For the past four months, Tyson Fury has been snorting cocaine, drinking daily and getting “fat as a pig” – but the reigning world heavyweight champion says this is no reason to strip him of his titles. “I’m going through a lot of personal demons, trying to shake them off,” he says on Monday, adding he has been sober for three days. “This has got nothing to do with my fighting – what I’m going through right now is my personal life.”
Ever since defeating nine-year champion Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf, Germany, last November, in a stunning upset victory, Fury, 28, has seemingly self-engineered one of the greatest collapses in modern sports history. Within weeks, his sexist and homophobic remarks led to a petition to remove his name from the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. Then he was stripped of his IBF title after it became known he had signed a separate agreement with Klitschko for a rematch, meaning he couldn’t face the association’s mandatory challenger, Vyacheslav Glazkov. (Fury, for now, retains his other two belts, the WBA and WBO.) There were the postponements of said rematch, Fury at one point claiming he couldn’t make a press conference because his car broke down, and arriving at another with five cheerleaders in tow – a departure from his getup a year before, when he showed up in full Batman costume.
Fury has been accused of using the performance-enhancing substance nandrolone, and most recently, cocaine. And then, as always, there have been the tweets, ranging from profane rants to impromptu rap videos to a recent Photoshopped image of himself sitting behind a mountain of Scarface-worthy coke to, in the past 24 hours, an announcement of his retirement followed by an immediate retraction, both of which made worldwide headlines: “Hahahaha u think you will get rid of the GYPSYKING that easy!!! I’m here to stay.”
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But to hear the 6-foot-9, 250-pound baldheaded champ tell it, a lot of this – the rants, the remarks, the theatrics – are desperate backlashes, his way of acting out against a culture that has discriminated against him his entire life – and practically persecuted him since his title victory. “It’s been a witch hunt ever since I won that world title,” Fury says, “because of my background, because of who I am and what I do – there’s hatred for Travelers and gypsies around the world.” Fury is an Irish Traveler, the 40,000 nomadic people who live throughout Ireland and the U.K. in tight-knit caravan communities, working construction, maintaining devout religious beliefs, and fighting among themselves for sport. (Think Brad Pitt in Snatch – Fury’s father, John, was a champion bare-knuckle fighter who was once jailed for gouging out a man’s eye.) Named after former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, Fury is a ferocious and spectacular boxer who has risen higher than any Traveler fighter in history, yet he claims his prestige has done little to change his treatment. “If I won over 30 fights and knocked out everybody it would be no good,” he says. “I can’t do nothing in my life that’s any good to the general people because I’ll never be accepted for who I am and what I am.”
Travelers are among the most persecuted minorities in the U.K., often representing, in the public mind, a shiftless, criminally-inclined people who refuse to settle into jobs. Many RV parks in the U.K. have signs stating: “No music after 11 PM, No Travellers, All dogs must be kept on leads.” In 2014, Katie Hopkins, a conservative journalist for the Daily Mail, tweeted “Gypsies are not travellers. Travellers are people that commute to work or go on holiday. Gypsies are ferrel humans – we have no duty to them.” In a 2015 national poll about immigration, 40 percent of Ireland said Muslims don’t integrate well with society, followed by Travelers and those from “Nigeria, South Africa and Other Africa.” As the most visible Traveler in the world, Fury says he feels the brunt of this hatred. On Twitter, he is mocked relentlessly, a sampling from Monday’s responses to his feed ranging from “gypsie cunt” to “make up your mind ya pikey!” He says British media hounds him, that he has received unfair scrutiny from boxing authorities and that, just this year, he, his wife and their three children were refused service from a restaurant due to their heritage. “I’m the heavyweight champion of the world and I’ve been told ‘Sorry mate you can’t come in,’ he says. “No Travelers allowed.'”
Yet Fury’s outbursts and erratic behavior may also be due, or at least amplified, by demons of a different sort. Here, for the first time, he discusses his long battles with depression, saying he has suffered for years, that he is currently undergoing psychiatric care and that he even sometimes feels suicidal. “They say I’ve got a version of bipolar,” he says. “I’m a manic depressive. I just hope someone kills me before I kill myself.” In May, overwhelmed with depression, Fury says he abandoned his training camp in Holland, beginning a downward spiral that culminated with last week’s news about cocaine use. “From that day forward, I’ve never done any training,” he says. “I’ve been out drinking, Monday to Friday to Sunday, and taking cocaine. I can’t deal with it and the only thing that helps me is when I get drunk out of me mind.”
The mental illness, the cocaine, the sad circus surrounding Fury’s fall, all of this now leaves a question: Will he be stripped of his two remaining world titles? The answer is complicated. When taken out of competition, cocaine is not considered a banned substance by, say, the Nevada State Athletic Commission. (In 2015, UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones tested positive for the drug but was not sanctioned for it.) Fury says he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs, and that he is currently suing the U.K. Anti-Doping Agency over the charges. [UKAD said they cannot comment about a current case.]. The drug test he did fail was conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Administration (VADA), a group brought in by Fury and Klitschko themselves in a voluntary agreement — not by the British boxing authorities. In fact, the British Boxing Board of Control is not a government organization and has no clear rules about drugs, although it does abide by the U.K. Anti-Doping Agency. For their part, UKAD adheres to the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA), which does not ban cocaine use outside of competition. And the belt sanctioning bodies, the WBA and WBO, do not require their champions to adhere to VADA standards either, also following WADA. Basically, Fury failed a drug test he willingly signed up for himself – and is not clearly liable for it. “It just comes down to this private contract between Tyson and Klitschko,” says Erik Magraken, a licensed MMA judge and lawyer who runs combatsportslaw.com. “So it seems like it’s something bad, but really it might be something of absolutely no consequence other than bad press for him.”
But, ultimately, the boxing associations will decide Fury’s fate. Jose Izquierdo, the general secretary of the WBO, says they just want to stage a fight. He says the WBO reached out to Fury last Monday, giving him 10 days to produce a medical certificate stating why he cannot compete. If they have not received a form by this Wednesday, they will convene as a committee to decide whether to strip him of his title. Izquierdo says no one wants to take away the belt, but if Fury is not going to defend it within his contractual time period – a year by November 28th – then they need to make a decision. “We can’t have a belt held hostage,” he says. (The WBA did not respond for comment.)
Amid all this controversy, the current reigning heavyweight champion of the world tells Rolling Stone how he tumbled from his training regime, slid into drugs, and is fighting to recover – but ultimately, erratically, still struggling with his own demons. He may leave boxing for good.
Did you use cocaine?
Listen, I’ll tell you what’s happened. It’s been a witch hunt ever since I won that world title. Ever since I got a bit of fame for doing good there’s been a witch hunt on me because of my background, because of who I am and what I do, there’s hatred for Travelers and gypsies around the world. Especially in the United Kingdom. Especially with the British Boxing Board of Control and some of the sanctioning bodies of the world titles. [The BBBC did not respond to an interview request.] I had to fight one of the best champions in history. No one give me a prayer. I finally prevailed over the guy, beat him, and I get treated like shit. Within a week, the IBF, the International Boxing Federation, stole my belt and give it to somebody else, knowing full well that I couldn’t defend it in a week because I had a rematch set with Klitschko. That was the first bit of corruption involved with boxing. [The IBF says Fury broke his contract.]
From then on, it’s been nothing more than a witch hunt. From then on, they’ve tried to get me chucked out of boxing because they cannot tame me, they cannot hire me, I’m not for sale, no one can turn a key in my back, no one can do nothing to stop me. So now they’re saying I took some cocaine and whatever. Listen if I had some smack I’d take it. If I had heroin I’d take that, never mind cocaine, for what they’ve done to me. It’s a travesty what they’ve done. I want to expose them for what they are. The British Boxing Board of Controls is in on it too. They’re all in it together. The drug testing companies are in on it as well. If I tested positive in February 2015 for drugs [months before his match with Klitschko] why let me fight the long reigning champion and leave him of all his belts in November? Why not strip me in February? [The U.K. Anti-Doping Agency says they cannot comment on a current case.]
You believe a lot of this is stemming from racism against Travelers? They’ve always had it in for you in some sense?
Always. I come from a Traveling background, and we suffer the biggest racism and discrimination in the country. It’s going on today in 2016. Man, I’ve been refused in restaurants because I’m a Traveler. I’m the heavyweight champion of the world and I’ve been to restaurants and been told ‘Sorry mate you can’t come in. No Travelers allowed.’ So you can see my frustration with it all. I get no credit for defeating the second-longest reigning champion in history. Even my own country where I was born and raised hate me. The only thing the press wants to write is negativity. As soon as I won the title I got back off the boat and pick up the newspaper: Tyson done something controversial. It wasn’t: ‘He’s dethroned the best man who’s been in a long time.’ It was that he’s done this and he’s done that. Anything to try and take credit away from me.
Are you saying you never did cocaine and the drug test is not accurate?
Listen, I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I’ve done lots of cocaine. Lots of it. Why shouldn’t I take cocaine? It’s my life isn’t it? I can do what I want. Yeah, I have done cocaine. Plenty of people have done cocaine as well. What the fuck has that got to do with anything? That ain’t a performance enhancing drug. Am I not allowed to have a life now as well? Do they want to take my personal life off me too? I’ve not been in a gym for months. I’ve not been training. I’ve been going through depression. I just don’t want to live anymore, if you know what I’m saying. I’ve had total enough of it. They’ve forced me to the breaking edge. Never mind cocaine. I just didn’t care. I don’t want to live anymore. So cocaine is a little minor thing compared to not wanting to live anymore.
Have you taken any other drugs than cocaine?
I never took other drugs, ever, in me life. I only started to take cocaine in the last few months.
Are you saying you have been dealing with depression caused by your treatment as a Traveler in boxing?
Yes, most definitely. I was a lot happier when I wasn’t the world champion because people wasn’t giving me as much shit. People wasn’t wanting me to do all these bad things so much. Listen I’ve been pushed to the brink. I can’t take no more. I’m in a hospital at the moment. I’m seeing psychiatrists. Everything. They say I’ve got a version of bipolar. I’m a manic depressive. All from what they’ve done to me. All this shit through boxing, through taking titles, through writing me off. I beat the best man but I’m still shit.
I used to love boxing when I was a kid. It was my life. All the way through it was my life. You finally get to where you need to be and it becomes a big mess. And that’s it. I hate boxing now. I wouldn’t even go across the road to watch a world title fight. That’s what its done to me. I don’t even want to wake up. I hope I die every day. And that’s a bad thing to say when I’ve got three children and a lovely wife isn’t it? But I don’t want to live anymore. And if I could take me own life – and I wasn’t a Christian – I’d take it in a second. I just hope someone kills me before I kill me self. I’ll have to spend eternity in hell.
I’m sorry to hear that. Where are you now?
I’m in a very bad place at the moment. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I don’t know if I’m going to see the year out to be honest.
But you are seeing help.
I am seeing help, but they can’t do nothing for me. What I’ve got is incurable. I don’t want to live. All the money in the world, fame and glory, means nothing if you’re not happy. And I ain’t happy. I’m very far from it.
What about the recent Scarface and retirement Twitter posts?
They can’t do anymore than what they’ve done to me. And I’ll tell you this. I love winding them up as well. Boxing, I would say, is the most corrupt organization in the whole of sports. My face didn’t fit. I don’t belong in boxing, people like me. They only want people that they can tell what to do and wind the key in the back. Robots.
You have made controversial comments offending many groups of people, and have said these statements stem from your conservative religious beliefs. Do you feel you’ve been treated unfairly for this?
Right from the beginning mate. Right from the beginning. I’ve got a personal life everyone wants to bring into the public. What I say I stand by. I don’t care. If I believe what I believe then I’m going to say it. I’ve been persecuted for standing up for Christ. It’s been a hell of a journey. But you know what I wouldn’t change a thing because I’ve stood up for the Lord, I’ve got me views across.
Did you push back your other rematches with Klitshcko because you were suffering from depression and you weren’t training?
To be honest yes. I’ve not been in the gym for months. I’ve been AWOL. I’ve been out drinking, anything to get me mind off what’s been going on to me. You wouldn’t understand it if I told you. It’s so corrupt. And the real people inside of boxing know what’s going on. They know it.
What specifically have the boxing authorities done to you? Are these drug tests not standard?
They tested me about six times within a few weeks. Only recently three days ago last week they came to my house at 1:30 in the morning, tested me, and came back at 9 a.m. to test me again. What is this? Do you understand the treatment I’m getting off these people? They’re driving me mad.
It is crazy that’s what’s going on but listen, I don’t really care. They’ve won. They’ve got what they wanted. That’s it. I’m as fat as pig. I’m 285 pounds, 290 pounds. It is what it is. I’ve been out. I’ve been an emotional wreck. I’ve been on a mission. I’ve been out trying to handle me life.
Are you with family right now? Are you with people that love and care about you?
Are your demons, your depression, something you’ve been fighting your entire life?
You know, I’ve been fighting them for a lot of years. Now, I just don’t know. I just can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel if I’m honest. It was driving my family apart. My wife says she can’t live with me because I’m a lunatic. I just … I don’t know. I don’t know what’s goin’ on. It looks I’m just goin … everything is gonna go. I’ll lose my family, my wife, my kids. Everything. All due to boxing. I wish to God on everything, that I never got into boxing as a child. I wish this never happened and I had just done a routine job and a routine life. This is how it’s got me all of it. It’s shoved wedges between my team, my uncles, cousins, relatives, everybody who was involved in boxing. Everyone was unhappy with all of this and it’s all because of me. I feel like I’m the one who’s brought all the pressure on everybody. I’m the one who’s done all this, if you know what I mean. It’s my burden to carry. Why should everybody else have to carry it around with them, just because they trained me?
But you know what it is. I feel more racism now in 2016 than any slave, any foreign immigrant ever did in the 1800s. Listen, when Muhammad Ali threw his gold medal away in the 1960s for being mistreated and abused, this is what I’m doing today. I’m throwing all my world titles in the bin because I ain’t accepted in society for being a Traveler in 2016. [In a later tweet and brief follow-up phone call, Fury said he is not quitting boxing.] What does it mean to be a world heavyweight champion when you cannot go into your local restaurant, sit down and have a dinner? It doesn’t mean nothing clearly.
Do you feel that all your success has amplified the racism?
Even more. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just go on my Twitter page and have a look. Scroll down for the last few months. Go online and read the articles. So-called British journalists. Read what they’ve got to say. No one can say a good thing. Whatever I do. If I won over 30 fights and knocked out everybody it would be no good. If it was the best math teacher in the world, it would be no good. If I was the United States president I’d be no good. I can’t do nothing in my life that’s any good to the general people because I’ll never be accepted for who I am and what I am. You could go and ask 100 people about Travelers and they’ve all got nothing good to say about them. I don’t know where it comes from. I do not know where it comes from.
Are you going to retire now?
Why would I want to entertain people who hate me? I’m not gonna go in there and risk brain damage every time I go into a fight for people that don’t give me no credit. All the money in the world ain’t worth it to be trapped how I got trapped. [Fury later said he would not retire from boxing.]
Do you see any way for you to get better? And for you to fight back in terms of boxing?
I don’t see a way out, I don’t even see a way of living for me, I don’t want to live anymore. It has brought me to the brink of, of death, that’s where I’m at at the moment. It all seems so sad but it is the truth and I really don’t care about boxing or sports or anything about it. I’m just sad that I got involved in boxing in the beginning. Cause I always thought once I get to the top, it will all change, but I knew deep down inside it would never change.
At what point did you start really giving into the despair?
It’s only been about six months really, the last six months. All the negativity and all the nay-sayers talking about drugs and doping. But we knew it was absolutely rubbish.
So you’re saying you were clean when you were fighting, you had no drugs in your system?
No drugs at all, no drugs at all. I have never ever taken a drug to help me boxing in my life.
But you’ve been driven to the point of depression because of racism and you have taken cocaine to help cope?
Yes. I have never ever taken a drug to help me boxing in my life. Never took a performance enhancing drug ever. Never even took an aspirin for a cold. I’m a natural. The only person that can beat me is me.
And in your mind you should not be stripped of your titles because it has nothing to do with your fighting – but with your mental illness, your depression?
Yes, it’s got nothing to do with my fighting. Got nothing to do with anything like that. What I’m going through at the moment is my personal life. I’ve not been in the gym since May. I went over to Holland to do a training camp and was crying every night. I did not want to be there. I said to to [uncle and trainer] Peter [Fury], “I cannot do this anymore, Peter.” I said I’m breaking down, I said there’s something wrong with me, I wanna go home, I said I don’t want it. Take everything and chuck it in the bin, I don’t want it no more. From that day forward, I’ve never done any training. I’ve been out, I’ve been drinking. I’m on the verge of becoming an alcoholic. I’m drinking Monday to Friday to Sunday. I can’t, I can’t deal with it, and the only thing that helps me is when I get drunk out of me mind and that’s it. I don’t tell lies, I’ve no need to tell lies. I’ve taken drugs, cocaine, on many many occasions for the last six months. Not to enhance my performance – cause I’ve not been performing.
I’ve been out drinking, drugging, acting like a lunatic, being a fool. All to try and feel better in meself. But nothing can suffice my thirst no more, I’m finished. All the drugs and drink in the world ain’t gonna make me happy no more. Nothing makes me happy anymore because I have gone past the point of happiness. There is no returning for me anymore. I am finished.
Some people say you’ve been putting off a rematch because you’re scared of losing your title, because you’re scared of a rematch with Klitschko.
How can I be scared? I’m 28 years old. I believe I’m the greatest out of everyone that’s ever lived. Klitschko got played with the first time. He didn’t even win a round. He lost every round, he couldn’t even land a punch. Why would I need to be scared of him, a 40-year-old man?
You know, you come from such a legendary fighting family, what has your victory meant to them?
Nothing can ever, ever mean more to my family, my history of people, than winning those titles. We are bare-knuckle champions, boxing champions — all that matters to us is fighting.
You have three young children. Do they make you happy?
Of course they do. You gotta feel better cause you look at pure innocence and feel good. They don’t know what’s going on. It’s not their fault. Listen if I never had kids, I wouldn’t be alive today, that’s the truth.
Are you still taking cocaine?
I’ve stopped it. I stopped it all on the first of the month.
I’m trying to forget about it all. I’m putting boxing behind me, the drinking, the drugs, just getting back in the church and right with God. Cause that’s all that matters with me. Other people’s opinions and what they gotta write and what they gotta say about me, all the negativity, all the charges in the world doesn’t mean nothing, because I just want to go to heaven, I want my family to go to heaven, and that’s it, that’s all that matters to me. Because material things are no good.
So you’re saying you stopped at the first of the month, two days ago, you stopped taking all drugs and alcohol?
Do you feel better?
It does make me feel better. I’ve got to try to get me family back on track, get me wife back, you know. I’ve got to start doing things and manning up a bit, because there are a lot people out there, a lot worse off than me in life, and no matter how depressed I get, I’ve got three beautiful children here, and they’ve got a life and what would they do without a father?
Anything else you want to tell the world?
Yes, this is me first and last interview. I just want time alone with my family, I’m going through a lot of personal demons, I’ve got demons on me, I’m trying to shake them all off. I want a normal life. I don’t want to box anymore, I don’t want it no more. [Fury later said he would return to boxing.] I’ve been drug to defeat, and that’s it. The only thing I’ve got left now is me family and me health and that can all change any given moment. So we’ve just got to be thankful for what we do got, and just be happy in our lives.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.