Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua's secret friendship revealed from midnight texts and FaceTimes to Marbella meet-ups
ANTHONY JOSHUA vs Tyson Fury; a spiteful throwback rivalry to boxing's dark age, a secretly scripted WWE-like ruse to sell tickets or a perfect blend of both?
The to-and-fro relationship between the two English giants has been almost as exciting as their separate rises to the top of the sport.
Eleven years ago, after their first ever meeting at AJ’s Finchley ABC gym, Fury gushed about his potential, his personality and his uppercut.
In the decade since, Gypsy King has also labelled AJ a 'big stiff idiot', dragged up the criminal record he accrewd as a wayward teen, dismissed him as 'just another bare bum in the shower' ripe for slapping and nothing more than a bodybuilder he could box rings around.
But he has also heaped praise on the WBA, IBF and WBO king.
Fury, the 32-year-old undefeated WBC boss, has praised his rival for securing the financial security of his family for generations in a sport he only picked up around 18.
When the 6ft 9in ace has shocked AJ with FaceTime calls, he has asked about his young son JJ and wished the whole Joshua family well.
Fury has the ability to confuse opponents outside the ring just as well as he can bamboozle them in it and Joshua knows that all too well.
'He changes like the weather, you can’t take anything he says too seriously’ is the usual line AJ uses when pressed about the flirting that occasionally occurs between the pair.
When they met face-to-face in Marbella, Spain last summer – Fury and wife Paris pulling up alongside AJ walking along the pavement – the chit chat was painfully dull with Josh even admitting to waving to Mrs Fury and saying “hello”.
It was hardly the lines Roberto Duran has since denied uttering to Sugar Ray Leonard’s wife before their sensational first 1980 fight.
Poor Juanita was supposedly told her husband would be murdered in the Montreal ring and then Duran would take her to bed to celebrate.
Mr Hands of Stone has tried to erase those quotes from history but Mike Tyson credits him as the Alexander the Great of psychological warfare – and the Planet's Baddest Man should know.
Despite being a very different fighter to those two menaces, who had most of their early fights won before the opening bell, Fury has also made mindgames a crucial part of his arsenal.
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Wladimir Klitschko must have thought he was getting into the ring with an unhinged maniac by the time their 2015 Dusseldorf bout came around.
Fury had recounted brilliant stories about beating Klitschko in a sauna stand-off five years earlier and having Klitschko’s iconic trainer at the time Emanuel Steward wanting to take the Brit on but being wary it would upset the Kazakhstan-born powerhouse.
But he had also arrived at one UK press conference a couple of months out from their November fight dressed as Batman – completely without reason or context – and faked a fight with an extra actor dressed as The Joker.
When it came to Deontay Wilder, Fury was again a master manipulator, jabbing away with praise and cajoling, while occasionally thundering in a backhanded insult to knock his rival off balance.
AJ has rarely had to handle such needle and, when he has, it has definitely brought out a change in him.
The Dillian Whyte rivalry was brilliant to watch and almost cost AJ everything before he had really got started.
Following an unmissable build-up, AJ decided to trade with his fellow Londoner and former amateur opponent and was really wobbled before outgunning the Brixton man who, back in 2015, was expected to be a walk-over against the Olympic champ.
American pretender Dominic Breazeale dared to goad AJ and was brutally punished six months later, when Joshua showed he had learned to keep a cooler head under provocation.
Since then AJ’s scalp count has been long lost of respectful and foreign opponents who did not have the mean streak or language skills to ruffle his feathers.
Carlos Takam, Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker all sang Joshua’s praises, the build-to the magnificent 2018 win over Klitschko was almost sickly sweet.
Andy Ruiz Jr did the same even after stunning him with a New York KO.
Shameless doper Jarrell Miller – who Ruiz Jr was brought in to replace – definitely caused a stir when he landed in London in 2019, making lurid and unfounded accusations about AJ being a drug cheat and a fake.
The Sky Sports episode of The Gloves Are Off between the pair, was allegedly so spiteful it has never been aired or leaked and that says plenty in a sport where all publicity is good promotion.
But Miller's laughable list of doping bans before and since that UK trip just make it a crying shame Joshua never got his heavy hands on him.
The upshot is Fury maintains the element of surprise when these two British heroes meet.
The clash in cultures will be thrilling as the AJBoxing brand – made up of marketing masterminds and backed by dozens of high-end sponsors – goes toe-to-toe with the no-nonsense Fury family comprised of fighting men like Fury’s dad Big John and even-bigger-little-brother Shane.
Both men could look across the press conference table and see a kindred spirit who has bravely signed up for a two-fight deal that will etch their names in history and keep even their great-grandchildren in designer clothes.
Or they could drag up dark long-glossed-over elements of the other’s past and lay them bare for the world to remember, in a bid to lure them into making a mistake once the bell goes.
And it appears we're soon to find out after signing a £200million deal with the first bout taking place this summer.
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