WINDERMERE, England — Hughie Fury’s journey to a shot at the world heavyweight title began when he quit school at the age of 12 and traveled alone to boxing gyms around England, teaching himself to read by looking at signposts.

It continued into his teens when he was struck by a rare, energy-sapping skin condition that led to bouts of dizziness during fights and sustained vomiting after them, and later sent him into a state of depression and despair.

In recent years, it has involved him climbing the heavyweight ranks in the shadow of a famous family member, who has shocked the world of boxing as much with his exploits in the ring as his comments and actions out of it.

These experiences have made Fury the boxer and person he is today — brave, mentally strong, hungry for his own time in the spotlight. He is only 22, yet he feels it is his destiny to complete his rise to the top of the sport by beating WBO champion Joseph Parker of New Zealand in Manchester on Sept. 23.

Maybe then he will no longer be simply referred to as Tyson Fury’s younger cousin.

“No one understands what has been going on behind the scenes, the hard work you’ve actually put in, the dedication,” Fury told The Associated Press at a training camp. “I know I’m fully prepared for this now. He’s not going to stop me.”

As he pounds the punching bag and works out with his trainer — his father, Peter — in a gym on a rainy day in the Lake District, a picturesque national park in northwest England, the 2.01-meter (6-foot-6) Fury displays a combination of technique, strength and nimbleness that comes naturally given he is from a bloodline of bare-knuckle champions. He knew from a young age that boxing was his calling, and his family supported his decision to pull out of high school months after starting.

Also on show are some scars, lesions and spots on Fury’s neck and shoulders, reminders of the personal struggles he battled through to get this far.

Fury developed bad acne at the age of 14 but presumed they were just “teenage spots.” It got progressively worse. Blood and puss would stream out of his back during early fights in his boxing career, he would feel faint and weak, would vomit throughout his training camps, and he said sometimes he couldn’t even pick up 10 kilograms in a bench-press. His last fight was against Fred Kassi in April 2016, which he won on points to claim the WBO Inter-Continental title despite having “nothing left in the tank” after Round 1.

Only then did his father make him go to see a skin specialist in London, where Hughie was told he had acne conglobata.

“He said, ‘I don’t know how you’ve been fighting,'” Fury said. “It was poison coming out of my system.”

He took strong medication for seven months and now feels “100 percent normal” for the first time ever ahead of a fight. Remarkably, given what he has been through, he has an unbeaten record, winning all 20 of his fights since turning pro after becoming world amateur champion at super-heavyweight level in 2012.

If he beats Parker in a fight being broadcast on YouTube , Fury would be the second-youngest heavyweight champion since Mike Tyson won the WBC belt in 1986 at 20 years and 4 months.

“He’s a unique individual,” Peter Fury said of his son. “It shows what his talent is to be where he is today.

“And there’s a lot more to come. Parker’s not going to be looking at the fighter he’s seen in the past.”

Inevitably, Hughie has had to live with comparisons with Tyson Fury but the cousins have very different characters. Hughie is calm and reserved, and there’s no sign of the bluster, loose talk and strong opinions that have got Tyson in trouble over the years.

“Completely different,” Hughie said. “I’m just a fighter who lets my fists do the talking.”

Hughie was ringside in Duesseldorf in November 2015 when his cousin delivered one of the biggest upsets in a generation by beating Wladimir Klitschko to claim the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight belts. Tyson has not fought since, and had to give up the belts after having his license suspended over drug use and medical issues.

Hughie was the subject of an ongoing UK Anti-Doping investigation after low-level traces of nandrolone were found in samples given by him in February 2015.  He has denied any wrongdoing and he is now challenging their findings, leaving him free to box.

“I’ve always said it would be a dream for me and Tyson to hold world titles together,” Hughie Fury said. “Tyson has definitely got the ability. He’s already beaten the best out there. He can achieve it, he’s just got to get his head right.”

There has been limited contact between Hughie and Tyson ahead of the Parker fight, which is probably wise considering the media storm that Tyson’s involvement might cause. The bout was due to take place in Auckland in May, but Fury was forced to pull out because of a back injury.

Now it is taking place in Manchester, the city of Fury’s birth and his soccer team, Manchester United.

Former United manager Alex Ferguson has even sent Fury a letter wishing him good luck and repeating a mantra he used to tell his United players before big matches: “Play the game not the occasion.”

“It was a great inspiration,” Fury said. “And he was very right in what he said. You don’t take anything for granted: You’ve only got one chance, live in the moment.”

Fury, more than anyone, can appreciate that.


Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80