Tyson Fury called his entire football squad of an entourage into the ring to pose with him for photos full of laughter and rejoicing.
The Gypsy King directed them all into their positions like a conductor composing his orchestra and then lay down on the canvas in front of them, head propped up by one hand as if lounging on a sofa while watching a televised repeat of his latest triumph. A battery of media cameramen joined in the jollity, promising to send them all copies of their snaps. The only disconcerting note was that the fight had yet to take place. The one against UFC legend Francis Ngannou here on Saturday night.
Still, fighters are notoriously superstitious. They may boast about how great they are and issue dire warnings about the punishment they intend to inflict on opponents but never do they actually celebrate victory before the fight. That would be too dangerous a temptation of fate.
Yet here was Fury dancing with that devil at the end of his last workout before the event. Yes, he is the most unpredictable of characters, the most irrepressible flouter of convention, the most entertaining rebel without a pause. Yes, the circus is coming to town. But doesn’t it bring with it the outside chance of the unexpected which always accompanies fighters into the ring? Most of all the heavyweights, between whom one punch can famously turn a pre-eminent champion upside down.
Tyson Fury may be the heavy favourite for Saturday night’s clash, but fighters are superstitious
The Gypsy King is preparing to go toe-to-toe with MMA champion Francis Ngannou
Fury, the undefeated and by his own estimation never to be defeated world heavyweight champion, scoffs at the question. He rolls his eyes in mock agreement — ‘oooh, you never know’ — but then says: ‘There is no one who can beat the Gypsy King. I’m the biggest but also the fastest. The fattest but also the strongest.
As big a puncher as any of these dossers but the only one who can get up from a real knock-down. The way I did all those times against Deontay Wilder — once when I was still unconscious and everything was in slow motion and the referee looked like an alien as he asked me if I could carry on.
‘It takes will-power out of this world to keep getting up. Some of the others can do it once but get knocked out by the next big hit that follows. To rise again and again takes an absolute refusal to lose. A gritting of the teeth and the mind which I have. By comparison with me all the others are ordinary.’
That includes not only Ngannou but also Oleksandr Usyk who he is scheduled to meet in less than two months in the first fight for the undisputed world heavyweight championship in more than a decade. ‘Small and not so special,’ says Fury of the Ukrainian hero. ‘Can’t hurt me but I sure can hurt him.’
The contract for that fight is signed and sealed but can only be delivered back here on December 23 if Fury comes through unbeaten and unscathed here and now.
Those who scoff about the WBC world champion making hay against a cage-man in is his first boxing match protest that this cross-over bout is all about money and nothing to do with real sport.
Do they have a point? The £50million Fury is projected to pocket in the Boulevard Hall, an arena so new that the paint is still drying on the walls and the rubble still being cleared from the floors, is very welcome, thank you. There are astoundingly richer pickings to come. Upwards of $100m for his Christmas present and double that in the spring for a Usyk rematch.
Apparently the Saudis are ready to cough up again — and again. Fury says: ‘I think the rest of my fights will be here. I’ve paid my dues back home with those recent fights in Britain and these good people look after me very nicely. And they are turning this Saturday night into a huge and spectacular event.’
A curiosity, an artifice, a stain on the Noble Art. Call this what you will but Ngannou has nothing to lose as he picks up the first eight-figure purse in his life and insists he can pull off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.
He is reputed to be the biggest puncher in UFC history and has been given a few tips by Mike Tyson, although there were no indications during his workout on the pads that he has acquired the boxing know-how required to land a moon-shot on Fury, whose ring-craftsmanship is as towering as his 6ft 9in physique.
Ngannou has little to lose in the contest as he picks up his first eight-figure purse in his life
The pair will be contesting the first-ever Riyadh Season belt during their big money clash
Fury is nonplussed about any delay to his banner match-up with Oleksandr Usyk in December
There is many a slip between cut and lip in heavyweight boxing but Fury says it won’t matter to him if an injury forces a Usyk postponement because the schedule will simply shift from Christmas into the new year. Neverthless, there are many millions of reasons for Fury to refrain from carrying Ngannou too long for the sake of appearances in what everyone involved here denies will be just an exhibition match. Since it is only scheduled for 10 rounds, expect Fury to call time after a couple in which to size up the most effective way of so doing and then two or three more enjoying himself.
As he says: ‘Retirement? I might have another 10 fights because this is what I love doing and it’s what I’m good at.’ Exceptionally good, as the amiable Ngannou should be about to discover.
Equally as interesting, since there are as yet few sightings of British boxing fans in the capital of Saudi Arabia, will be how many locals turn up and whether this does big business on pay-per-view television.
On this one element, that of being the greatest salesman in the whole world of sport, the Gypsy King’s reputation does depend.
Fury v Ngannou will be live on Saturday night on TNT Sports Box Office