LEE HARPER reports direct from Dusseldorf as Tyson Fury shocks the world.
While the announcement of Tyson Fury’s challenge of Wladimir Klitschko for the majority of boxing’s world heavyweight championships did not exactly float the majority of fans’ boats, so to speak - particularly in a weight class lacking the buzz of years gone by.
That did not apply to everyone, of course. To many British diehards, a title opportunity for any local fighter overseas is reason to head to the travel agents. Even when the challenger is a man as polarising as Fury.
Within hours of landing in Dusseldorf, host city for the Klitschko-Fury showdown, I had met no less than four different British parties who had also flown over that day. Two of them were mostly or entirely, by their own admission, not fans of the challenger. However, to them, a Brit abroad challenging equals Brits abroad spectating.
Fury on more than one occasion paid tribute to the spirit of the British boxing fan in the build-up to the fight, speaking highly of their passion and commitment to the sport compared to German fans and many other pugilistic hotbed nations.
He was proven right by the estimates that anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 (!) Brits made the overseas trip, with a large percentage of these having booked up for the initial October 24 date before a Klitschko injury postponed the bout.
And whether those who came out to Germany rated Fury’s chances or not, whether they agreed with his zany antics and controversial comments or not, one particular scenario demonstrated just how much the new heavyweight champion of the world appreciated their dedication to the sport.
On Friday, the weigh-in for the fight took place at Karstadt Sports HQ, the corporate home of one of the fight’s main sponsors, not in Dusseldorf but in the neighbouring town of Essen - and a good trek away from Essen’s city centre, at that.
A far cry from the regular tradition of staging these events at the nearest hotel or shopping centre to the fight venue, this decision was made to ensure as few boxing fans attended the pre-fight ritual as possible.
With security measures being raised all over Europe in the wake of the Paris attacks, part of the rationale was just for higher-ups to do this and formally restrict access to accredited media only. Of course, it ends up affecting those who wanted to maximise their fight week experience.
Fury, however, helped ensure they weren’t disappointed.
Around a hundred Brits who made the trip overseas for the title showdown headed all the way to the weigh-in, even though they were shut out of the building for the duration. Shortly after his duties were fulfilled inside, Tyson fulfilled a promise to step out and chat with the fans who took the gamble of showing up, anyway.
This trend continued on fight night when Fury made time for fans at the hotel, mere hours before the opening bell.
Outside of those who were able to spend time with the ‘Gypsy King’, many of the fans I had the pleasure of speaking to had no intentions of staying warmly tucked up inside bars and restaurants, waiting for Saturday night to arrive.
Taking advantage of the vast array of famous Bundesliga clubs situated in the Rhein region, on my first day out here I made the short train journey from Dusseldorf to Monchengladbach, where Borussia hosted La Liga side Sevilla in the Champions League.
There were at least 20 British lads who had the exact same idea.
And shortly before Schalke’s Europa League meeting with Cypriots APOEL Nicosia on Thursday, I had the pleasure of swapping sporting travel tales in a lively Gelsenkirchen sports bar with a party of eight fight fanatics from Liverpool who also fancied a trip to the Veltins-Arena.
Again, confidence in Fury pulling off the tactical performance and historic result he did was mixed, to put it mildly. But one of the Schalke-hopping crew summed up the zest your typical British sporting fan has for the occasion when he explained: “When we make the effort to go out and watch Brits fight abroad, they always repay the fans when they hear them and try that little bit harder.”
While Fury, his uncle/trainer Peter and the rest of their team launched their gameplan of forcing Klitschko out of his comfort zone, taking control away from the man Tyson labelled a “control freak” prior to the bout and exposing the Ukrainian’s lack of a back-up plan, it was visible just how much the rising cheers and support for Fury throughout the 12-rounder sparked his efforts - especially in the closing rounds, when it was clear the Morecambe-based challenger was tiring.
The sheer volume of the British contingent was audible very early on during the evening, as early as Irishman Jono Carroll’s appearance three fights down from the top as he continued his unbeaten start to life as a professional.
It was there, in full force, just moments before the big fight as they displayed their collective indifference towards the inexplicable decision to have Rod Stewart perform a song before the final ringwalks.
Of course, nothing compares to the noise British fans make when the action itself is underway.
It was at around the fifth or sixth round that those who came to see Fury attempt to back up his many, many words really seemed to realise just how possible a title change actually was, despite Klitschko as usual beginning as the overwhelming favourite.
Obligatory cheers for any Fury land and that tried and tested ‘Winter Wonderland’ adaptation evolved into a legitimate buzz around the ESPRIT Arena that someone finally, finally had Dr. Steelhammer’s number.
This was coupled with a gradual realisation amongst the pro-Klitschko contingent that their hero was in serious trouble, for the first time in years.
While the fight itself from a technical standpoint was quite lousy, the physical aspect took a back seat to the game of human chess that often unfolds between the ropes.
As a result, even an aesthetically-disappointing world title encounter such as this one retained the interest of everyone at the stadium from start to finish - and the final round, which was actually a brilliant finish to an otherwise-lacklustre fight, brought everyone together into a collective frenzy, anticipating a dramatic late knockout for either competitor.
Fury’s victory, his eye-catching pre- and post-fight antics and especially his exemplary treatment of the fans who made their way from Morecambe, Manchester Liverpool, London, Ireland and more to be a part of history showed exactly why the British boxing contingent continue to follow their native fighters at great expense and take part in the spectacle, whether they’re huge fans of the competitor in question or not; whether their result is likely or not; whether the bout itself is of Hagler v Hearns quality or not.
And, regardless of your personal view of the new world heavyweight boxing champion, he has spent the last few months - and especially the last week - ensuring that the most ardent and dedicated boxing fans in the world were rewarded for their efforts, by way of his efforts both in the ring and out.