Heavyweight contender Hughie Fury: ‘It’s a miracle I’m still here’
Tyson Fury’s cousin faces Kiwi Joseph Parker for the WBO title on Saturday
Hughie Fury (L) takes on Joseph Parker for the WBO heavyweight title on Saturday. Photograph: Ben Hoskins/Getty
On a bleak afternoon in Windermere, where Hughie Fury is preparing for this Saturday’s WBO world heavyweight title fight against Joseph Parker, the past rolls in like a heavy bank of cloud bringing yet more rain to the Lake District. Fury remembers a childhood of little education, a family of Travellers tested by his father being in and out of prison, and a life marked by sacrifice.
He talks simply, without the surreal or distasteful flourishes of his notorious cousin. Tyson Fury was the undisputed world heavyweight champion for just under a year before, last October, relinquishing all his belts amid controversy, depression and associated mental health issues. Hughie is less troubled than Tyson but he lacks the charisma of Anthony Joshua, his far more famous British contemporary who holds the IBF and WBA titles and dominates the popular imagination as the only heavyweight in the world who matters.
But Fury, who turned 23 on Monday, tells a gritty story. “I always said to myself: ‘I’m going to be world champion.’ I wanted to give my heart and soul to get there. And I’ve sacrificed everything. I’ve had no teenage life, no drinking or having friends. I trained like a professional from a young age. No kid has done what I’ve done – going alone to train with different people who would shout at me when I showed up at their gyms. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve always concentrated on boxing because my dad said: ‘Women and boxing don’t go.’ He’s a wise man so I’ve listened and here I am – fighting for the world title in my home town.
“I’ve fought all over the world – but not in Manchester. It’s crazy because I was born and bred there. As a pro I started in Montreal, fought in New York, even Romania – but never Manchester. I was so eager to learn boxing I’d to go to Doncaster, Leeds or Sheffield when I trained by myself as a kid. I wanted to get so much experience with different trainers. I knew I wasn’t going to learn much sticking to one gym.”
Fury’s thirst for fistic knowledge was not matched by an appetite for the classroom. He stopped going to school when he was 11. “After a few months of high school I said: ‘What’s the point when I already know what I want to achieve?’ I knew it would mess with my boxing.”
Tyson Fury, in one of our more introspective interviews, regretted leaving school at the age of 10. He lamented that, with little basic reading or writing skills: “You feel like an illiterate dummy.” Does Hughie now wish he had had more of an education?
“Yeah, 100%. But in school I never learned anything. I didn’t even know how to read or write. Out of school I learned reading and writing, everything, on my own. I would read signposts and texting on phones helped. I managed to get there but it would be nice to have a full education. I sacrificed everything because I always believed I’d become world champion. I said to my dad: ‘This is what I want to do,’ and he always supported me.”
Peter Fury, who trains Hughie and Tyson, educated himself in prison. He exudes an understated but obvious intelligence. Fury Sr even nods sagely when I ask if he was happy when Hughie abandoned school. “Our culture [AS TRAVELLERS]has always said it’s my responsibility as a father to look after my family. So when your sons get going they are on the way to looking after their wives and children. If he liked school I’d have left him in there.”
Fury Sr started working at the age of nine, for his father, and went from house-to-house selling door mats. “I remember knocking on the door and a strange person answers and you say: ‘Excuse me, Mister. Excuse me, Mrs or Miss, can I interest you in this doormat?’ You get doors shut in your face but you build confidence. At 14 I was driving my own car. Seriously. We were driving around getting a living. I looked 18 so I didn’t get stopped. I got married at 16 to my wife now, Maureen, Hughie’s mother, and we’re still going strong.”
Peter Fury was jailed twice – the first time in 1994 when he received a 10-year sentence for dealing in amphetamines. Hughie was still a baby and his father acknowledges the strain. “Especially for the missus, all them years carting Hughie hundreds of miles to visit me in prison. I spent nine years away and that’s a lot for a young woman to deal with.”
When I ask Hughie about his absent father he talks more about the difficulties of losing him a second time – when Peter was jailed again in 2006 on a money-laundering charge. “It was never easy not having your dad around – but that was really hard. That second time he was in jail for two years. I visited him every week in Manchester prison and he was always asking about my fights and giving me advice.
“I remember him coming out of prison both times. The first time we were in Lancaster staying with granny and grandad. When we came into the house we heard someone playing the saxophone. It was my dad, in the front room. We weren’t expecting him to be home so it was unbelievable. He really has been through bad times and it was horrible seeing your dad going in and out of prison.”
At least his father applied himself in jail. “I thought: ‘I’m not going to be like most inmates. I’ll educate myself,’” Peter says. “I took English courses, literature, writing and business. I passed 11 exams which had nothing to do with prison. They were outside colleges who would come in when you wrote their exams. My writing wasn’t so neat but my ideas were good.”
How is his sax playing these days? Fury Sr laughs. “I’ve not touched it for years. I’ve probably forgotten how to press the buttons. But I loved playing the saxophone when I was inside. There were long dormitories and the acoustics were brilliant so I played the saxophone every lunchtime to 200 inmates. They’d shout out: ‘Play this, play that.’ It was beautiful because when you master an instrument you become part of it.”
Hughie reveres his father – whose hard-won lessons have instilled calm in him today. “My dad is the mastermind. When I was boxing as an amateur with other trainers I went through a losing streak because I got really tall and lanky. I lost three in a row and Dad got hold of me. I’ve never looked back – and never lost with him in the corner.”
It is still difficult, even for his father, to know how good a fighter Fury might become. He has compiled a 20-0 record but his opponents have been obscure and Fury has not fought for 17 months – since his lacklustre defeat of Fred Kassi in April 2016. Fury was in the grip of an inflammatory disease called acne conglobata, which could have ended his career.
“That was the worst time and there was one point where it was all over for me. After the first round against Kassi I said: ‘Dad, my legs are gone and I can’t pick up my hands.’ I had to dig deep to get through it. My neck was blistered and my mouth had ulcers so I was in a bad state. I shouldn’t have boxed but I’m a fighting man. It was still mentally crumbling and after the fight I burst out crying to my dad: ‘I can’t do this no more.’ He said the same and took me to a skin specialist on Harley Street. The specialist said: ‘I don’t know how you’ve kept fighting because it’s poisoned your body over the years.’
“The medication cleared it completely. But I was on it for seven months and I would sleep so much. It makes you depressed. I was absolutely fucked and thinking: ‘How am I ever going to get past this?’ For years I’d been so self-conscious of my bad skin. As a kid I couldn’t stay over at a friend’s house because I’d be scared of waking the next morning with blood on the sheets. Every time I sparred my T-shirt would be covered in blood.”
He shakes his head. “When you think about the bad times we’ve had, it’s a miracle I’m still here. Even when I made it to the ring I was not even 40% of myself. But it’s completely different now.”
Fury was meant to challenge Parker in Auckland in May – but he pulled out after injuring his back. “I was devastated. I thought I’d never get a shot again and my dream was gone. But it’s now happening in my own town and I never expected that. Parker seems a nice, civil kid but this is business. When that bell goes, he’s trying to take my head off. He’s young and ambitious – so we both believe in ourselves. But I’ve got the edge and I’m going to win.”
If he fulfils his prediction he will join his cousin in calling himself a world heavyweight champion. But he is not much like Tyson. “People don’t understand I’ve always been myself. We’re two different characters. If your brother was a crazy person, people shouldn’t blame you because you’re different people.”
What did Hughie think whenever Tyson reeled off a homophobic rant? “I don’t know where Tyson gets it from. He’s crazy. I believe everyone has the right to be themselves. Tyson can be a nice guy but he has problems. I focus on myself and move forward.”
Joshua currently dominates heavyweight boxing. But an all-British showdown with Fury, should he win the WBO belt, makes sense. “Joshua would be the best fight for me. I’m not looking past Parker, because he’s a good fighter, but AJ is the fight I want. I met him once and he seems a good character. We can make that happen.”
In the meantime it’s hard to know how many people will order Parker-Fury on YouTube – even if Fury believes screening big fights on the internet “is the future. Who hasn’t got YouTube? There’re no complications and anyone with a smart TV can watch it on a big screen.”
He still has to convince his mother to watch the fight. “My mum is special. When my dad was inside she looked after us five kids. She’s been through a lot and I get my determination from her. But she doesn’t like boxing at all. She’s never been to any of my fights but I’d want her here for this one. She doesn’t want to go because she’s so worried. I understand because your mama don’t want to see her kid get hurt, does she?”
Fury believes he will win and enjoy “one of the best moments of my life. I’ve put everything into this and been so dedicated. So to become world champion at such a young age will be unbelievable. But I’ve always had the ambition and mindset that I’m not going to lose this fight. I’d rather die in there.”
Parker v Fury is exclusively live on YouTube. Go to youtube.com/parkerfury for details.