✦ Tyson Fury is one of the most recognised sports personalities on the planet.
The undefeated two-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Fury is truly in a class of his own, regarded as one of the finest pound-for-pound fighters of all time. His professional record of 33 wins and 1 draw from 34 fights (24 of which were by knockout) speaks for itself.
The 34-year-old Englishman is as colourful a character outside the ring as in it, with his habit of donning outrageous costumes and impromptu singing after fights and during press conferences leaving observers in hysterics. He was even a guest vocalist on Robbie Williams’ 2019 album ‘The Christmas Present’ and released his own version of the popular Neil Diamond song ‘Sweet Caroline’ last November, with all proceeds going to charity.
However, fighting is Fury’s true game, something the self-styled “Gypsy King” is wholeheartedly serious about. Fighting is in his genes, coming from a family of Irish travellers where the sport has always played a prominent role.
Indeed, it is fair to say Fury has been fighting since the day he was born; arriving three months prematurely and weighing just one pound, doctors gave him a slim chance of survival, prompting his father to name him after the then current heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson.
It is not only in the ring that Fury has been fighting battles though. Having suffered serious depression and subsequent mental health problems over the years, Fury today is one of the most passionate advocates of men’s mental health and one of its most powerful ambassadors.
One might stop and ask how on earth one of the most successful athletes of all time, with all the subsequent trappings of fame, glory, wealth and financial security could be so impacted by mental health issues, but therein lies the exact point of how the disease can hit anyone at any level at any time.
It all started, or at least came to the fore, not long after Fury defeated Ukrainian fighter Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 in Germany to win the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and The Ring heavyweight titles, in what is considered one of the finest boxing performances at any weight in recent years and certainly one of the greatest performances from a British fighter on foreign soil. Afterwards, Fury fell into a dark, prolonged depression, later admitting that he felt no worth in his achievements or with his life, despite having a loving family with a devoted wife and three children. He had suicidal thoughts, later admitting to almost driving his car off a bridge at 190mph before seeing sense at the last minute. He turned to heavy drinking and drug abuse, his weight ballooned to over 400 pounds and he turned his back on all forms of exercise, effectively retiring from his beloved boxing. It was one of the most spectatcular falls from grace of recent times.
“I'm going through a lot of personal demons,” he told Rolling Stone in an interview in October 2016. “I’ve not been in a gym for months. I’ve been going through depression. I just don’t want to live anymore... All the money in the world, fame and glory, means nothing if you’re not happy. I’m seeing psychiatrists. They say I’ve got a version of bipolar. I’m a manic depressive.”
After a panic attack resulting in him being hospitalised, Fury did seek help from a psychologist to treat his bipolar disorder that made him prone to extreme mood swings, saying it was a decision that helped change, and save, his life. “One of the best things I ever did was come out and speak about it, because with communication you can get over any hurdle,” he told The Guardian in 2021.
“But keeping it all to yourself and not communicating with others, you’re a bottle of champagne being shaken and shaken, waiting for the top to explode. And you’ll have a mental breakdown and won’t recover - or you seek help and try and get better.
“The best advice I could give anybody... is get the right help straight away. I never seeked help for my mental struggle until 2016. I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t experienced. Nobody knew around me what was going on. Very uneducated on the matter. And as soon as I got help, the sooner I could go back to get recovered.”
Fury now regularly speaks out about his own struggles in a bid to help others and stresses that communication is the key. His story has helped considerably in raising awareness of mental health challenges with young men, something that traditionally wasn’t spoken about.
“It’s like, say 10 years ago, it wasn’t as accessible as it is today,” Fury told the RAW: The Fight Within podcast last December. “There wasn’t mental health at work stuff, and it wasn’t identified as an illness, as a problem. It was a bit of an embarrassing subject. But now it’s at the forefront. There are mental health days, awareness days, months, years, whatever. It’s very out there now but I think the more we talk about it, the more lives will be saved.
“There are a lot of people out there who struggle in silence and they don’t need to do that. Even if you don’t want to speak to a doctor or a professional, speak to someone you know. Speak to your pal, your wife, your girlfriend, your girlfriend’s dog, anyone.
“Communication and speaking about something are the answer to everything, whether it’s mental health, relationship issues, buying something, a business deal. Whatever it is you’re doing in your life, communication is the key, no matter what.”
Fury gladly admits that his battle with mental health is a daily one, greater than any challenge he has faced within the ring. But in doing so he has an impact arguably more profound and positive than most – after all, if the heavyweight champion of the world, one of the toughest guys on the planet, is vulnerable and thus affected but has the bravery to seek the correct professional help to tame it, if not fully overcome it, then many, many others in a similar predicament should feel no shame or embarassment in doing exactly the same. He has done much to help break the stigma attached to mental health challenges within men.
This is a view shared by Dr Benji Waterstones, an NHS psychiatrist working in London, who told The Guardian in 2020: “Fury’s frankness is redefining outdated ideas of masculinity and what it means to be a ‘strong’ man. He shows you can compete to be the heavyweight champion of the world and be vocal about your mental health struggles, which is especially powerful in a testosterone-fuelled sport like boxing.”
Boxing provides Fury with an apt coping mechanism; he has literally pulled himself off the canvas and continues to push forward each day, training hard and punching away his challenges.
“I’m in a constant battle, rollercoaster [going] up and down all the time, and I have to try and keep it off with a long stiff jab,” he told the RAW: The Fight Within podcast. “Sometimes I find it really difficult and sometimes I can box the face right off it, like my opponents in the ring. It’s very difficult. The mental struggle that I continue to go through day in, day out, year in, year out, is harsh, and it will bring the toughest, baddest men on the planet to their knees and make them cry like little girls.”
For a fighter of the magnitude of Tyson Fury to openly admit that is invaluable. He is living proof of someone who has battled hard with mental demons but managed to bounce back, a larger-than-life personality that continues to help shine a light on such an important topic.
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