In late 2016 Tyson Fury was lying in bed — the lineal heavyweight champion but a costume of the man who had dethroned Wladimir Klitschko the previous November.
The title belts around his waist had been replaced by tubes dotted around his bloated frame.
Watching over Fury in the hospital was his father John — who had been with him en route to the top and now stood watching his descent into the abyss.
‘They were dark times and I really did think it was over,’ he recalls to Sportsmail.
‘They said he’d had some sort of mental breakdown. I looked at him and thought: “Look here, the heavyweight champion of the world laid like this — fat as a pig, pipes all over him, didn’t know whether he was here or Mars.” I thought it’s a long way back — if there is a way back.’
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
In more than two years away from the ring, Fury ballooned up to 28st and used a cocktail of drink and drugs to stave off depression and suicidal thoughts.
In hospital that day lay the 6ft 9in scar of his mental turmoil, the symptom of a man who had lost control.
His downfall accelerated in the months following victory over Klitschko. But the signs that all was not well were there weeks earlier, when in an interview with Sportsmail he sparked outcry by equating homosexuality and abortion with paedophilia.
Fury and Wilder separated during heated press conference
Almost three years to the day, Fury’s undulating career stands at the foot of another peak.
On Saturday night the 30-year-old faces Deontay Wlider for the WBC heavyweight title, with Anthony Joshua and the undisputed crown peering over the horizon.
On his road back, Fury has shed 10st and, he claims, rid himself of the demons. But has his body recovered sufficiently to shock the world again? And has he changed enough to avoid another collapse this time round?
Shadow boxing around the ring at Hatton Health and Fitness, John Fury is on a mission.
At 53, the self-professed ‘slob’ wants to lose around 6st of his 20st-plus frame. It’s becoming a bit of a family tradition. Not long ago, it was Tyson who made this gym his home as he embarked on an unlikely comeback.
Now father and son are training alone — more than 5,000 miles apart.
In a cruel twist of fortune, John has been barred from attending this Saturday’s fight in Los Angeles because of his criminal past.
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‘My life is perfect at the minute — the only thing I’m upset about is that I can’t go to America and be there with him,’ he admits.
Fury’s challenge may already be daunting enough without the absence of his father. But he is used to being in the eye of the storm.
The heavyweight has long divided opinion yet his clownish antics took a nasty turn in an interview with the Mail On Sunday’s Oliver Holt published weeks before he beat Klitschko.
The backlash culminated in a petition to remove him from the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist. Fury warned Holt he would wind up with a broken jaw and told critics: ‘Suck my balls’.
‘He’s walked that walk, talked that talk and didn’t do any good with it,’ his father reflects. ‘It was a foolish move.’
But Fury appeared not to care who he offended. ‘I don’t think there’s anyone — whether it be a sexuality or a race or a religion — that he hasn’t had a pop at,’ his friend and cornerman Ricky Hatton admits.
Tyson Fury screams Deontay Wilder’s name while trainning
‘Some of the things Tyson said, even as his friend I couldn’t defend him over.’
Three years on, those around Fury insist he is ‘happier, cleverer,’ and more ‘mature’.
‘I do believe he’s in a lot better place than he’s ever been,’ his father claims.
‘I think he’s learned a lot about himself,’ training partner and distant cousin Nathan Gorman adds. ‘He’s found his true friends… it’s taught him a lot of life lessons.’
To reach this point, however, he sunk lower than anyone ever imagined.
‘I couldn’t put into words what I went through,’ Fury told Joe Rogan recently. ‘I didn’t care about nothing… I just wanted to die’.
One night he drove his Ferrari towards a bridge at 190mph, determined to fulfil his wish — only to have a last-minute change of mind.
At that point suicide seemed more likely than a ring return and Hatton, who himself struggled with depression, drink and drugs, would bump into Fury during the heavyweight’s darkest days.
‘The worst thing you can do is binge while you have stress and worries,’ he says.
‘When you are out on the town, the life and soul of the party, laughing and joking that is your smokescreen… you wake up the next morning and you feel like your world is caving in.’
The damage Fury was doing to himself took its toll on those closest to him, too.
‘(I told him) if you can’t get your act together, in 10 years’ time when it’s all over and you’ve ruined your life, you’ll look in the mirror and you will commit suicide. You won’t think about it,’ John remembers.
‘I said: “Listen if you’re going to carry on being like this, I’m not going to spend any more time with you”.’
Fuelling his benders was a sense of injustice. Fury had toppled the heavyweight king but hadn’t received the credit he felt he deserved.
‘He thought he was going to come round Manchester on an open-top coach, be invited everywhere, probably get one of those medals off the Queen,’ his father remembers. ‘It’s unfinished business… he won the battle but lost the war.’
A fighter who prided himself on being his own man had in fact been sent to the brink by caring too much about what other people thought.
He knew this was no sudden decline, however. Rather, for Fury, it was the culmination of years of mental health problems.
In 2011, he spoke openly about being ‘mentally disturbed’ and contemplating suicide. And now, with hindsight, Hatton can spot the signs.
‘I don’t think he was happy even at his height, at his pinnacle moment when he beat Klitschko,’ Hatton claims.
‘I think there was a little bit of an undercurrent of things going through his mind and I think when they took boxing away from him that was it, very similarly to me.’
Fury claims his comeback began when he left a Halloween party for a tear-filled reconciliation with God.
He then hired Ben Davison as his new trainer and went in search of the heavyweight title once more.
Many, including his wife Paris, assumed it was another false dawn. But after two fights against mediocre opposition the big times are back.
There are concerns, though. After so long out, and such damage to his body, are wins over Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta sufficient preparation for boxing’s biggest puncher?
‘I wouldn’t have taken it — I think he needed more time and more work because you have to be fighting fit, no matter how talented you are and how much you want it,’ his father admits. ‘It just shows you the capability and the power of his mind.’
Fury certainly looks the part, with Hatton convinced he is in better shape — and a better place — than when he topped the world in 2015. ‘Tyson lost a lot of his respect years ago with some of the things he said but look at him now.’
With just a few days until the opening bell, Fury appears primed for battle. But does his physical transformation truly reflect a man reborn?
‘He’s changed in every aspect,’ brother Tommy Fury claims. ‘If you were around him a year and a half, two years ago… it’s a completely different person.’
‘He’s in a different place now,’ John adds. ‘He woke up to life, to take life as it is and realise that you’re in a minefield out there — not everyone is going to like you, no matter what you do.’
Hatton isn’t so sure. He believes the Fury facing Wilder is rather a truer reflection of the man he has always known.
‘He has never been a bad person… it upsets me when I hear people saying, “Oh Tyson Fury what a d***head, he does this, he says this” — you have to just sympathise with him,’ he says.
‘The Tyson Fury I know is a good guy a family guy… he has proper morals and standards but he just went through a tricky patch.’
Hatton adds: ‘He’s not bad mouthing or saying anything bitter to anybody now… whereas — and he won’t mind me saying this — it used to be a bit cringeworthy some of the stuff he used to say.’
Certainly the sinister edge that bled into much of what Fury said seems to have been replaced by newfound positivity — and a desire to raise awareness of mental illness.
He has become one of very few athletes to speak openly about depression, a move friends and family believe has ‘opened doors’ for others and earned him the acceptance he always craved.
‘There were more haters than there were lovers,’ Tommy says. ‘But now he’s been through what he has and people have seen it, I think those haters have turned into fans.’
Fury Snr adds: ‘This time he is getting fulfilment. His comeback has been better than the journey to the title.’
The heavyweight is no longer attracting the headlines he once did. And should he win in LA, he shouldn’t be shorn of recognition.
Crucially, whatever happens against Wilder, Fury has vowed never to return to those dark places.
That would represent a victory in itself. But Hatton knows better than most just how hard it could prove.
‘The one thing that worries me is he has to find a way to fill his time,’ he says. ‘Boxing isn’t going to go on forever.’
Fortunately Fury seems aware just how delicately he teeters.
‘The time I stop training and balloon back up again is the time it all goes wrong again. And I know that,’ he has said.
Keep his word and Fury could be swapping back tubes for belts earlier than anyone could have imagined.