As we now all know, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, VADA, discovered cocaine in Fury’s system via a test taken on September 22. Considering that at that time the Klitschko rematch was scheduled for October, it’s clear the new heavyweight champion wasn’t exactly immersed in strenuous preparation for his first title defense. What a mess. The Klitschko rematch is now not just postponed, but off the table. Indeed, Fury’s camp last week declared it was cancelled because of undetermined medical problems afflicting their fighter.
Many of us assumed those medical issues had something to do with depression, a serious matter which Fury is said to have wrestled with in the past. But now it appears other matters may have been afoot. Suffice to say, Fury has no one but himself to blame if he loses his titles and reputation due to drug use. Depression often can’t be helped, but no one put cocaine up the man’s nose. While he may deserve some sympathy – and anyone who celebrates the torments of drug addiction is an ass – ultimately he is the master of his own domain. In short, bad decisions can have profound consequences. Whether this was some spur of the moment recklessness, deliberate self-sabotage, or the act of a man in deep psychological trouble, we can only guess.
What I find strange about all this is the fact that the champion appeared to be training with intensity last summer, before the match was postponed because of a Fury foot injury. Indeed, a video journal of sorts was being kept of Tyson’s camp. I checked the videos regularly and was impressed with what I saw. Clearly I was misled or things went south in a big way since the summer postponement. Sure enough, Fury recently looked heavier than he did earlier in the summer; no surprise at this point.
Whatever the reason, though, Fury has brought more clouds over the sport of boxing. And what makes this most recent sting particularly acute is that things had been looking up for pugilism these past few weeks. Golovkin vs Brook, Gonzalez vs Cuadras, Linares vs Crolla, Pacquiao vs Vargas, Kovalev vs Ward, Lomachenko vs Walters and even perhaps Golovkin vs Jacobs, all made for a lot to be exited over. Sadly, recent news, including the death of fighter Mike Towell, is disheartening. Ironically enough, Fury himself had brought some much needed life to the sport. Sure, the guy was controversial and offensive, but he was nothing if not interesting. During the age of Canelo Alvarez, interesting isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Needless to say, the heavyweight division may well get a bit less colorful now. Still, there’s Deontay Wilder, whose as colorful as Fury, and there’s also Anthony Joshua, an exciting talent. And, of course, there’s Klitschko, who, although somewhat vanilla, packs considerable intelligence, talent, and strength, along with one hell of a record. Let’s also not forget names like Parker, Ortiz and Miller. In other words, life at heavyweight will go on with or without “The Gypsy King.”
Regardless, it’s too bad when a heavyweight talent like Tyson Fury wastes away before our eyes. And Fury is indeed talented. He’s torn apart by critics for his awkward style and less than statuesque physique, but he knows how to win, is surprisingly fast for his enormous frame, and employs some sneaky footwork. He can hit for power too, when the opportunity arises. And don’t forget: as insightful a boxing mind as Emanuel Steward saw Fury’s potential and predicted he would be a champion. So we hope Tyson will soon return no worse for wear, but right now he must reap what he’s sown. At least Fury is in solid company.
Because the list of fighters and champions who have suffered from substance abuse is extensive. The first true superstar champion, John L. Sullivan, was a world-class alcoholic. Sonny Liston was rumored to be a heroin addict, while Joe Louis, like Fury, was said to have a cocaine problem. Same with Gerry Cooney. Oscar De La Hoya has certainly had his difficulties with substance abuse, as had Aaron Pryor. And Mike Tyson. And Alexis Arguello. And Michael Dokes. And Julio Cesar Chavez. And Sugar Ray Leonard.
In short, Tyson Fury is far from the first star fighter to have issues with drugs and alcohol. The question is, will he rise to the challenge and straighten himself out? Only time will tell.
For now, Fury can be seen as a warning, a cautionary tale – too infrequently heeded – about what can happen when one’s demons take over. Not even the wealth, glory and satisfaction that comes with winning the heavyweight championship of the world can necessarily keep them at bay. Sometimes the biggest battles, quaint and cliché as it may sound, are fought outside the ring.
Here’s hoping Tyson Fury wins his. Because these days, boxing needs all the winners it can get. — Sean Crose