Where to begin with Tyson Fury? The descendent of Irish Travellers, he’s also the son of a bare-knuckle fighter who once gouged a man’s eye out in a street brawl. Born in 1988, his father named him for the Baddest Man on the Planet, Mike Tyson, who two years earlier was crowned the youngest-ever world heavyweight champion. Bestowed a 2.06m frame, Tyson also inherited bipolar disorder and depression. His mother had four sons and nine miscarriages – and a daughter, who died a few days after birth. Tyson Fury was old enough to remember her death.
In interviews, he recalls a childhood of parental storms, physical and verbal. Anxiety was one of the earliest emotions he can remember, a feeling of ineffable doom in his belly. As a very young boy, he hid in wardrobes; later, he fought in meadows and car parks. Fury was trained by his father and, when his father went to jail, by his uncle Hughie. After Hughie’s sudden death in 2014, Fury was trained by another uncle who had himself served time for dealing meth.
Tyson Fury turned pro in 2008, at the age of 20, after an amateur boxing record of 31-4. He has not lost a fight since. About his training and career, he was obsessive. Outside the gym, he was impulsive. In a 2011 interview, Fury sounded chillingly like his namesake when describing the murderous violence he wished to impose on his next opponent: “I know this is terrible and I shouldn’t say it, but I’m in the mode to do serious damage. When I go in there, I’m trying to put my fist through the back of his head.”
Fury’s mouth would become as notorious as his fists. He talked often about a biblical apocalypse, about how the legalisation of homosexuality ensured its imminence. He said “a woman’s best place was in the kitchen or on her back”. He said he would “hang” his sister if he ever thought her promiscuous. After disliking some questions, Fury once threatened a journalist with a serious beating.
There was recurring outrage and disgust with the fighter, to which Fury would either double-down or offer conspicuously insincere apologies. He wilfully courted controversy, but his views weren’t confected. Boxing has long attracted outsiders – and Fury was a pronounced one. As grim and regressive as his comments were, it seems strangely obtuse to expect comforting civility from a “Gypsy King” engaged in a blood sport. David Haye, Fury’s peer and former British heavyweight champ himself, had his own advice: “It’s stupid and wrong and it’s giving boxing another negative headline,” he said about Fury in 2015. “Just shut up.”
Later that year, Fury achieved his dream: he was unanimous world heavyweight champion after defeating Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko. Then the wheels really came off. Fury had long suspected something wasn’t right with him. He was often suicidal, and felt strange that his children’s existence couldn’t quell his morbidity. From a young age, Fury was telling journalists about his mood swings, his sense that “life was meaningless”.
The unlikely pursuit of becoming world champ, and the obsessive, sacrificial training that it required, largely kept the demons at bay. But once he’d achieved that goal – once his uniquely specific purpose was fulfilled – Fury unravelled.
He drank, snorted lines, ballooned in weight. Titles were stripped when he tested positive for cocaine and steroids. He experienced spells of paranoia so severe the world heavyweight champion couldn’t sleep without the lights on. Nor could he sleep without booze, which helped numb the anxiety, but which quickly added to his weight. He was plagued by inner voices, many encouraging him to kill himself. Sometimes he felt guilty that money, fame and family could not alter the sense that he was done with this world – that there was nothing left for him to do.
In 2016, Fury came close to fulfilling one of many suicidal impulses. In his Ferrari one day, he punched the accelerator, intent on driving himself fatally into the pillar of a bridge. Then he braked dramatically. He left the car sweating, his heart pounding. He sought help. A welter of diagnoses followed: bipolar disorder, clinical depression, anxiety, ADHD.
He also realised the sacrifices of training were not sacrifices at all. That the regimen of professional fighting was what kept him alive. And so, disavowing drink and self-pity, he conceived the “Regain Mission” – the goal of reclaiming the heavyweight championship after near-death, extravagant weight gain, and the withdrawal of his boxing license.
And you know what? He did it. He got it back. The Gypsy King reclaimed his crown. And then, last year, he called it quits again at the age of 34, a frightening thing for a man who once said “the day I stop training is the day I die”. That’s where Netflix came in, with a swag of cash and an idea: let us follow you and your family as you negotiate your retirement.
I’m unsure if my brain would be any more damaged by going one round with Fury than it has been by watching At Home With the Furys. Naturally, a single head blow from Fury’s fists would cause me profound stupefaction, but I can sadly confirm this is also the result of watching him interminably wrangle his children to school or bicker with his wife.
It is astonishing how completely the dark strangeness of Tyson Fury is evaporated here. We watch domestic inanity in the Fury mansion – a place of aggressive gaucheness, like the set of a B-grade biopic of Julius Caesar – while the family’s nanny remains unacknowledged and, with some gifted editing, largely unseen. We watch Fury complain about noise, gardening, the size of a steak. We watch his wife complain about his complaining. We watch the family arrange a christening for their youngest; we watch Fury abruptly and sullenly leave the christening’s after-party. “Fuck off, I’m going home,” he tells the film crew, and no matter what Netflix paid for their access, one doesn’t argue with a heavyweight champ in a foul mood.
Fury suffers from a medley of mental health issues. Knowing this does not make watching his boyish mania, frequent petulance or prodigious complaining any less tiresome. He’s an Olympian whiner, and after watching him lengthily complain to his family about trying to park his giant Jeep in their too-small carport, one is left craving his fist and the sweet release of unconsciousness.
During a trip to the Isle of Man for a fan show, Fury is asked – for the 1000th time – if his recent retirement was real. It was, he tells the audience, because after 14 years spent largely away from his home and family it was time to return “and man up to my responsibilities”. But it doesn’t seem like a natural homecoming, and we watch as Fury finds bitter martyrdom in weeding or cleaning up after messy builders. “I’d rather get punched the fuck out of me by 10 world champs than stay at home all day and do these jobs,” he says in an early episode, but if domestic mundanity is a tragedy for Fury, it is a torment for the viewer.
His wife reminds us that walking the dog might now seem cruelly unglamorous for a man who once boxed before 94,000 fans, and the audience is unsubtly ushered towards this juxtaposition and a reflection upon the fate of a retired star. But this premise – which is not without its poignancy – is hopelessly undermined by several things.
One, Fury hasn’t fallen into obscurity; his fame remains and he can still find rapturous crowds on the talk circuit. Two, he’s invited to participate in a WWE showcase in a sold-out arena baying his name. Three, his retirement – as many suspected – was a false one. He returned to professional fighting only a few months after filming began, and will now contest what will probably be the year’s most hyped and most watched bout against UFC champion Francis Ngannou. Finally, for years Fury has been telling interviewers what a simple man he is, and how he is never happier than when walking his dog along the stony beaches of Morecambe Bay.
So which one is it? The ex-pro craving the bright lights and high stakes? Or the simple family man, pained by long absences from his children? If there’s anything interesting in this glib series, it’s that Fury obviously hasn’t settled the question himself.
A larger question loomed for this exhausted viewer, though: why, beyond adding another giant sack of money to all of the other giant sacks, would this clinically anxious man add a film crew to an already chaotic house that’s filled with six young children? Fury has reportedly declined Netflix’s offer for further series, and for that I think we can all be relieved.
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At Home With the Furys is streaming on Netflix.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 2, 2023 as "Tiresome Fury".
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