FOLLOW THE LEADER
Elliot Worsell investigates how Tyson Fury has bucked the trend of his fighting roots
Investigating how Tyson Fury has inspired fellow Traveller fighters
TYSON FURY is many things to many people. When looking in the mirror, he is The Gypsy King. He is The Mack. He is Big Poppa. He is the former undefeated world heavyweight champion. He is the current lineal heavyweight champion. In the eyes of Deontay Wilder, meanwhile, the so-called “dosser” he frustrated and held to a draw on December 1, he is a nightmare, all languid posture, lateral movement and long limbs. And Wladimir Klitschko, if asked, would likely say the same.
Then you have his critics. According to them, Tyson Fury is an unruly loudmouth whose chequered past overshadows an otherwise remarkable return. He is charismatic but flawed. To quote Samuel Johnson, he makes a beast of himself to get rid of the pain of being a man.
Yet, for many, Tyson Fury, whether beast or man, is the most unlikely of role models. His 2015 win over Wladimir Klitschko was one small step for the heavyweight division, and one giant leap for travellers, while this year’s draw with Wilder was lauded as a victory for anyone battling mental health issues, obesity or simply struggling to overcome adversity.
“He’s a massive inspiration,” said 22-yearold heavyweight prospect and fellow traveller Nathan Gorman. “When you look at what he has achieved, not just in the ring but out of the ring, he’s a role model for many people. He overcame mental health issues and depression and that is an amazing achievement. In fact, I remember him walking into the gym not only ago weighing 30 stone. He said to me, ‘I’m going to come back and I’m going to beat Deontay Wilder.’ I thought not a chance in hell, to be fair. But look what he did. He lost 10 stone, had two comeback fights and, in my opinion, beat Wilder and should be the WBC heavyweight champion.”
Traveller Isaac Lowe, a British, Commonwealth and European featherweight champion, is often seen accompanying Fury on fight night. The 24-year-old doesn’t exactly rub shoulders with the gypsy giant – the little-and-large pair are separated by over a foot in height – but he certainly follows his lead.
“Being around someone who is an elite-level fighter obviously helps a lot,” said Lowe, 16-0-3 (6). “The main thing he teaches you is the importance of mental strength and being calm on the big occasions. Those are life tools.”
The emergence of Fury, 27-0-1 (19), as a role model for the traveller community is as timely as it is important. In sticking it out as a pro for 10 years, and rebounding from the brink of retirement, he has shown staying power young traveller boxers have historically seemed to lack when turning pro, and now earns the kind of money that goes to show boxing is a viable career option if a traveller is prepared to go that extra mile.
“If you go to any schoolboy championship or ABA finals in the last 10 years, 80 per cent of the boxers will be traveller kids in finals and boxing each other,” said Lowe. “Sadly, they get to the age of 16 or 17 and go to work or worry about different sides of life.
“They get the urge to go to work. Traveller kids fend for themselves. We go to work as soon as we can. We then get money and we’re introduced to the nightclub life.
“I think now they’ll see the rest of us doing well and taking our success into the pro game and it will give them the confidence to stick with it and look at boxing as a career. Over the next few years you’ll see a lot more coming through the ranks and a lot more traveller world champions.”
In many ways, the Tyson Fury story serves as a microcosm of the traveller boxer story. Far from plain sailing, Fury has battled distractions, controversy, undergone a sabbatical, had trouble with the authorities and always claimed to be a fighting man capable of beating the rest irrespective of the shape – both physical and ➤
mental – in which he finds himself. Crucial to the crowning of him as a role model, though, is this: whereas plenty of traveller amateur boxers over the years have taken time off never to return, Fury did – and then some.
“Traveller kids usually marry young and make their own way and start a family, or they just go off the boil and don’t want to do it anymore,” said Gorman, 14-0 (11). “But Tyson and Billy Joe [Saunders] and all the other lads have shown these young amateurs that it can be done. If you want it badly enough, you’ll get yourself in the gym every day, like me and Tommy Fury [Tyson’s younger brother], and you’ll try and perfect your craft.”
Tommy Fury, Tyson’s younger brother, is perceptive enough, even at the tender age of 19, to accept he wouldn’t be making his professional debut this Saturday [December 22] if it wasn’t for the impact of the ‘Gypsy King’.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you without Tyson,” he conceded. “I thank him very much because Tyson’s success has paved the way for me, opened doors for me and I appreciate it.
“There’s going to be a lot of attention because of my surname. When you invite someone down to the gym they want to test themselves against me purely because of my last name. Everybody watching me will be thinking, ‘Okay, let’s see how good he really is.’ It’s all pressure. But I’ve learned to live with it and I’m not putting any pressure on myself or thinking I need to live up to Tyson’s name or Hughie’s [Fury, Tyson’s cousin] name. If I finish my career and know I gave it my best shot, I’ll be happy.”
Back when young Thomas Kindon was preparing for the CYP (Clubs for Young People) Championships in 2012, the traveller boxing landscape was different. Tyson Fury had yet to win a European title, let alone the main prize, Billy Joe Saunders was a Commonwealth champion, and Saunders’ historic world title fight with Andy Lee, a fellow traveller, wouldn’t take place until 2015. Kindon was 17, with designs on turning pro, but struggled to pinpoint too many examples of fellow travellers going all the way.
“You don’t see many good traveller boys in the pros,” he said. “It’s strange, too, because you see more titles belong to travellers than non-travellers in the amateur game. Maybe they want it more. But when it comes to the pros, they don’t seem to go for it as much. The thing with travellers is they love to party. If there’s a party happening, they’ll want to be there. If I’m boxing, I won’t go out. I just won’t do it. But if I’m not boxing, or if I’ve got a week before my fight, I’ll go out, no problem. You can get away with that in the amateurs, but you can’t do it in the pros.
“Also,” Kindon continued, “you find a lot of traveller boys just turning pro for the money and not really caring about the sport or their career. They just want the cash. It saves them working a normal job. The problem with that is when they go off the rails and lose, they haven’t got anything to fall back on. That messes a lot of them up.”
Kindon told me he his school days ended prematurely in year nine – at the age of 14 – but said this was hardly uncommon in the traveller community. He became embroiled in a violent squabble with a teacher, one that ended with a fountain pen plunged into a hand and a chair wrapped around a head, and he decided to walk before he was pushed. He took to doing manual work with his father instead and, though unable to read, has never regretted the decision.
“Each year I had about six or seven fights,” he said. “They’d just call me ‘pikey’ and it would go from there. I’m really not a troublemaker, but if I have to stand my ground and fight, I won’t run away, either.
“There was one boy at school who was a halftraveller and he was all right, and me and him used to go about together, but most of the non-travellers were different. They’d go divvy over the smallest things and I could never understand it.”
So extreme was the sense of us and them, Kindon didn’t want his younger sister going to secondary
IT’S NOT EASY, BUT I BIT MY TONGUE AND STOOD UP FOR WHAT I WANTED”
school and being exposed to all he had seen and heard during his admittedly brief time at Ash Manor.
“People would be saying a lot of stuff she didn’t need to know,” he said. “Sex talk and stuff like that. She doesn’t need to be hearing any of that at her age. It’s different for us. Traveller boys and girls don’t talk like that in front of each other. Boys and boys will say bad things to each other, but when you’re around girls, you just don’t do it. It’s not on. You’ll either get your lips took off or you’ll find they’ve got a brother ready to fight.”
Plenty of travellers consider themselves fighting men, born and bred to excel with their fists, yet the demands and expectations of their culture – to grow up quickly, finish school early, find work, marry, reproduce – can sometimes sabotage any progress they hope to make in a sport like boxing.
“Of course it’s hard,” said Lowe. “We all have to work and put bread on the table. But if you want something you’ve got to be patient and sacrifice. That’s what I did. I bit my tongue, stood up for what I wanted, and hopefully it will pay off for me. Sometimes you wonder if it is going to be worth doing it. You ask yourself, ‘Will I get the opportunities to fight on the big shows?’ But luckily I’ve had a few chances and have grabbed whatever has come my way.”
Few will have it harder than young Tommy Fury, of course. As well as overcoming the typical teenage temptations, he also finds himself both helped and hindered by a famous fighting surname.
“There have been a lot of chances for me to go off the rails and let it get to my head,” he admitted. “I could have been bouncing around Manchester town centre going, ‘Oh yeah, I’m Tyson Fury’s brother. I’m this, I’m that.’ I could have been acting the big boy. But anyone who knows me knows those words never leave my lips. At the end of the day, just because Tyson’s good at something doesn’t mean you’re going to be any better. I am very lucky to be in the position I am in and I’m not going to let it slip. I’m going to show everyone I deserve to be in this position.”
In the end, Thomas Kindon turned pro in 2014 as a bantamweight, boxing on low-key shows in Portsmouth initially, and showed early promise. He raced to 10-0 with little difficulty, found greater difficulty securing sponsorship and financial backing, and then, in May 2017, lost to Ashley Lane in what was his 11th fight. Earlier this year, Kindon, still only 23, announced he was retiring from boxing. “It’s been a long 18 years’ worth of boxing,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I’ve got to take a different route now.”
Career cut short, Kindon is no longer close to his fighting weight but seemingly grafting hard, earning his keep, and enjoying life. Tommy Fury, on the other hand, about to turn pro at the same age Kindon turned over, is just getting started.
“I’ve always been around sensible and knowledgeable people,” he said. “I was around proper men growing up. So, I’ve always got time for people and I’m prepared to listen because there’s always somebody who knows more than you. If I can learn from what they tell me, and take it in my stride, I’ll be more than happy to. Life is a game and the key to it is gaining knowledge. That’s what helps you go forward.” Tyson Fury is offering many things to many different people. But to those who need it, and those who understand his unique journey better than the rest, he’s offering knowledge, inspiration and, best of all,
FURY AND SAUNDERS HAVE SHOWN US HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE”
PROGRESS: Lowe proves his quality against Ryan Walsh [below] Photos: OCTION IMAGES/ ANDREW COULDRIDGE
TRAVELLER: Saunders’ success serves as inspiration
TOP PROSPECT: Big things are being tipped for Nathan Gorman
TOP CLASS: their battle for the WBO title
CLASS: Fury and Wilder at the end of their ԴJKW Photos: OCTION IMAGES/ ANDREW COULDRIDGE
IT’S OVER: Kindon is now retired after a career
PRESSURE: Tommy Fury is determined to make his own name