Tyson Fury’s verbal onslaught does not impress opponent Steve Cunningham
Press conference in New York sets scene for a lively encounter at Madison Square Garden
A flicker of a smile crosses Tyson Fury’s face when Steve Cunningham lifts his infant son Cruz over the press conference table and sits him on his knee. But just as quickly, he remembers why he is here and turns to face the camera lights. This is on a balmy Wednesday noon time in a conference room near Jack Dempsey’s, the downtown Manhattan pub whose name conjures black and white images of the grandest era of heavyweight boxing.
Fury, the gigantic Irishman raised in the Travelling community outside Manchester, was intent on at least restoring some of the great tradition for lippiness to the fight game and and as such was promising a merciless and brief Saturday afternoon when he fights Cunningham.
“All I want to do is to say what is going to happen in the fight,” he said by way of introduction. “Fury comes out jabbing, Cunningham is running around the ring and BAM!,” he added, driving his fist into an imaginary opponent.
“Game over. And then, people, I am in New York and the Fury will be unleashed. That is all I have to say. No bullshit. Let’s get it on.”
Fury is a huge man and in his loose-hanging leisure suit he has the cut of an elite rugby lock. He stands up and takes the microphone, feinting and throwing mock punches as he delivers his commentator’s impersonation and a big grin spreads across his face when he hears a deadpan American drawl from one of Cunningham’s entourage sitting at the back of the room.
A little menace
“And then you wake up.”
“No,” Fury retorted. “You can say that to your boy over there when he wakes up.”
Fury was named after Mike Tyson and while he does bring a little menace to the theatre of boxing promotion, his presence has none of the darkness or violence that characterised the infamous promises which the Brownsville man directed at opponents.
Fury simply has a different disposition: sunnily-confident and clearly delighted to be headlining at Madison Square Garden. He said it wasn’t always so: that it was a bleak path a few years ago when a combination of boredom and depression almost led him to quit boxing. As it turns out, he shares with his opponent a strong faith, which he feels has been central in his revival.
This is the most reliable of all boxing match-ups: a brash contender against a respected journeyman. As boxing often does, the fight brings together two hugely diverse cultures: Cunningham’s Philadelphia supporters sat in baseball caps and baggy jeans and offered low, indignant choruses of “Awwwh man” as Fury delivered his promises and boasts in a broad Lancashire accent.
Cunningham’s trainer Brother Nazim Richardson, a former trainer of Bernard Hopkins, listened sagaciously to the Irishman’s claims to greatness before offering the voice of experience. “This young man down the table, Mr Fury, is an outstanding young fighter: very big, has an exceptional reach and I have great respect for his history in boxing. And named after one of the greatest New York fighters, Iron Mike.
“But Steve takes on exceptional challenges and this is what makes him special. He is well prepared and he has the opportunity now. Fury is younger, bigger, taller, stronger . . . but after the fight I don’t want people to declaw and defang him. Because he has those attributes, no matter what.”
If the verbal undercut made Fury wince, he didn’t show it. The IBF-sanctioned bout will pair the winner with the leading available contender to decide who will fight reigning heavyweight champion Vladimir Klitschko. And throwing merry jibes at the brothers Klitschko has become a favourite past time of Fury’s.
Cunningham sat solemnly throughout the conference and shrugged afterwards when asked about Fury’s claims. “Das just words,” the 36-year old said wearily. “He ain’t been offered any talk show. Maybe if he was, he could retire from boxing.”
As far as Fury is concerned, the most storied of all the boxing divisions is his to inherit and he readily endorses the opinion that he has both the talent and charisma to revitalise the moribund heavyweight game. When he hears that a coin toss is to take place to decide which fighter enters the arena last, he once again seizes the microphone, feigning outrage.
“Why? It is all about me. I am the man to beat. I wasn’t told that there was any coin toss. If I wanted to gamble I would go to a casino. Steve is the opponent. He is going in the second and that is the end of it,” he said. “This is all about me. Why should he go in the ring and be the man? I am bringing this show to town.”
All of this took place to booing from Cunningham’s camp, which helped Tyson warm to his theme. “Without me there is no show. I may be hot-headed but I can fight. These guys haven’t got a prayer. They go on about religion – I know about religion. We are brothers. But God has bigger plans for me than Steve because he has already been defeated.”
The coin toss was hastily postponed and Fury beamed, satisfied with the outcome. Afterwards, he posed for pictures and kept on talking: he is one of those who could talk for Ireland – and England. Three of his brothers are here in Manhattan for the event; his younger brother Hughie ‘Lewis’ Fury boxes Alex Rozman from Minneapolis in a four-round heavyweight bout on the undercard.
Fury’s fight will be broadcast on NBC and the fight is also being broadcast in England. Tickets for the event range from $50 to $500.
As Fury ambled down the street across Herald Square, he stopped to pose for photographs outside Madison Square Garden. A montage promoting his fight had been erected next to the famous front entrance. It wasn’t the the most outrageous promotional canvas by New York standards but he reckoned it would do – for now.