It is hard to miss Tyson Fury – he is, in many ways, larger than life, and, as such, many people have preconceptions about the heavyweight boxer forged on the basis of this very stylised image, I, for one, hold my hands up to this. But this autobiography really lives up to its subtitle and takes readers ‘behind the mask’, for that is clearly what Fury’s bombastic persona is revealed to be, as he is depicted instead as a deep and spiritual soul, a human being who has battled from the very beginning, both inside and outside of the ring. In a hugely impressive and honest account of Fury’s life, this book will, most likely, change readers’ perceptions of this true sports personality, who may perhaps, only now, be receiving the recognition and credit he deserves.
From the get-go, Fury’s story surprises. Looking at him now, physically it’s impossible to see a weakness, but his very life was in the balance as a three-month-premature baby. Never has the saying ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ had such resonance. But it seems from the very beginning, Fury was bequeathed with a fighting spirit, perhaps in part due to his genes, coming as he does from a long line of boxers in the travelling community. Transforming into a world-class boxer, however, is far from a given, and the story of Fury’s formative years and his ‘fight’ to become a boxer really spells out his immense dedication and determination to the sport. Boxing – perhaps more than a lot of other sports, where there are more opportunities, given the various teams and levels available, and easy gains – opens the door to only a relative few. Unlike football, rugby, cricket, and the like, where players can carve out lucrative careers and become households names in lower divisions, there is no such visibility or personal and financial recognition for boxers outside of the elite level, and this in a sport in which the dangers and risks are all the more. Fury’s rise to the top is therefore even more unique, especially given the obstacles he details from the world of boxing itself. When Fury’s chance did come, however, he grabbed it with both hands and today is one of the biggest names in the sport, with his rematch against Deontay Wilder in February one of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the year. Whilst Fury has rightly been lauded as a skilled boxer and master of ringcraft, what really comes across in the book is his indefatigable spirit, his ability to never give up physically and never give in mentally. His is a truly extraordinary will, which many will have seen played out in his fights but which veritably jumps off the page.
Although the autobiography does skirt over a few matters to my mind, including his father’s imprisonment and his own battles with drugs, Fury does not shy away from discussing mental health. He talks candidly about his own illness and struggles and the need to raise awareness and encourage discussion, and this as much as anything else in the autobiography, perhaps even more so, is one of the real takeaways from this book. Indeed, although Fury suggests at times his mind has been his own worst enemy, this book reveals it is also, arguably, his greatest strength, as he displays incredible courage, persistence and willpower.
For anyone thinking they know Tyson Fury, or what it takes to be a boxer, this book will make you think again. Fury may be a sports personality in the truest sense of the phrase, but behind that mask he is very much a man, flaws and all. That he has risen to the top of a sport as impervious and demanding as boxing and won so many battles in the ring is an achievement, but that he has fought and won more personal battles outside of the ring is perhaps his greatest achievement and testament to his real fighting spirit.
Behind the Mask – Tyson Fury / Sports Book Awards Autobiography of the Year shortlisted