What does it mean to build a legacy?
To answer that question, one story we can look to is heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury’s. Not that you’d know it from his public pronouncements on the question of legacy. ‘History to me means nothing’, Fury stated in an interview with The Guardian, a few days before his highly anticipated third fight with Deontay Wilder in Nevada last month. ‘How will you be remembered? Don’t care. Because I’ll be dead’.
To some people, such words might come across as flippant or, perhaps, as simply baffling. Fury is now widely considered to have cemented his legacy as one of boxing’s all-time greats by knocking out Wilder in the eleventh round and drawing a line under their epic rivalry. How could someone who’s made it into their profession’s Hall of Fame not care about how they’ll be remembered?
Perhaps the answer lies in the challenges Fury has experienced outside the ring: challenges that put things like professional success into perspective.
Becoming Heavyweight Champion of the World
Fury’s success was predicted early in his life – the man was born to box. When he was born, his dad, John Fury, told the doctor who delivered Tyson that he’d grow up to be heavyweight champion of the world and named him after then champion, Mike Tyson. By the time he was 20, Tyson himself was predicting that he’d become the best in the world, after only one professional fight.
Such confidence was well founded. In 2015, the Gypsy King defeated the reigning heavyweight champion, Vladimir Klitschko, to take the WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO titles.
However, Fury’s enjoyment of achieving his life’s ambition was short-lived. In 2016, he relinquished his belts after failing a drugs test and pulling out of a rematch with Klitschko, due to mental ill health. This was followed by two years in which Fury stopped boxing altogether and struggled with addiction, weight gain, and depression.
Finding a new purpose
Fury has spoken candidly of how dark this period of his life was, revealing that at times he didn’t want to live anymore. He put this down to losing purpose after winning the Klitschko fight. His whole life, he’d wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world and had worked every day towards achieving that goal. Now that he’d done it, he’d found himself suddenly without purpose: a problem that no amount of fame, money, or success could solve. As Fury said in 2018, being world champion ‘didn’t mean anything’.
Fury found a way through his depression by finding a new purpose: helping others. He returned to the training gym, started following a daily routine, and set himself short-term and long-term goals. By getting back into shape and boxing again, Fury said, he was ‘inspiring others who are suffering’ with their mental health.
Fury fought Wilder for the first time in December 2018. After the fight ended in a draw, Fury proudly declared that he showed ‘everyone suffering with mental health that you can come back. I did that for you guys. If I can come back from where I’ve come from, then you can do it too’.
The impact of Fury’s comeback has been huge. His former trainer, Ben Davison, has spoken of the thousands of messages Fury received every day from people he’d inspired, while training for his first fight with Wilder. Davison estimated that Fury had probably saved thousands of lives, something Davison considered ‘a bigger win than anything’.
Now that he’s beaten Wilder twice and become a heavyweight champion once again, Fury’s boxing legacy seems assured. But his most important legacy may not have anything to do with his professional success. Instead, it may lie in the difference he’s made in the lives of countless people around the world, who needed help and inspiration.
What can we in the development industry learn from Tyson Fury’s story? Firstly, that having a purpose beyond professional success is important. We can’t do without profit and growth but these things won’t necessarily give us meaning. And, secondly, that building a legacy means having a positive impact on the lives of others. By building beautiful houses that families will grow up in, for example, and creating communities that people can call home.
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