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LAS VEGAS — It’s happened to nearly every comedian: The set isn’t going well, a heckler pipes up to taunt him and he has no pithy reply ready.
It’s never happened to Tyson Fury, though. The WBC heavyweight champion is a boxer by trade, and frequently refers to himself as “a fighting man.”
What this giant of a man, who is wise far beyond his 33 years, is at his core, though, is an entertainer nonpareil. Whether it’s singing “American Pie” at a post-fight news conference, telling jokes during interviews or beating up one of the world’s best fighters, Fury is one of those guys you can’t take your eyes off of.
Fury saved the day Wednesday when an ill-conceived news conference to promote his title defense on Saturday against Deontay Wilder at T-Mobile Arena could easily have gone off the rails.
Media flew in from around the world, expressly to speak to these two men, but weren’t given an opportunity Wednesday to ask a question of either of them.
Wilder came out first, headphones on and tapping relentlessly on his phone. Host Kate Abdo, whose job was more difficult than getting a group of hungry boxing writers away from the free food line, pleaded with Wilder to remove the headphones (he did) and with Fury to sit down (he did not).
Wilder was knocked out in the seventh round of the second fight between them on Feb. 22, 2020, at the MGM Grand Garden. Their first fight was a controversial split draw on Dec. 1, 2018 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
No longer is Wilder interested in engaging with the media, many of whom he suspects of plotting against him and mixing his words. He hadn’t begun to speak publicly until only recently, even though the size of his paycheck depends on the number of pay-per-views sold. He’s no longer the outspoken, loquacious man he was in years past. He’s sullen and to himself and doesn’t use five words if three will do and won’t use one if a head nod or shake is sufficient.
Wearing no shirt and a suit only he would wear, one that was covered with images of the WBC and The Ring title belts, Fury paced around the stage and turned what could have been a disastrous 45 minutes into something that wasn’t torturous to sit through.
Fury saves wild new conference
It was a bizarre day, which mirrors the way the promotion has run. After the news conference ended, Fury promoter Bob Arum went after Abdo for trying to get Fury and Wilder to square off nose-to-nose. He referred to her derogatorily as “a broad,” and punctuated his feelings on the matter by shouting, “[Expletive] her and [expletive] Fox!”
Then, 90 seconds or so later, he erupted at ESPN's Mike Coppinger. Arum was talking about the upcoming Teofimo Lopez-George Kambosos fight and mentioned it was a crime that Lopez hasn’t fought since defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko last year.
After Arum said Lopez not having fought in a year is criminal, Coppinger, standing behind Arum, said, “Yeah, Bob, but it wouldn’t have gone to purse bid if you had paid him [Lopez] what he is worth.”
Arum, who did not look at Coppinger as Coppinger spoke, erupted.
“Shut the [expletive] up you little p***k,” Arum bellowed in one of the great rants of his 55-plus-year career as a promoter.
Fury, though, had saved the day. He tried to make sense of Wilder’s excuses, and he cracked a few jokes.
Wilder fired Mark Breland, hired Malik Scott as his chief trainer and said he worked harder than he ever had previously.
“Here’s something I think I need to say,” Fury said. “Wilder said I only won the second fight because I cheated, but then he goes and changes his whole team and does all this extra training. He’s trained as hard as he’s ever trained and he’s brought in all of his team. So the question is, if I only won because I was cheating, what was the point of changing everything and doing all this other work?
“Can anybody answer that question? I know he can’t. He doesn’t have the brains to.”
It was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier I. Ali of course was one of the greatest speakers in sports history, and he taunted Frazier mercilessly while selling the fight. Frazier rarely had a retort.
But it was something he said shortly after that made the point that he’s more than just a good-time Charlie who knows how to make people laugh. In the few times he’s spoken publicly since their last fight, Wilder has talked of killing Fury and has framed the fight as war, which it is most definitely not.
Fury picked up on that.
“Here’s another one: He says he wants to do bad things to me and hurt me and do all this with malice feelings and he’s got anger and aggression,” Fury said, pacing the stage while Wilder sat in his chair looking forward. “For those who throw the hot coal with the intention of throwing it at somebody, guess what? They’re the ones who are going to get burned.
“I don’t want to hurt Deontay Wilder. I just want to beat him in a fight. He knows what he’s saying is lies, and deep down in his soul, he knows that he lost and he lost the first time, he lost the second time and he’s going to lose this time. And guess what? After this fight, he’ll be back working in that fast food chain he was working at earlier in his career.”
The man holding the hot coal he plans to throw at his rival is the one who is going to get burned.
It’s not the most profound statement ever uttered, of course, but it’s deeper and has more insight into life and this world than 99.99 percent of things that normally come out of a boxer’s mouth.
Fights aren’t won or lost at a news conference, of course, but it’s pretty clear that Fury has won regardless of whose hand is raised late on Saturday.
He’s a leading and outspoken advocate for mental health, and he freely shares his own horrific story, which nearly led him to take his life.
But he’s here now, making big money, the unbeaten champion of the world, a worldly and funny man, and a beacon of hope for millions who are suffering from inner demons with no hope or source of inspiration.
If that’s not the definition of a champion, I’m not sure what is.