Throughout his unbeaten career, WBC and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury has regularly defied the odds inside the ring regardless of the credentials of the fighters who have stood across from him.
The self-proclaimed "Gypsy King" hasn't had the same success in a personal life filled with equal levels of dramatic highs and lows throughout the same time, which makes it worth questioning whether the 6-foot-9 Fury's defining opponent throughout a 13-year pro career has routinely been himself.
Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) enters Saturday's contractually obligated third fight with former champion Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) under an interesting set of circumstances as the two giants prepare to touch gloves inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the first time for both since their second meeting some 20 months ago.
Wilder, 35, enters as a small but rightful betting underdog in what some are looking at as a "last chance" of sorts on the title level given that he was stopped by Fury in their one-sided rematch. "The Bronze Bomber" was also thoroughly outboxed in their 2018 first encounter although he scored a pair of knockdowns to salvage a disputed split draw.
Boxing politics conspired against Fury's hope of facing former unified champion Anthony Joshua this summer for a proposed megafight for the undisputed title that would've served as the first in a two-fight deal between the hulking British giants. Not only did Wilder win a court injunction that enforced his contractual option for a third fight despite Fury claiming his opponent had missed the deadline within the pandemic last year, Joshua went on to yield his belts to former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk just two weeks ago via upset decision.
So that leaves Fury forced to fight quite possibly the most dangerous puncher in the division's history with very little at stake beyond the status quo. Meanwhile, Wilder has had nearly two full years to rebuild his team and his confidence while ironing out his deficiencies in the name of blood and revenge.
Given Fury's history, one has to wonder whether this is a recipe for disaster, especially for a fighter who historically has played up or down to the level of his opponents.
"Wilder has a lot to prove and a lot of demons of his own," Fury told the MMA Hour on Monday. "He has got a lot of admittance to do and a lot of things he has got to accept in his life before he can even move on from it. But he will be dangerous for as long as it lasts, that's for sure.
"I am motivated to fight anybody they put it front of me. Whether I have beaten the guy 10 times before or not, it's a fight and that's what I do."
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a look at what the heavyweight division in boxing could look like in the near future below.
Although Fury has said the right things regarding his mindset entering this fight and has done enough through 19 rounds against Wilder across two fights to suggest he's clearly the better fighter, even he was forced to admit much of his preparation for Wilder is mental maintenance.
It may have taken his disastrous fall from grace after upsetting Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 for a trio of world titles for Fury to eventually come to terms with his own vulnerabilities. A near four-year hiatus followed as Fury, who claimed he was retired, vacated his titles to avoid a scheduled Klitschko rematch and sunk deeply into a much-publicized freefall of depression, weight gain and substance abuse.
The fact that Fury ever made it out of it was a miracle unto itself given how hard he fell in ballooning up to nearly 400 pounds. Add in the performance he then authored in facing Wilder in their first meeting not so far removed from his worst days and there's a reason why Fury is considered nothing short of a folk hero to the fans who love him.
Yet even Fury's post rejuvenation bouts, particularly the ones not against Wilder, have featured a bit of a letting off of the intensity when the danger and stakes aren't so high. It might not have been as noticeable as the past, before the Klitschko fight, when Fury's fitness level will typically mirror his lack of enthusiasm over certain fights, which was why he wasn't taken as a serious threat to begin with to Klitschko's legendary reign.
Luckily for Fury, in some ways, the threat of Wilder's punching power alone means that he knows he can't take his foot off the gas at any point, regardless of how many rounds he banks as the quicker, longer and more skilled fighter. Unluckily for Fury, however, even a perfect night in the ring can be spoiled by one punch from a slugger like Wilder and it might be hard to drum up the same motivation level Fury had entering the second fight when he walked down and stopped Wilder just as he boldly predicted he would.
Fury said he needed to look no further than the reminder of seeing Joshua fall to Usyk to know he can't let up on Wilder in any form. But he did admit some of the motivation he entered 2021 with to face Joshua leveled off when the fight initially fell apart.
"It was a little bit of an anti-climax, to be honest, because I have seen it happen time and again with all of these big rivalries and [the fight] never happens," Fury said. "But I can only concentrate on doing my end of the deal. I have a much harder task, in my opinion, then what Joshua had. Joshua had some cruiserweight who was going to beat him on points if he lost. I am messing with a man who can end you at any time of the day or round with either hand. So my task is much more dangerous but I'm much more capable so I welcome it.
"This is what happens when you look up ahead at bigger fights. Joshua was probably looking at Usyk and thinking of Tyson Fury. But I won't make that mistake. I won't look at Deontay Wilder and think of Anthony Joshua. Even if he would've won, I wouldn't have because I know that every opponent is dangerous, especially at this level."
Fury believes the key to his success in both defeating Wilder once more and avoiding a setback to his mental stability is the work he puts in the gym. Although it has been 20 months since he last fought, Fury said he simply never stopped training in ways that had more to do with the necessity of freeing his mind than preparing for an opponent.
Never one to sport a physique that suggests he's a gym rat, especially entering this trilogy bout in which Fury made a point to add upwards of 20 pounds of bulk to lean on his shorter foe, Fury said he strategically spaced his two workouts apart -- one in the morning and one at night -- so that he could return to a healthier mental state just as rewards of the first workout were wearing off.
"Over the last few months, I have been very stable," Fury said. "You always drift in and out of sanity, I believe. If you are a mental health struggler, then you are always dealing with reality and what is inside your head. But most days, I have learned to manage and maintain. I keep active and I keep busy and I keep focused on training. All the time that I am going to the gym, I am letting out that energy and letting out that bit of steam.
"Everyone is like to me, 'You never have no time off, you are going to overtrain.' I can't afford to have time off because it's not me body I am training, it's me mind. If I have too much time off, I go backwards, not in physical strength but in mental strength."
So what happens to Fury when his career comes to a close one day and he no longer needs to train?
"I am planning on training until the day I die," Fury said.
Regardless of how much longer he keeps fighting, Fury won't be able to achieve his dream of becoming the first undisputed champion of the four-belt era and securing his place in the division's hierarchy on a historical level without defeating Wilder once more.
And even though Fury says he's in a great mental state to do just that in their trilogy fight, he acknowledges that a little bit of crazy is part of what makes him so great. Especially considering that for the second time in two years, he's willing to try and do what no one has done before him: stand up to Wilder, walk him down and knock him out.
"We are just going to get straight out on the front foot and straight trading right away in Round 1," Fury said during Tuesday's grand arrival. "Wilder is the biggest puncher in the history of our sport but I have got the biggest balls in the history of our sport, as I have proved many, many times."