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Fury’s personal battles come before future bouts inside the ring

Newly crowned heavyweight world boxing champion Tyson Fury poses for photographs as he hosts a media day in Bolton, England, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. The 27-year-old Briton defeated 39-year-old Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf, Germany on Saturday to become the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
(AP Photo/Jon Super)

Tyson Fury didn’t retire from boxing this week, but he did something even more drastic.

He walked away from one of the most prestigious honors in all of sports — the heavyweight championship of the world.

On Wednesday, he announced that he was voluntarily vacating the title in order to focus on his battles against mental illness and cocaine use. A day later, his license was suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC).

Right now, the suspension is just a token gesture. The board will meet later this year to consider the proper punishment for Fury’s actions, and at that point, they will be expected to set a minimum amount of time that he will have to be sidelined.

That could come as a problem for Fury if the BBBC decides to throw the book at him for his positive tests for cocaine and a rumored positive test for steroids. That’s what they will be investigating, but at this point, the champion is nowhere near being ready to set foot in the ring. He has acknowledged that he hasn’t been training and has gained a large amount of weight while dealing with his manic depression.

Fury’s problems began after he upset Wladimir Klitschko last November in Germany. He didn’t fight well, but Klitschko turned into an old man live on HBO. He could barely pull the trigger on the right hand that had won 64 fights, and Fury landed enough awkward shots to win a unanimous decision.

A rematch was immediately planned, but Fury’s behavior in the last 11 months has changed everything. Within weeks of the victory, he had destroyed his image with a series of sexist and homophobic statements, including an attack on Great Britain’s favorite daughter, two-time Olympic medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill.

According to Fury, that was when his mental stability collapsed. He was expecting to be treated like a conquering hero by the boxing world and the British public, and he found himself a despised outcast. He tried to blame it on prejudice against Romany travelers, but he had a hard time convincing people that he was the victim of racism when he was the one spouting ugly statements.

That won’t help him when the BBBC decides on the length of his suspension, but he and his promotional team are now saying that much of his behavior over the last year was caused by the mental illness.

“He’s addressing it now and we spoke for three and a half, four hours yesterday,” Peter Fury, Tyson’s uncle, said on Thursday (h/t Independent). “The treatment he’s had already is doing him a lot of good. He hasn’t got a drug addiction. He just did a stupid thing. He’s not going into any clinics for drug abuse; he’s got manic depression.

“They said over a period of the next few months, he should start to respond and make progress.”

At just 28, Fury is young enough to take time to recover and still return to the ring with several good years left. He’s 12 years younger than Klitschko, nine years younger than No. 2 contender Alexander Povetkin — who failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs earlier this year — and two years younger than top American Deontay Wilder.

The only serious heavyweight contender that is younger than Fury is his fellow Brit, 2012 London Olympics gold-medal winner Anthony Joshua. That was always going to be the big-money fight if Fury got past Klitschko in their rematch, and there’s no reason that it would fail to draw money a year or 18 months from now. It might even draw bigger money with a good vs. evil promotion, given Joshua’s popularity and Fury’s lack of same.

First, though, Fury has to conquer his own demons. That won’t be easy, and it probably won’t be quick.

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