Of all the people to stand up and bust out a tune at a karaoke bar in Detroit that night, the moppy-haired, 6ft 9ins Brit crooning Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ was the least likely.

“Who’s this new kid?” someone asked Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward that night.

“This is my next world champion,” Steward replied.

Funny how Tyson Fury used those same words a few months earlier when – on a brave hunch perhaps only a 21-year-old traveler was capable of following through on – thought to himself, “I want to go to America and train with the world’s greatest trainer, Emanuel Steward.”

Fury, then a 12-0 heavyweight, took himself to the Manchester airport in 2009, purchased a flight to Detroit, hopped in a cab there and found Steward’s famed Kronk Gym, asking an assistant, “Is Emanuel Steward here, please?”

“Who are you?” inquired Steward’s assistant and nephew, Javan “SugarHill” Steward.

“I’m the next heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson Fury,” Fury answered. “Emanuel’s probably expecting me.”

SugarHill called his uncle and said, “There’s some crazy looking white dude here saying he’s going to be the heavyweight champion of the world.”

Emanuel Steward was at a restaurant a few miles down. He told SugarHill to send Fury his way, and they hit it off so well, Emanuel invited Fury to live with him, ordering a seven-feet-long bed and extending a planned two-week training session to four weeks. 

Fury had only spoken on the phone to Steward a year or two before that, when Steward cornered Ireland’s future middleweight champion, Andy Lee.

But Steward would later tell Fury of a dream the trainer had, where a tall fighter entered his gym and Steward would wind up coaching the fighter to ultimate glory.

“I never knew it was going to be a British guy,” Steward told Fury.

Fury (34-0-1, 24 KOs), now 35, is preparing for a feat beyond the bold aspiration he carried in meeting Steward as he heads to Saturday’s bout to crown the first undisputed champion of the four-belt era against Ukraine’s three-belt heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Fury’s trainer for the bout will be the assistant who first greeted him upon his arrival at Kronk, SugarHill Steward.

The pair have worked together since before Fury’s stirring 2020 seventh-round knockout of then-unbeaten WBC champion Deontay Wilder, a redemptive victory that allowed Fury to recapture the heavyweight title after previously doing so in a 2015 upset of long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko, whom Emanuel Steward was training when Fury first met the trainer.

A mental health spiral that left Fury briefly suicidal and saw him inflate beyond 400 pounds as he confronted food, alcohol and drug abuse sidelined the fighter for nearly three years before he launched his recovery and then famously lifted himself off the canvas in the first of three meetings against Wilder to preserve a 2018 draw.

After winning the belt in the rematch, Fury sat down for an hour-long Zoom video call with WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman.

In replaying that candid and forgotten conversation for this story, the depth of Fury’s resolve to become a champion was fully revealed.

Fury said he was so inspired by how Emanuel Steward took him in and “trained me like a world champion” even though he was just 12 fights into his career.

The Hall of Fame trainer, best known for sculpting the great champion Thomas Hearns and so many others, ultimately became an astute fight analyst on HBO’s boxing coverage.

“He would talk while bandaging my hands, teach me the basics – work on the jab, the right hand, the left hook, my balance,” Fury said. “We talked a lot of boxing. I asked a lot of questions.”

Steward laughed at how Fury would cycle through sparring sessions with a group of welterweight-sized fighters in the Kronk Gym, including Steve Forbes and Cornelius “K9” Bundrage, while the gym’s old-timers would sit around and watch and say they’d never seen anything like it.

Fury would hear, “This British guy is crazy, but he’s got rhythm.”

“It was like being in a movie with those guys, like the barber shop scene in ‘Coming to America’. It was absolutely amazing, such an experience for a young person to see – it was proper work in a professional gym,” Fury told Sulaiman. “One of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. To this day, I think of it all the time.”

Like that night at what Fury described as a “Motown bar,” when he saw others get up and dare to sing, then worked up the courage to tell Steward, “I’m going to sing a song!”

It was a preview of what was to come, when Fury, for all the world to see in the ring, would later belt out, ‘American Pie’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,’ following his victories in America.

Steward was only in Fury’s corner for one fight, his December 18, 2010, unanimous-decision victory (eight rounds to zero on all three scorecards) over Zack Page on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Jean Pascal title fight in Quebec City.

Emanuel Steward boarded a flight from working with Klitschko in Austria on the day of the Page bout and Fury recalled the trainer showing up in a Hawaiian shirt and linen trousers with no gear.

“Who’s got the mitts? Who’s got the bandages? Who’s got scissors?” Steward asked.

If there was chaos then, there wasn’t in the corner.

“It was a confidence booster,” Fury said. “The information he gave me was crystal clear and easy to follow.”

Steward asked Fury to follow him back to Detroit after the convincing triumph, and accompany him internationally, to his work for HBO and training Klitschko.

Fury and his wife, Paris, were parents to a new child and he told Steward, “Listen, I can’t. I have to get fights in the U.K. I understand I’m only a prospect coming up and you can’t put your full time into me. I hope in the future we can work together again. I will become a heavyweight champion one day.”

Steward answered, “I would love that.”

That was the final time Fury ever saw Steward. He died after a short bout with cancer in October 2012, and Fury proceeded with trainer Ben Davison through the Klitschko upset.

In the Klitschko bout, Fury wore a pair of boxing boots that Emanuel had once given him.

Davison remained in Fury’s corner through the Wilder draw and when Fury got badly cut by Otto Wallin in 2019. That bout convinced Fury he wanted someone else in his corner.

That new trainer was “SugarHill” Steward, in what was then a surprise move.

“I’ll hear, ‘This is not as good idea,’” Fury told Sulaiman in that 2020 talk. “But it was very fitting I’d end up back with SugarHill. I worked with SugarHill often when we were in Austria with Klitschko. He would talk to me on the (road) work and talk to me about things when Emanuel was busy with Wladimir.

“I knew the training we did together would work for me – the long-range punching, putting power into the shots with every punch.”

All those assets were in play as Fury knocked down Wilder twice before finishing him in the second fight, and then dropped him three more times while also lifting himself off the canvas to win their trilogy bout, the 2021 fight of the year.

Fury went on to finish Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora in 2022 and showed up at Tuesday’s grand arrivals in peak shape as he now confronts an ultimate test against the former undisputed cruiserweight champion Usyk.

A Steward voice will guide Fury through the bout, and the unforgettable whispers of Emanuel Steward’s spirit still linger.  

“It was very fitting that I became a world champion from the Kronk Gym, just like Emanuel always said I would,” Fury said. 

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