Tyson Fury: Batman stunt is boxing's latest strange game
How Tyson Fury is remembered by posterity will largely be defined by how he performs in the ring against Wladimir Klitschko. But Fury already has a fitting epitaph, whether he beats Klitschko or not: "His greatest triumph was to stand out as a genuinely strange man in the strangest of sports."
Every once in a while, following another outbreak of boxing madness, I receive a text from a journalist friend, simply stating: "I think now we can safely say that we have seen it all." And every time he's wrong.
Wednesday's news conference began with the master of ceremonies welcoming the assembled media "to this rather tranquil part of west London". Five minutes later, Fury, dressed as Batman, was rolling about on the floor with a man dressed as The Joker.
Klitschko glowered and then he smirked. But only, you suspected, because he didn't want to come across as a bit of a killjoy.
The Ukrainian must think all British boxers are a few bricks shy of a load. First there was David Haye, who was fond of wearing a T-shirt which showed him holding the severed heads of Wladimir and his older brother Vitali.
Then there was Dereck Chisora, who slapped Vitali at the weigh-in before they fought in Munich in 2012, spat in Wladimir's face in the ring and brawled with Haye at the post-fight news conference. "British boxers are very special," said Wladimir on Wednesday, choosing his words carefully.
But the most telling insights into boxing often arrive when the cameras are off. Twenty minutes after ranting and raving on the dais, Fury was cool as a cucumber in an adjacent room. Asked where the Batman idea came from, Fury replied: "Who knows? But if that doesn't sell tickets, I don't know what will."
And while Klitschko was happy to ruminate on the reasons for Fury's peculiar behaviour - insecurity and schizophrenia were just two of his theories - he has been in boxing long enough to know that peculiar behaviour, whether it be slapping and spitting or dressing up as Batman, keeps the tills ringing. BAM! KAPOW! KERCHING!
"Sometimes I wonder what's going on with these guys," said the 39-year-old, who will defend his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles against Fury in Dusseldorf later this year. "It's weird. On the other hand it's entertaining, about the selling of tickets. It's better than opponents always saying: 'Thank you Wladimir for giving me this chance to fight for your title.'"
In truth, Fury's decision to dress up as Batman was harmless fun. Not to everyone's taste - the kind of stuff that made you want to swallow your own fist in embarrassment - but harmless nonetheless. Less palatable was the flagrant disrespect shown by Fury to a man who has been a great ambassador to the sport for the best part of two decades.
Klitschko won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and has won 64 of his 67 professional contests, 53 of them by knockout. Nobody has beaten him since American Lamon Brewster knocked him out in 2004.
Klitschko is polite, speaks four languages, has a PhD and has done much good work for charities across the globe. Yet on Wednesday, Fury swore at him, called him boring and mocked his speech (although, ironically, Fury's Ukrainian accent sounded more like Peter Sellers impersonating an Indian).
Throw in Fury's father, John, and his retinue of friends, who spent the entire news conference goading their superhero on - if you will pardon the pun - and it all made for a rather unedifying spectacle.
|Tale of the tape|
|Tyson Fury||Wladimir Klitschko|
|6ft 9in (206cm)||Height||6ft 6in (198cm)|
|85in (216cm)||Reach||81in (206cm)|
A journalist from Ireland put it best: "Thank God he doesn't call himself Irish any more." Alas for the English journalists present, Fury, who does have Irish links, was born and bred in Manchester.
When it was put to him that Klitschko deserved more respect, Fury was unmoved: "This is the fight game. He's an adversary - why would I respect somebody who wants to beat me up?" Put like that, you can see his point.
Such behaviour demeans boxing, but boxing has been demeaning itself for years. Fury calling an opponent boring and dismissing his previous opponents as "peasants from Poland" isn't pleasant. But Muhammad Ali calling Joe Frazier an "Uncle Tom" and a "gorilla" was less excusable and far more hurtful.
Ali, of course, was blessed with superior delivery, so that even the most vicious barbs on paper sounded almost Wildean when spoken. As far as Klitschko is concerned, Fury is less Oscar Wilde and more like some nightmarish clown.
"I have some good friends who work in the circus," said Klitschko, when he was finally allowed to speak. "They can give you a job if you want?" Bizarrely, given what had gone before, this line seemed to rile Fury the most.
At other times, Klitschko spoke about Fury as if he was a difficult-to-control patient on a 1950s psychiatric ward. "Tyson Fury was visiting a doctor today and he got some treatment. That treatment will continue until he learns how to behave himself, respect others and become a better person. The final round of treatment will take place on 24 October. Then, I will make him eat his words."
Fury happily accepted Klitschko's diagnosis, if not the treatment. "I think he's right - I'm definitely a psychopath. And I hope he knows it." They both know it's not true. Fury is just playing one of boxing's strange games. A genuinely strange man, he plays it better than most.
This piece was written before the fight between Klitschko and Fury, originally scheduled for 24 October, was postponed because of the Ukrainian fighter's calf injury. It has since been rescheduled to take place in Dusseldorf on 28 November.