Hughie Fury - Stronger than ever ahead of Kubrat Pulev
Danny Flexen finds Hughie Fury in quietly confident mood ahead of Kubrat Pulev IBF final eliminator
Hughie Fury talks in much the same manner as he conducts his boxing career: efficient, focused and with a refusal to dwell on the negatives. It’s as admirable as it is frustrating, for a storyteller seeking soundbites, but feels altogether appropriate for the quiet opposite to cousin Tyson’s crude but undoubtedly charismatic bombast. Talking of the former unified world heavyweight champion who, until last year, shared a trainer with Hughie in the latter’s father Peter, we actually won’t be; talking of him, that is. Commenting on his famous relative is off limits for now, with no suggestion of animosity, more a quiet assertion of growing independence. Once content to defer to his more celebrated kinsman, now is very much Hughie Fury’s time. A dangerous but enticing IBF final eliminator in Sofia against national hero Kubrat Pulev awaits, on October 27, and when it comes to answering testing questions inside the ring, the 23-year-old’s reticence disappears.
“When there are two people in the ring it doesn’t matter where in the world it is,” Fury muses on an opportunity that other, more experienced rivals turned down. “I want these challenging fights, you’ve got to go and fight the best and I’m not afraid to do that; I don’t mind going anywhere. I know what I’ve gotta do, I’ll work for it in camp and go into his back garden and do it. I’m a better fighter now than I’ve ever been.”
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Taking on the formidable former European champion in Bulgaria, one senses he will need to be. A performance akin to his only world title shot to date, a desultory but debatable defeat to then-WBO ruler Joseph Parker last year, will likely prove insufficient in hostile territory. The majority decision that went against Fury in hometown Manchester was open to interpretation, as Parker mostly chased and missed, while Hughie moved, posed and pondered, albeit with grace and elan. Neither man really did enough to claim dominance over their counterpart, and Fury concedes he will need to build instead on his most recent display, an encouragingly clinical five-round destruction of veteran Sam Sexton
“I still had some ring-rust,” he reflects of his biggest fight which was unfortunately preceded by 17 months of inactivity. “I didn’t throw my right hand as much as I could have, but there’s no point dwelling on the past. I’ve watched the fight back and I boxed well but I coulda done more. Sexton was better and on the 27th of October you’ll see a completely different Hughie Fury again.”
It hasn’t been easy so far but Fury always knew his destiny. His father had been a fighter, Fury started boxing aged five and had his first fight the same year he left school, when he was just 11. Possessed of conviction rare in a child, Hughie knew even then that gloved combat was all he ever wanted to pursue. The other stuff – learning to read, write and manage his finances – could be, and was, acquired along the way. Despite his dad being absent, at her majesty’s pleasure, for long periods of his childhood, Hughie stuck to his calling, before Peter belatedly assumed the reins when his son was 15 and, for all intents and purposes, a man.
“I’ve been boxing all my life,” Hughie confirms. “I was brought up around it, when we was young, dad used to take us on pads and stuff like that, I was going to gyms and fell in love with the sport. I always knew dad was good in fighting, I’d look out the window and see him training my brother and I always wanted to do it. Even without him, I’d definitely have found my way to a boxing gym one way or another, no one ever pushed me to this. I have two other brothers and they’re not boxers, it’s just something I wanted to do. I was more dedicated, made more sacrifices, I had some bad things, lost a few fights in the amateurs but it didn’t bother me; I just carried on.
“When my dad was away, I still visited him, we got on with things; my mum is a strong woman, she’s the backbone of it. He still gave me advice on my amateur career, sent postcards and stuff, it’s part of life and you just get on with it. He put me on the right path when he got hold of me, we clicked straight away and no one in the world could train me better than my dad. He pushes you to your limits. I was a tall fighter and fighting a small man’s game, coaches weren’t having me use my reach and natural attributes. He changed that.”
While fortune smiled on Fury in one way, it soon cruelly redressed the balance. For several years, Fury suffered from a severe and debilitating skin condition, acne conglobata, the effects of which spread far beyond a conspicuous rash. Attacking his immune system, the pernicious disease intermittently robbed the young athlete of his strength and energy reserves, making his World Youth Championships triumph in 2012 and 20 straight wins as a professional all the more impressive. Upon turning over, Fury had 12 paid bouts in his first eight months, but, with illness increasingly in the ascendancy, that activity level soon dropped. The technical decision over awkward Fred Kassi two years ago, achieved while Fury was significantly below 100 per cent, proved the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading to a specialist diagnosis and treatment plan. Seven months and significant medication later, Fury was cured and grateful that he had overcome arguably his most stubborn foe while still ensconced in his early 20s.
“I just carried on, but I had it quite a long time,” he says ruefully. “My body was just drained constantly, I was always run down, had infections; there was always something wrong when they checked me blood. I went through some bad times, times when I thought my boxing was gonna end. In the Kassi fight, I was completely drained from round one, but you’re in there so you’ve just got to deal with it, stay strong. Now it’s all cleared up and I’m back to normal.”
A year before the pivotal Kassi struggle, Fury had scored his best win to date, clearly outscoring the seasoned Andriy Rudenko in Monte Carlo. Less fortuitously, he was then found to have elevated levels of nandrolone metabolites in his system. Cousin and training partner Tyson failed a similar test in the same month and both men have always insisted they did not knowingly commit any infraction. Anti-doping governing body UKAD only informed the pair of the failed tests some 16 months later, leading to a long and messy debate over the validity of the results, not to mention the process itself and eventual sanction. Ultimately, a compromise was reached that saw the fightersaccept backdated two-year bans which expired at the end of last year. Hughie is not sufficiently educated on the scientific details of the case to make an informed comment but is happy to leave the subject in his rear-view mirror, with greater priorities fast approaching.
Fury prefers to concentrate on the future, on things he can affect in a positive way. He wants division number one Anthony Joshua after Pulev, but recognises even a convincing away-day romp being reflected on the official scorecards may not ensure that all-British showdown is next.
“Hopefully it’ll happen as soon as possible but it don’t work like that, so we’ll wait and see,” the shrewd Fury points out, convinced by painful history to take nothing for granted. “We’ll get Pulev out the way first.
“I’ve seen Joshua’s fights and he’s improving so that’s the fight I really want. I’d love that fight.”
Even on the brink of the biggest heavyweight clash he could dream of, Hughie Fury refuses to get carried away. It is simply not in his modest and unassuming nature to be seduced by hubris. That humility could yet prove the 6ft 6in stytlist’s greatest asset in the land of the giants.