Recalling that epic Sin City event, Steve Bunce describes how Tyson Fury played a blinder
TYSON FURY had previously been to a house on the edge of town and just past the endless string of lights that never seem to stop glowing in Las Vegas.
This time in town, Fury was surrounded by new faces in his camp, but they were familiar. Fury had a connection to the new men in his fighting life: Javan Sugar Hill Steward was there, Andy Lee was there, and they’d been with him deep in the Kronk years before. This was Las Vegas, life was different.
The new faces were there after a bloodless coup had come and gone and no one was talking about it. “I never think of going on trial,” Steward told me that night. He read my mind, that was the next question. “I have nothing to prove.”
That night, another new recruit rolled into the kitchen marinated pork, another asked Fury about canals and barges. It was one night at Fury’s house just days before the Deontay Wilder rematch. It’s been twelve months since that classic for the old game.
Fury had camped in Las Vegas twice in 2019; the food had improved, that’s for sure, by the time he was hiding from Wilder. The chef was George Lockhart, on loan from Conor McGregor. He changed Fury’s form.
It was Lee who asked the barge questions—Lee had been part of the commentary team for the first Wilder fight. Javan had just been a television viewer. It was all or nothing when a team from Fury’s history gathered as pilgrims in Las Vegas in February. Gypsy John had given the duo his blessing and watched from England.
The pressure grew, but Fury just wanted to look at barges and find a used barge to take his family on canal vacations.
“The price is right, my son,” he said, and Lee looked at the screen. “This one: 42 feet, Narrowbeam, 6.10 wide – I can fit in that – and 24 grand. I’ll bring that down. I offer cash. That’s enough.” Lee laughed at him. Then the food came and I stepped out, went to find the film crew and waited. An hour later, Lee led Fury through it. “Not too long, he needs to sleep,” Lee said.
I left the house that night even more convinced that Fury would win. He was, it must be said, not joking like old Fury.
There’s a lot of waiting in Las Vegas during the week of a heavyweight world title fight. I waited all week for a private audience with Wilder and never got one, but I did get a very close look at him in the back rooms and attached to the events. I saw an unhappy man, a man struggling with something. I thought it was busy.
However, every fear I expressed was rebuffed by the men Wilder supported: Jay Deas, Mark Breland, and Shelly Finkel never cringed when asked if something was wrong. They all did the same thing in the immediate aftermath of their disaster—and then the excuses, as you know, went crazy. It was a night and a battle of denial for them and their increasingly isolated boss.
It must be said that no one in the Fury business thought there was anything wrong with Wilder. Well, not before the first punches started to ruin Wilder. Take another look at Wilder’s hallway and run to the ring and his awkward entrance. He’s not right. The outfit was just a handy camouflage for something far more damaging.
It was basically a week free from the usual fight week rumors that haunt the hallways and aisles and bars and gyms and elevators of Las Vegas.
The story 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 spoke of Fury’s “pillow fists” and Fury spoke of Wilder’s “don’t want it.” “. One was right, the other was wrong.
There was an afterthought or two: endless repetition of the dramatic ending of the first fight and then talk of cheating at the weigh-in. Too heavy, too light, who cares? I had a position behind the scales with a crew. Wilder refused to talk to me, Fury took a deep breath, happily in the middle of his storm: “This is it; this is what it’s all about.” He was right and he was on edge. Again I saw Wilder from six feet high as his people pushed imaginary people aside and disappeared. He looked empty, not animated.
The clock was ticking. A few hours later I found Lennox Lewis beside the empty ring, alone and happy. He was just living something out of his glorious history, his shoulders moving gently and his gigantic fists desperate to roll again. He was happy and he supported Fury a lot.
Fury knew all about Las Vegas and its heavyweight history back then. He had fought there twice in 2019. He knew it was a ruthless city, a city of ghosts and relics and desperate heavyweights. Joe Louis and Sonny Liston died there, Mike Tyson had cursed the place with disgrace, Oliver McCall had a breakdown in a ring there, Buster Douglas had disgraced the place, and others were consumed by his promise. Elvis had walked the halls of Vegas with Muhammad Ali laughing. Fury knew his history and I’m not convinced Wilder had the same understanding.
“This will be my city, I will be king,” he had said. It wasn’t just a boast, it was a statement of intent. The blue lights of the pool glowed through the kitchen window. I have another image, Gypsy John dressed in sweaty clothes smashing a makeshift bag on his junkyard while small children watch. The photo is tinted blue in my mind and Tyson was one of the kids. It had been a bloody journey, make no mistake.
In the night, Fury famously arrived wearing a fake crown and robe; he converted those garments into real money as casually as a high roller cashing in a thousand dollars in chips. All bets were off once Wilder undressed and dropped the stupid light. Fury was the new king; he was king early in the opening round. He was king long before the excuses and stupidity.
Las Vegas was that week from Fury with his new chef, his new corner, his new title – it was that simple. He never bought the ship, but for one night he owned the world.