June 26, 2019

Having My Eyes Opened to the Miracle of Fury

WBC World Heavyweight Title- Staples Centre Los Angeles Dec. 1, 2018 Deontay Wilder in action against Tyson Fury. Action Images via Reuters/ Andrew Couldrige

In the last week of November, I was on Hollywood Boulevard with my musical director, Moshe Storch, interviewing people for a Hanukkah video about miracles we planned to post on my website. People would tell their story, and then Storch would make up a song about it on the spot. We heard about births, weddings, floods and homelessness. 

I approached a tall, bald fellow who told me his name was Dave. 

“What’s this for?” he asked with a British accent.

“A social media platform called Accidental Talmudist,” I responded. “We share Jewish wisdom with a million followers every day. Have you ever experienced a miracle?”

“Yes, I have,” he replied, “I’m here in L.A. because of a miracle. My friend, Tyson Fury, is fighting for the heavyweight [boxing] championship at Staples Center on Saturday night. After what Tyson’s been through, they said he could never do it. Getting here is a miracle.”

The following Saturday morning, Dec. 1, I opened the Los Angeles Times sports section and saw Dave in the middle of a photo with Fury, his opponent, WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, and the fight’s promoters. They had appeared together earlier for a press conference to drum up excitement for the fight, which was going to be fought that night, and was expected to draw L.A.’s biggest stars to Staples Center. The story centered on Fury, the former champion, who had an undefeated record of 27-0.

I did a double take. Why was a 27-0 fighter a former champion? Fury became the unified champion of boxing’s various organizations — the WBA, IBO, IBF and WBO — after he upset Wladimir Klitschko in a 2015 bout. The 6-foot-9 Fury, known as “Gypsy King,” was a fast-talking, hard-hitting, pugnacious Brit who had rocketed to the top of the boxing world. 

“The night he bottomed out, Fury fell to his knees and prayed for help.”

Then, after securing the championship, he plummeted into a devastating fight with alcohol, drugs, weight gain and depression. Ballooning to 400 pounds, drinking 18 beers a day and becoming addicted to cocaine, Fury had his championship belts stripped away. He was nearly banned from boxing for life after making racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks in the midst of a bipolar rage. He became suicidal. 

Then Fury found God. 

The night he bottomed out, Fury fell to his knees and prayed for help. He found his mission. He also found Ben Davison, a 26-year-old trainer who accompanied him night and day for the next year. Praying daily, Fury shed 150 pounds, stayed clean and fought his way back to that championship bout at Staples Center.

His opponent, Wilder, was a 6-foot-4 power puncher with 39 knockouts in 40 professional fights.

Fury was the consensus underdog but he came filled with spirit. He announced he was fighting not only for his family, his Gypsy clan and his British nation, but also for people who suffer from mental illness in isolation and without support.

After Shabbat ended, I paid to access the pay-per-view channel and saw a 12-round epic. 

The ringside experts were unanimous that Fury was well ahead in the scoring, with Wilder needing a 12th-round knockout to win. And then Wilder seemed to get it: he landed a smashing combination that sent Fury to the canvas and had Wilder’s fans screaming victoriously. 

Flat on his back, he opened his eyes and saw the Staples Center rafters. The referee went into his count, “… Three! … Four! … Five! ….” and Fury sprung up at the count of nine. He assured the referee he was all right and came back at Wilder as he had all night.

When the fight ended, the men embraced in mutual respect. Fury kept the hug going, talking to Wilder, telling him how much he respected, honored and loved him. Then Fury blessed him.

The two ringside judges split on who they had scored as the winner, and the referee called it a tie — ending the bout in a draw. A rematch has already been announced. 

I never would have caught this fight, or learned the story of a miraculous redemption from suicidal depression through prayer, if I had not bumped into Tyson’s friend Dave on Hollywood Boulevard. 

With God’s help, I’ll be having a watch party for Fury-Wilder II, and I believe Fury will win.

Salvador Litvak writes and posts videos about Judaism at AccidentalTalmudist.org.