The only thing surprising about lineal world heavyweight champion boxer Tyson Fury competing in the WWE was it took this long for it to happen. After all, no individual in combat sports is as natural a fit to the fantastical world of professional wrestling as the fast-talking ‘Gypsy King’ from Manchester.
During an international media conference call on Friday, Fury sold an “ankle injury” suffered during a skit to build up his upcoming wrestling match — “It is going to be fine by the time the fight comes up, won’t affect my performance” — as seriously as the actual gnarly cut, courtesy opponent Otto Wallin in last month’s bout.
“Definitely fearful of the cut opening up again,” Fury said of the 47-stitch eye injury. Not allowed to compete or train for three months, the restless 31-year-old chose to fulfill a longtime wish, for a reported $12m payday. Fury — who faces former competitive strongman Braun Strowman at WWE’s Crown Jewel event next Thursday — is the last true remaining showman in boxing, a sport searching for larger-than-life names post Floyd Mayweather Jr’s (apparent) exit. There’s Filipino veteran Pacquiao, technical wizard Lomachenko, ferocious middleweights Canelo and GGG. Also fellow heavyweights, big-hitting Wilder and the enviable pedigree of Joshua. But nobody comes close to fitting the bill like Fury.
Fury has dressed up as Batman to annoy former champion Wladimir Klitschko, strutted down to James Brown’s ‘Living in America’ a la Apollo Creed from Rocky IV, and donned a luchador mask in the build-up to the Wallin fight.
In 2015, Fury ended Klitscho’s decade-long reign as the top dog, after the technically-correct Ukrainian had put the division and the numbers to sleep. Fury then went on a cocaine-fuelled exile during which he ballooned to 180kg and battled suicidal thoughts. He returned to the spotlight with an entertaining draw against Wilder, dominating the bout and shrugging off two vicious knockdowns.
Student of the game
Boxing and pro-wrestling have a storied history of cross-promotion and huge paydays. Muhammad Ali went to Japan, Mike Tyson was instrumental in the rise of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Mayweather competed at Wrestlemania. Fury, a long-time Austin fan who has also studied the Ali-Inoki showdown, is taking his one-night gig seriously.
“Coming into this I didn’t know what to expect. Now I really know it’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” Fury told Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “People say ‘it’s fake’. I say please come here and see how fake it is. I am getting thrown around the ring, it’s hard. The ropes are like barbed wire, my back is in bits, I am sore in places I didn’t think I could be sore in.”
According to Fury, promoter Frank Warren “was mad” at him for putting the potential Wilder rematch in February at risk on account of the aforementioned cut.
“He said ‘I think this is a really bad idea’. Frank along with everyone else in my team was like ‘concentrate on your job, you are not a showman or a movie star’,” Fury told Helwani. “He said you could get injured and what happens if the cut re-opens or if you get injured shoulders. If we lived our lives on ‘what if’ we would never do anything.”
Along with Fury, yesteryear superstars Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair will also be present at the Crown Jewel event in Riyadh. It is the third show WWE has put on in Saudi Arabia as part of a big-money deal, which has been criticised due the country’s human rights record. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has used cinema, concerts and sporting events in a bid to change the nation’s conservative image. Fury’s rival Anthony Joshua will look to avenge his knockout loss to Andy Ruiz in December, a bout which is reported to make the Brit richer by $75million.
Fury believes his involvement in the Saudi show is simply as “a prizefighter”.
“As for the Saudi Arabia thing, I’m just a fighter. But if you want to be involved in change in a country, you should go there,” said Fury. “That’s why I go there and want to deliver a great fight.”
The boxer also knows what cookie-cutter responses and buzzwords will make headlines, and dealt with questions about amateur boxing’s troubles and Vijender Singh’s prospects as pro-boxer accordingly. And if Frank Warren thought WWE was a bad idea, here’s what Fury wants to do next.
“I’m looking to have an MMA match before Christmas this year,” said Fury, who has also indicated that he might retire after next year. “I am willing to fight in the UFC very soon, hopefully.”
Live: WWE Crown Jewel on SONY TEN 1 & 3 on October 31 at 9.30pm IST