfill his dream. There’s nothing quite like it, it was a fantastic event and performance.”
But Fury, who now resides in Lancashire, never defended the belts. As he fell into problems with drugs, alcohol, and depression including suicidal thoughts, the belts were relinquished.
Fury returned to the ring in June 2018, and beat Sefer Seferi in his comeback fight. Later that year he faced Deontay Wilder in a shot at the WBC title, the fight was declared a draw but a rematch in February 2019 saw him stop Wilder in seven rounds to become a two-time world champion.
His next move is unclear. Fury had hoped to return to action in early December, but his team are waiting on the outcome of an arbitration hearing on his requirement to fight Wilder again, or face rival Brit Anthony Joshua, the WBA-IBF-WBO champion.
Wladimir Klitschko has boxed just once more, a thrilling 11th round stoppage defeat to Joshua in an attempt to reclaim his old titles in April 2017.