Tyson Fury was born three weeks premature, weighing little more than a baseball, and given just a one in a hundred chance of survival. Life was never going to be straightforward.
But on February 22, standing at 6ft 9ins and weighing more than 250 pounds, he can become the heavyweight champion of the world – again.
Fury was always destined to become a champion fighter, having been named after Mike Tyson – the undisputed, undefeated king of boxing at the time of his birth in 1988.
“He was fighting before it all started. All his life, he’s been fighting,” his cousin and fellow professional heavyweight boxer Nathan Gorman tells talkSPORT.com.
Gorman, who fought for the British title last June, is the great nephew of famous bare-knuckle fighter Bartley Gorman, who was nicknamed the ‘King of the Gypsies’.
Fury calls himself the ‘Gypsy King’, and alongside his cousin, he continues a proud tradition of professional fighting in the traveller community.
“Tyson’s been brought up with the stories,” Gorman adds. “He’s got bare-knuckle fighters on both sides of the family. In hindsight, you would think he was bred to be in the situation where he’s at.”
Besides Gorman, Fury is also related to retired WBO middleweight world champion Andy Lee and light heavyweight contender Hosea Burton, while his half-brother Tommy has embarked on a professional boxing career – which was briefly disrupted by a stint on Love Island.
Gypsies have always felt at home in a boxing ring. Indeed, the traveller community boasts a long list of great champions.
Gorman says: “It’s tradition. If there’s a problem, you have a fight and you shake hands. There are no weapons in our culture. There are a lot of people carrying knives these days, but in our tradition you have your fight, you shake hands, and you’re friends the next day.
“If you’re brought up on stories, you want to be that person. I was brought up on stories of Bartley Gorman and I loved listening to those stories. I thought, ‘I want to be a fighter one day’.
“My father removed himself from that situation, he said if you’re going to do it, get paid for it and be a professional sportsperson.”
The traveller community also fights a constant battle against public perception, but Fury never shies away from his background. He still drags a traditional Gypsy wagon around Morecambe, where he lives.
And he’s a family man, too. As per tradition, Fury has plenty of kids – five, in total, with his childhood sweetheart and wife Paris, who he met at the age of 16.
While not without his flaws, forced to apologise for several controversial comments in the past and partial to the occasional spiky interview, Fury has never been the person many people once thought.
Gorman says: “He’s a remarkable fella. He’s very good to charities, he’s a very good ambassador for mental health, and from what I’ve seen of him, it doesn’t matter what you are, he’ll sit down and have a conversation with you.
“Let’s be fair, he’s a very famous person. When you get that famous, often it goes to your head and up your own arse. He’s not like that. He’s such a humble person.”
Inside the ropes, Fury was the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion by 2011 and already casting his eye upon bigger things.
His unstoppable rise through the ranks landed him a world heavyweight title showdown with Wladimir Kitschko, the long-reigning undisputed champion, for the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, IBO, Lineal and The Ring titles in 2015.
Fury produced a boxing masterclass to defeat the Ukrainian on points and end the Klitschko era.
“Everything he’s said in the past has come true,” Gorman says. “Rewind the clock five years back when everyone said he had no chance. He said it and he did it.”
Everest? Consider it climbed. But Fury was about to realise that his life-long pursuit of glory had only been a distraction from serious mental health problems festering underneath the surface.
Achieving his dreams only unleashed his inner demons, and he quickly spiralled out of control on a path that almost ended his career – and his life.
In the months after the Klitschko fight, Fury started drinking heavily and ballooned to almost 29 stone in weight. In September 2016, his depression eventually led to a failed drugs test due to cocaine use and he was forced to relinquish his world titles.
Fury has since revealed he lost the will to live. His family and Christian beliefs were the only things that kept him from taking his life.
“You couldn’t imagine it,” Gorman says. “I saw him when he walked into the gym when he was weighing over 28 stone. He came in do to some sparring.
“He was telling me he’s going to be the heavyweight champion of the world again.
“I looked at him and thought, ‘You’ve got ten stone to lose first! Never mind fighting the most dangerous man on the planet’.”
These are demons that will never be truly exorcised for Fury, and the fight he faces on a daily basis is tougher than anyone he’ll meet in the ring.
But it’s a battle that Fury learned to win. He fought his way back to fitness, using the gym as his medicine, and shed more than ten stone to prepare for his boxing comeback in 2018, following two years from hell.
After various battles with boxing bodies, including a court case against UKAD (UK Anti-Doping), Fury returned to the ring with an easy victory over Sefer Seferi in Manchester in June 2018.
One more fight and then Fury got a shot at redemption – fighting Deontay Wilder, widely considered the hardest puncher in history, for the WBC heavyweight title.
“He only had two warm-up fights and he went straight in the ring with Deontay Wilder,” Gorman adds. “It was only his mental strength and self-belief that got him through that fight.”
Indeed, Fury had taken his fair share of blows by this point. Only someone who had previous experience of coming back from the brink would’ve climbed back off the canvas from that punch in the twelfth round.
“When he went down I had my hands on my head. I was going, ‘No! No! No!’ When he got up, it was like something out of WWE, like the Undertaker when he comes out of the coffin. That’s what it looked like when he got up, he was like a man possessed.
“And then after the knockdown, he won that round! He nearly took Wilder’s head off.”
This was a man who many never expected to see in the ring again, but some sportspeople just have this knack for pulling off the impossible.
Muhammad Ali had it. Tiger Woods has it. We really should learn to stop writing them off again and again.
Fury was robbed of the greatest comeback in boxing history when the judges ruled the fight a split-decision draw. Most pundits still suggest the 31-year-old won.
“I give Tyson seven rounds to five, and I’m not being biased,” Gorman says. “Maybe eight rounds to four. In my opinion, he won easily.
“When I heard it was a draw, I thought you’ve got to be joking.”
There had to be a rematch. Annoyingly, politics meant we had to wait this long for it.
“He’s going to be fitter, stronger, faster and more suitable. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stops Wilder,” Gorman predicts.
And it’s nearly here. On February 22, you can listen live on talkSPORT to hear the next chapter of Fury’s remarkable journey.