TYSON FURY had been in a house before out on the edge of town and just beyond the stretch of endless lights that never seem to stop glowing in Las Vegas.
This time in the city, Fury was surrounded by new faces in his camp, but they were familiar. Fury had a link with the new men in his fighting life: Javan Sugar Hill Steward was there, Andy Lee was there and they had been with him once deep inside the Kronk years earlier. This was Las Vegas, life was different.
The new faces were there after a bloodless coup had come and gone and nobody was talking about it. “I never think about being on trial,” Steward told me that night. He read my mind, that was the next question. “I don’t have anything to prove.”
In the kitchen that night another new recruit rolled marinated pork, another asked Fury questions about canals and barges. It was a night in Fury’s home just days before the rematch with Deontay Wilder. It has been twelve months since that classic for the old game.
Fury had been camped twice in Las Vegas in 2019; the food had improved, that is for sure, by the time he was hidden away for Wilder. The chef was George Lockhart, on loan from Conor McGregor. He changed Fury’s shape.
It was Lee asking the questions about barges – Lee had been part of the commentary team for the first Wilder fight. Javan had just been a television spectator. It was all or nothing that February in Las Vegas, a team from Fury’s history gathered like pilgrims. Gypsy John had given the duo his blessing and was watching from England.
There was growing pressure, but Fury just wanted to look at barges and find a second-hand barge to take his family on canal holidays.
“The price is right, my son,” he said, Lee looked over at the screen. “This one: 42-foot, Narrowbeam, 6.10 wide – I can get in there – and 24-grand. I’ll get that down. I’ll offer cash. That will do.” Lee humoured him. Then the food came and I stepped away, went and found the film crew and waited. An hour later, Lee led Fury through. “Not too long, he’s got to sleep,” said Lee.
I left the house that night even more convinced that Fury would win. He was, it has to be said, not joking like the old Fury.
There is a lot of waiting in Las Vegas during the week of a world heavyweight title fight. I waited all week for a private audience with Wilder and never got it, but I did watch him from very close in the rooms behind and attached to the events. I saw an unhappy man, a man struggling with something. I thought it was pressure.
However, every fear I voiced was rejected by the men Wilder was supporting: Jay Deas, Mark Breland and Shelly Finkel never flinched when asked if there was anything wrong. They all did the same in the immediate wake of their disaster – and then the excuses, as you know, went crazy. It was a night and fight of denial for them and their increasingly isolated boss.
It should be said that nobody in the Fury business thought there was anything wrong with Wilder. Well, not before the first punches started to ruin Wilder. Take a look again at Wilder’s walk and run to the ring and his clumsy entry. He is not right. The outfit was just convenient camouflage for something far more damaging.
It was, actually, a week free of the usual rumours that haunt the halls and aisles and bars and gyms and lifts of Las Vegas in fight week.
The narrative of the week at the open sessions (Fury and Wilder were excluded), the arrivals, the round tables, the conference, the cocktail reception and the weigh-in was simple: Wilder talked about Fury’s “pillow fists” and Fury talked about Wilder “not wanting it.” One was right, one was wrong.
There was a sideshow attraction or two: an endless repetition of the first fight’s dramatic ending and then talk of chicanery at the weigh-in. Too heavy, too light, who cares? I had a position behind the scales with a crew. Wilder refused to speak to me, Fury took a breath, happy at the centre of his storm: “This is it; this is what it is all about.” He was right and he was on edge. Once again, I saw Wilder from two-feet as his people pushed imaginary people out of the way and vanished. He looked vacant, not animated.
The clock was ticking. A few hours later I found Lennox Lewis standing next to the empty ring, alone and happy. He was just living something from his glorious history, his shoulders gently moving and his giant fists desperate to roll again. He was happy and he backed Fury big.
Fury knew all about Las Vegas and its heavyweight history by then. He had fought there twice in 2019. He knew it was an unforgiving city, a city of ghosts and relics and desperate heavyweights. Joe Louis and Sonny Liston died there, Mike Tyson had cursed the place with infamy, Oliver McCall had a breakdown in a ring there, Buster Douglas had shamed the place and others had been consumed by its promise. Elvis had walked the corridors of Vegas laughing with Muhammad Ali. Fury knew its history and I’m not convinced that Wilder had the same understanding.
“This will be my city – I will be king,” he had said. It was not just a boast, it was a statement of intent. The blue lights from the pool glowed through the kitchen window. I have another image, Gypsy John dressed in sweaty clothing hitting a makeshift bag in his scrap yard as small children watch. The picture is tinted blue in my mind and Tyson was one of the kids. It had been a bloody journey, make no mistake.
On the night, Fury famously arrived wearing a fake crown and a robe; he converted those garments to real money as casually as a high-roller cashing a thousand bucks of chips. All bets were off once Wilder had stripped bare and dropped the dumb suit of lights. Fury was the new king; he was king from very early in the opening round. He was king long before the excuses and stupidity.
Las Vegas belonged to Fury that week with his new chef, his new corner, his new title – it was that simple. He never did buy the barge, but for one night he owned the world.