Arise, Sir Tyson? Fury transcends boxing with Rooney among celebrity fans

Arise Sir Tyson? Fury transcends boxing with Rooney among celebrity fans - Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Arise Sir Tyson? Fury transcends boxing with Rooney among celebrity fans - Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury's boxing skills aged 34 – and undefeated after 34 fights – are undeniable but the 'Gypsy King' increasingly enjoys celebrity status, with  high-profile ringside guests praising the fighter as both pugilist and public figure.

One of those fans, Wayne Rooney, said on Saturday night that "Tyson's the best we've seen for a long time. I don't think anyone will beat him. I probably think he should be knighted, if I'm being honest..."  That is some call.

Gordon Ramsay, the chef of global renown whose F-bombs are as infamous as Fury's rants, concurred that for many reasons – including the boxer's openness about his mental health issues – he has become "the people's champion".

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"He's a special character, and I think the public have just warmed to him as his career has played out," Ramsay said. Both were visitors to Fury's dressing room pre-fight, and the WBC champion took a moment to greet all his guests with a gentility which belied the task ahead of him out in the cold night air at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Promoter Frank Warren said on the eve of the fight with Derek Chisora that he believes Fury could now be the UK's biggest sports star since David Beckham (and has arguably made a bigger impact on the USA than the ex-Man Utd footballer, given his $100 million deal with broadcasters ESPN) while Bob Arum told Telegraph Sport post-fight that the 'Gypsy King' is the "biggest personality boxing has had since Muhammad Ali", who he promoted in the 1960s and '70s.

It is worth recalling that 'The Fight of the Century' between Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971 saw then Hollywood star Burt Lancaster on commentary duties and Frank Sinatra working on the ring apron as a photographer for Life Magazine.

The very best fighters – particularly the heavyweights – have historically drawn some of the biggest public figures from the worlds of glamour and glitz to ringside. Perhaps because fight sport is replete with drama – sometimes chaos – and a primal fascination.

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As Warren commented following Fury's brutally dominant display against Chisora – who was mercifully freed from his own bravery by the referee Victor Loughlin in the 10th round – his charge has reached a status beyond simply being a boxer. "Bob Arum has been in this business a lot longer than me and as long as I’ve been in this business, I have never been involved with a fighter with so much charisma, a fighter who has turned his life around."

Fury had ballooned to 28st in weight five years ago, in a period in the wilderness after first claiming the world title in 2015. Losing 10st, being public about thoughts of suicide and mental health issues, and being from a family of the traveller race have shone a light on the narrative of his life and transformation.

"It is a movie script because he has Netflix following him around the place, making a a series about him. He’s just a one-off, he is without a doubt the most-entertaining person in boxing since Muhammad Ali," said Warren.

Tyson Fury remains unbeaten after 34 fights - Getty Images/Mikey Williams
Tyson Fury remains unbeaten after 34 fights - Getty Images/Mikey Williams

Arum was in agreement. "Boxing is a form of showbusiness, it’s entertainment. It’s entertaining the fans and there is no fighter on the planet today who is as much of a showman as Tyson Fury and that’s why 60,000 people will come out in the dead of winter to watch him fight."

I had the privilege of being invited into the dressing room while Fury's hands were being wrapped by trainer Sugar Hill Steward, and up close in those moments, Fury displayed an ability to relax with huge clamour around him, before switching into his fighting mode alter-ego.

In the dressing room he was surrounded by television cameras, and with a phalanx of family members around him – including his father John, his brothers, their wives, and, for the first time, even two of his children, Venezuela, 13, and 11-year-old Prince. His son carried the WBC heavyweight belt from the dressing room to the ring. It is remarkable given the nature of the sport, which, at the end of the day, is a fist fight.

Fury's wife Paris said "the nerves never go away" as she witnesses her husband the boxer laughing, joking, and enjoying the music being played as he watches the fights on a large television screen preceding his walk-in. Born to fight. And now a champion who has transcended the sport.