It was in January of 2013 that I first met the Fury family. I’d just beaten the snow out of the UK by twelve hours and was sitting in a freezing Dutch ferry terminal waiting for a lift from Peter Fury – a man I’d never met – to spend a week in the famous Fury training camp in Belgium. The Ferry ride had been tortuous; high seas and an even higher crew had meant a sleepless night and much paranoia. I was the first writer or journalist to ever set foot in the remote Fury HQ. It was a land few had even considered. Rumours of the harshness of the camp had reached my ears, but there was little in the way of facts. I had to see for myself, for good or ill. Two and a half months later, Tyson Fury would bamboozle the American press, beat Steve Cunningham without Peter in his corner, and sing to a bemused Madison Square Garden crowd. I wasn’t to blame.
The Fury’s are an immensely close-knit family of Irish Traveller descent, who have blood ancestors with tough-sounding names and enviable bare-knuckle fighting records. Legendary characters abound in their family tree, with Uriah “Big Just” Burton probably being the most famous. A Travelling man of unrivalled will and principles, and a fierce, unbeaten fighting record on the streets, Burton was responsible for Peter Fury’s early boxing training. “Big Just” would get up every morning at 5am, pausing only to wash himself from a barrel of cold water, whatever the weather, and head into his barn to train. Lifting cast iron railway carriage wheels, punching heavy sand-filled bags, and shadow boxing in a small ring with stone flags on the floor, were the first training experiences of a young Peter Fury. It was a time of hard work, real strength, and a steely determination to be the toughest fighter humanly possible in a world where grudges were settled with your fists and pride was everything. These methods, and those old-fashioned principles, have not been lost to Peter’s memories, as I was about to find out.
The Fury’s training camp is very comfortable, but completely dedicated to boxing. On the edge of a large forest, there are no distractions. Day one: In the -7c cold, in a farmers field knee-deep with snow, I watch 20 minutes of Tyson and Hughie running across the field; alternately with one on the others back. Following this, an hour of sprints, white breath hanging in the air and shattered bodies collapsing at the end in the snow; Hughie vomits. It’s 10am. Then we stand on the frozen track outside Peter’s house and talk about the best heavyweights out there right now. Tyson has an ability to recall fighter’s stats from way back, but he comes alive when we start to talk about David Price; arguing, correctly, that he’s “Chinny” and “will get found out” (the first Price vs Thompson fight is a couple of months away). “He’ll get his, don’t worry about that” he says, referring to any future match up between them. We break for rest and the kitchen is suddenly busy with the making of protein shakes and the sound of raucous laughter. Hughie is being teased by one of his brothers about a girl. It’s easy to forget that this 6’6″ kid is just 18 and the newly crowned World Junior Heavyweight Champion.
That afternoon we all head to a local gym, run by a chain-smoking trainer called, simply, “Jacques”. Peter and I drink strong expresso’s while Hughie and Tyson get ready to train and “Jacques” measures Tyson’s body fat (it was 9%). Today is a mix of upper body exercises. I watch Tyson and Hughie trying to out-lift each other on every piece of machinery. Over an hour of dead-lifts, bicep curls, extended lat presses, shoulder pulls, and it’s clear that Tyson – who can pull over 250kg on a dead-lift with ease – is demonstrating huge core strength. More protein shakes. Home. Sleep.
We eat together late afternoon: chicken, potatoes, fish, vegetables. The repetitive nature of the food is starting to bring comments of mock joy from the camp, but it’s good, healthy stuff and exactly what the doctor ordered to fuel their massive bodies. We take turns in ribbing each other about who is the best heavyweight of the modern era. I pick Lennox Lewis, but I’m out-voted in favour of Michael Spinks. I spend the afternoon talking with Peter about the intricacies of feints and movement in the heavyweights. Peter’s knowledge of the sport is intimidating.
In the sparkling -11c evening air, the camp sets off on their usual 8 mile run, with me driving the team bus behind; dark roads and Belgian motorists don’t mix with groups of boxers running on ice. I’m there for safety. We return to the track in front of Peter’s house, skidding on the compacted snow, and talk more boxing. It’s a passion for every single person present here under the cloudless winter sky. Peter and I talk in the living room until midnight but by then, the rest of the house has already been quiet for some time.
The next day, after a gym session at “Jacques”, we travel the short distance back into Holland for sparring at a world famous MMA/Kickboxing gym. The owner – Dennis Krauweel – is sitting in the reception area with Multi- Weight World Kickboxing Champion Albert Kraus. Handshakes and smiles all round. Peter gets to work taking Tyson and Hughie on the pads and then we watch Hughie and Tyson sparring. On the face of it, Tyson Fury sparring Hughie doesn’t seem fair, but Hughie has grown up with Tyson and is not only big enough to face the challenge, but he displays genuine skill and talent. What grabs my attention is just how fast and mobile Tyson is for such a big human being. He skips and dodges like a man half his size. It’s an area that Peter has been working on since he took over Tyson’s training following the knockdown he suffered at the hands of Neven Pajkic. The Fury’s usual “big man” sparring partner – World Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion Rico Verhoeven – isn’t available but he’s proved value for money. “Some of the sparring we’ve had has been poor” says Peter, “One guy [a well known heavyweight they flew in from America] lasted two days and then refused to come out of his hotel room. He ended up flying home the next day. He didn’t like the fact Tyson was hitting him full bore” he laughs. Sparring here is full contact from both sides, no prisoners.
That evening I sit down for dinner with Tyson. He’s a enigmatic character, sometimes dismissive, and at other times fully involved in a topic of conversation he feels passionate about. We talk for a couple of hours about his religious beliefs (he’s a Christian), and his views on the world. Plainly Tyson is an intelligent man who loves his family and is just trying to follow his dream. He is very different in private to the angry guy who occasionally makes a Twitter faux pas. I ask him if the personal abuse he gets on the internet ever grinds him down and he thinks for a moment, “Nah Ben, not really. I can’t say that it doesn’t affect me, because it does sometimes, but I’ve got better things to do than worry about those idiots.” Tyson is quite simply a nice bloke.
The whole family gather around a laptop the next evening and discuss who Tyson’s next opponent should be. Names are thrown up and debated; all received the same way by Tyson “Well, I’d beat him easily.” They ask my opinion and I suggest Kubrat Pulev. What’s plain is the Fury’s are not bothered by who they fight, or when. “Tyson would fight a Polar Bear for nothing,” says Peter, “we’re fighting men.”
The rest of the week is a repetitive blur of sprints, sparring, weight work, skipping, core-strengthening exercises, and the ever-present 8 snowy miles at night. Three times a day, six days a week, no breaks, no let offs, and not one complaint about the harshness of the work. This is not a place for posing in the mirror, or for big egos. The camp works because of Peter Fury and because of the simple and strong bonds of trust between family. There is a sense that grizzled ancestors are watching every move; the weight of family honour hangs heavy.
Peter drops me off at the ferry port after my week is up. “It’s been a pleasure” he says, “Don’t forget, this time next year, Hughie will have had a dozen Pro fights and he’ll have won them all”.
“I hope so,” I say “good luck.”
“He’s a Fury, Ben! It’s in his blood!”. He was right.