At the ripe old age of 45, Peter Fury suddenly finds himself as one of the brightest emerging trainers in British boxing.
Born into one of the nation’s most notorious travelling families, the Wakefield born ex pro first learned to fight on the caravan sites in the north of England.
Hugely successful in business, he has latterly been carving a formidable reputation as the man who masterminded his heavyweight son Hughie to the World Youth title in 2012 and who transformed his nephew Tyson Fury from a playboy pug into a hardened world grade operator.
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Last weekend, boxing writer Glynn Evans called up the ‘no nonsense’ but extremely amiable coach at his training HQ in the south of France to find out more about his background and beliefs.
What are your memories of growing up as a travelling boy in the late 70s and 80s? When did you first become interested in fighting?
Firstly, I was blessed with a very good mother and father who kept themselves to themselves. I had a very happy childhood full of fond memories on the gypsy sites. We’d roam in the fields around the family buildings, playing with the animals in the barns. I’m the youngest of four brothers. There was Hugh, Jimmy, John - who’s Tyson’s father - then myself and we’d all sleep in the same bed!
I loved the sport of boxing and, just like our John (a notorious bareknuckle fighter and ex pro), I had a fight every day. Like all travelling lads, you had to get the gloves on and, being youngest, I got battered every day. Character building! Like me, Hughie and John later fought as professionals.
From as young as four or five, I remember listening with me dad to the big fights from America, - involving Ali, Frazier and the likes - on the radio. Me dad would be there throwing every punch with them. He never actually boxed but all his cousins who he hung around with did and he did a lot of training.
I fell in love with the likes of Ken Norton, Gerry Cooney, Joe Frazier and, particularly, Ali. He just had such charisma. He was a proper showman; funny, articulate plus a very shrewd man. There’s only been one like him.
Tell us about your own career inside the ring.
I only had one amateur fight, shortly after I got married at 17, which I won on points. Thing was, back then us travellers were very poor people and also it’s our culture to constantly move around so, though I’d regularly spar at local leisure centres, I was never in one place long enough to get ‘carded’.
Then, just after my 20th birthday, I had one pro fight in Sunderland against a guy from Doncaster called Dave Jules. It was a real slugfest but I had to be pulled out by my corner in the second round. Fitness issues!
In the dressing room afterwards, the doc discovered my blood pressure had risen so high that he referred me to the hospital for checks. I exerted too much effort and quickly discovered that you can’t box professional when you’re three or four stone over weight! Our family always put on weight. That was my downfall as a young man.
I did a lot of sparring with very good pros at (trainer) Phil Martin’s Champs Camp gym in Moss Side, Manchester. I went in with some very good pros like JonJo Green, Liam Coleman and, particularly, Crawford Ashley (the ex British, Commonwealth and European light-heavyweight champion).
Crawford was the best I sparred; a nice guy but vicious inside the ring, wanted to knock everybody out, every spar. He was very accurate and you’d end up shipping a lot of punishment. I also sparred (ex WBO cruiserweight king) Carl Thompson but he was far more technical and actually hated sparring himself.
I enjoyed the boxing and regret not getting in super shape but I already had a young family to keep. I was a good money earner, clearing a couple of grand a week. Why sweat me balls off for £200 a fight?
Were you involved in the ‘knuckle’ scene which is popular among the travelling community?
Oh yes! I had maybe eight or nine ‘proper’ fights where ‘fair play’ was involved; either for money or as score settlers .
I had hundreds of other street fights. Being gypsies and moving between schools we were regularly picked on and our dad would’ve killed us if we’d not fought back. I didn’t lose too many of those! My teenage years were tough years but happy times.
As a young man, it’s no secret that you got yourself in a spot of bother with the law. Is that something you regret now or did your time away help mould you into the man you are today?
My only regret really is the waste of time. I was in jail for ten years and my wife and kids had to suffer. It was a very hard time for them.
And don’t let people kid you, jail is hard. It could only be easy if you were a single guy with no ambition in life.
Prison probably made me a stronger person mentally. There’s guys in there using weak men for their wives!
But I took no drugs inside and kept myself superfit. I was in the gym four hours a day for eight or nine years. If I could’ve been in the same condition I was in in prison when I boxed pro, I’d have been an excellent fighter.
How did you become involved in training fighters?
My brother John and I turned pro around the same time (1988) and I always had some involvement in his career. It was difficult for him to find sparring so I’d step in.
I’d make sure he got up at 6am to run and I got him down to 15 ½ to 16 stone. I got him superfit. When he fought an Italian over 10 rounds over in Thornaby (Yorkshire) he was throwing a million punches. He trained very hard but we knew very little back then about weights or nutrition. He’d just hit the bags for hours.
To what do you attribute your recent success?
I always give all my fighters my best 24/7. You’ve got to love it. You can’t just do it work money.
Also, I believe I know what they need. In prison, I attended a lot of courses and acquired a lot of knowledge regarding how the body works, weight training and nutrition. I wish I’d had somebody like me looking after me, providing food, money and knowledge, like I can provide for my nephew and son now.
Because Tyson and Hughie are family, I feel the punches with ‘em. I go into overkill to get those boys ready because, and I’ve always said this, I never want to be giving excuses if we lose. You just congratulate the opponent for being the better man on the night.
Mentally, I’ve been to hell and back twenty times over. Over my life, I’ve developed X-ray vision. I’ve seen more treachery than any man. I lost interest in making loads of money being locked for years behind that steel door. These days, I’m far more driven by achieving stuff.
I understand your son Hughie had already begun his amateur career whilst you were ‘away’. At what stage was he at when you were finally released?
From a little boy at the age of five or six, you could see he had a real gift for it, I remember telling the wife that. And he always loved to train. You had to stop him.
Even when I was sent away, I instructed my wife to get Hughie fighting (boxing) as soon as he was able. I wanted him to get as many amateur fights as he could so that he got used to stepping inside that ring.
But by the time I first became actively involved with Hughie, he was still very raw, if I’m brutally honest.
He could hold his hands up, already had natural athleticism and, like all us Furys, he had real toughness. Though quiet and reserved, he never seemed affected when he got punched in the face by far bigger, older lads. World class fighters have to have that mentality to begin with. It’s not really something that you can instil.
To what extent were you involved in Hughie’s amateur career?
During his mid teens Hughie was unhappy at the lack of coaching he was receiving in England so, upon my release, I arranged for him to come over to me in France, then Spain. I took him on full time, got him on a diet and he just went from strength to strength.
The night before he won his World Youth gold medal in Armenia, I was working Tyson’s corner for the Kevin Johnson fight in Belfast. I had to take a 5am flight from Dublin and landed in Armenia 18 hours later!
I acknowledge that the England coaches did a fabulous job working Hughie’s corner but it was me who trained him and they were my game plans.
He basically won the tournament the night he beat the local Armenian (Narek Melkonyan) in the semis. Though Hughie’s a very good technical boxer, we knew he’d have to forget about boxing and just take it to him; best man wins. Hughie went to war, gave him a couple of standing counts and punched the Armenian to a stand still.
The Indian kid he beat in the final didn’t belong with him. Hughie fought five times whereas the Indian had a couple of byes. Winning that gold medal was one of my proudest moments yet, though Hughie was born and bred in Manchester, the Boxing News gave him no write-up, just a line.
How did you feel about Hughie’s decision to forsake a possible Olympic gold medal in 2016 and turn professional at just 18?
I had no problem with that. The amateurs had nothing concrete planned for him and once he’d won a major gold medal that brought his amateur career to a conclusion.
Had he gone to Brazil, he might not have got a fair deal from the judges. Anyway, professional fighting is a completely different skill set and mindset. You have to start all over again and I was able to accord Hughie the opportunity to learn the trade properly. By the time 2016 comes around, I’d expect Hughie to be in the world top ten.
With Hughie, you’ve taken the unorthodox route for a leading heavyweight prospect by developing him off TV, deep into undercards and often on foreign climes for nominal or no purses? Explain!
Professional boxing is a 24/7 lifestyle. You can’t just do it for money, you have to love it. Bar when he’s fought on Mick Hennessy’s TV shows on Channel Five, Hughie hasn’t got paid for his pro fights and we’ve usually had to pay a lot of money for the opponents. But I’ve got the resources to enable us to do our own thing.
Money’s nice but, right now, Hughie doesn’t need it. He lives rent free with me and I ensure he gets all the good food he needs.
We’re allowing Hughie to learn his trade without any pressure. He’s still a child. We’re building him under the radar. We want him to go rounds and learn his trade properly. We don’t want opponents who just fall over. If he drops a fight overseas, so what?
I don’t just want him to be a champion, I want him to be a phenomenal champion with great longevity and that’ll happen if he sticks to his present mindset.
You’ve taken the unconventional step of setting up training camps on the continent. How did that come about? What are the advantages? What do the camps entail?
These days, I spend a major portion of my life travelling on the continent. I love the people and scenery. I’ve set up camps in France, Belgium and Spain. I’m embarrassed to admit it but, other than a little French and an understanding of the Irish cant, I don’t speak any languages.
Advantages? Firstly, we’re away from all the distractions of the mainland. I’m able to put 100% into it. Fighting at top level is a very serious business and there’s nothing else on our minds.
Secondly, we’re able to train outside in the fresh air. The SAS are the fittest people alive and they train outside, don’t they.
Thirdly, being on mainland Europe, we’re better place to obtain top quality sparring.
I’ll start them out early in the morning on the beach. They’ll do their shuttle runs, circuits, shadow boxing, burpees, press ups etc on the soft sand. They’ll pull heavy ropes and thump tyres with sledge hammers. Physically, it’s so demanding. We always take care to ensure they don’t catch colds.
Twelve o’clock they hit the weights gym, 5pm they go the boxing gym for technical work on the pads and their sparring.
Hughie’s already had a dozen fights – spread across six countries - in his opening eight months as a pro. How do you assess his development?
I’m very, very happy with the way Hughie is progressing. It’s a long, long road and he’s learning new things all the time. He’s actually quite a slow learner but, once he’s finally grasped something, he’s got it forever.
Though he’s a long way from world class at the minute, he trains in world class and, in Tyson’s shadow, he profits from the very best of sparring.
During the 12 fights to date, he’s had experiences of being cut, fighting with bad hands, fighting when tired and dehydrated, even fighting with flu. He spewed up almost 10 pints of fluid after one fight. He’s already endured pretty much every disability.
What does Hughie still need to acquire before he can be unleashed at championship level?
He’s already a very clever tactician but he needs to learn to pace himself better and needs to develop into a real mental and physical hard knock. His defence has been improving a lot recently. He used to get hit with a lot of right hands in sparring but not anymore. It’s all coming together nicely.
Ultimately, what could he become?
Undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. I’d not be happy with less because he’s an exceptional talent. It’s about getting him the right grounding.
He already has the size, the capability, the grit and determination, that Fury toughness, and there’s at least another 30-40% to come. He’s not got his full man strength yet. He can punch but we’re not relying on knockouts at this stage. That’ll come I time, trust me. Remember, the kids only just 19.
You’ve been training Hughie’s cousin Tyson Fury since his dust-up with Marty Rogan in Belfast in April 2012. Tyson appears a completely different character, far louder and more gregarious.
That’s actually not true. Privately, they’re very similar. Tyson’s very much his own man, can be brash and say things for attention but away from the spotlight he’s a real pleasure to be around, very comical. He’s a nice, good hearted human being who never takes liberties in sparring...unless we’re paying of course!
Contrary to how he’s portrayed in the media, Tyson’s actually quite level headed, a fine example of how a young man should conduct themselves. I’m so proud of him. He’s lovely to be involved with. If he wasn’t, I’d not bother with him.
Tyson was previously trained by your brother Hugh, then former Canadian Olympian Chris Johnson. What needed altering when you assumed the trainer’s saddle?
Pretty much everything. For a start he had no balance or footwork, no defence. He was wide open. However, what he did have was a fighter’s mentality, the heart of a lion, natural toughness and a good punch. He had plenty of God given talent. People forget he too was a world class amateur, a European and World (junior) medallist.
I’m just making sure that he enters the ring physically right, that he’s provided with the best of nutrition and I try to fine tune his skill set.
In what ways has Tyson developed under your watch?
Mentally, he’s starting to understand that the magnitude of the fights he’s now going to be involved in has increased tenfold. He’s worked on becoming a lot more polished, able to adapt to a lot more scenarios inside the ring. Now, he’s also got the engine to go 12 very hard rounds.
If all else is failing, Tyson can take you into a raw fight and, to beat him, you have to knock him unconscious because, if he’s blinking, he’s getting up!
He’s been inactive for ten months. How has he been developing in the gym during that time? What new elements can fans expect to see on Saturday night?
You’ll see he’s super fit. He’s been on a very strict regime and has lost 40lbs in five weeks. But we’ve not been focussing too much on technique or tactics for this one. It’s a tune up. We just want to get him back into the ring, enjoying himself.
In the past, Tyson has sometimes failed to adhere to the gameplan. In his last fight against one time world cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham over in New York, he charged out gung ho and was dropped heavily in round two before delivering a brutal knockout himself in round seven. Visa complications prevented you from entering the US. What went through your mind, watching from afar?
He’d not have fought like that if I’d been in the corner, that’s for sure. But it showed how Tyson can switch his game plan. Gradually he wore Cunningham down and blasted him out. He’s as tough as I’ve seen.
But Tyson is such a good technical boxer that, when he’s ‘on it’, no one can get near him. So why take these unnecessary chances? He just likes to create drama for himself. His hero is Jake LaMotta and he models himself on that style. It’s something he needs to get out of. He has to use his head more.
Is it a concern that your past transgressions will prevent you from ever entering the US, and therefore missing out on some of Tyson and Hughie’s biggest nights in future?
After what happened last time, I’ll not allow them to fight if I’m not there. If I can’t get in, they’re not fighting simple as that. You can’t have a race horse without a jockey. Tyson, particularly, needs steadying.
But I’m dealing with it. You can only go cap in hand and plead for compassion and understanding. The offences happened a long, long time ago when I was a young man. I’ve turned my life around and I can’t turn the clock back.
What will 2014 hold for Tyson Fury?
This is the year he gets his world title shot. Frank Warren has masterminded his WBO final eliminator against a man he’s already beaten (Chisora) and that’s our gateway to a mandatory challenge.
The scheduled rematch with Dereck this summer is no foregone conclusion, mind. It’ll be a cracking battle and we know that, this time, Dereck will put up the fight of his life. These days he’s quite polished, super fit and is sure to come ‘revved up’. Active fighters are always the best fighters and Dereck has that advantage over Tyson, big time.
It’s the most serious fight of Tyson’s career so far, no doubt. They’ll not need to look for each other and I see a proper war unfolding. Expect Tyson to just bang his gloves together mid ring and ‘have it’ with him. It’s going to be a proper old fashioned ‘straightener’! I’m very confident Tyson will be the man still standing at the end.
Lastly, on a personal front, what are your remaining goals from boxing?
I’m happy with my lot already. I’ve seen illness so I’m just happy to be here each day, guiding my family, ensuring they’re secure, were anything to happen to me.