THERE are few sports that do redemption stories as well as boxing. But then inside or outside the ring, there are few redemption stories as powerful as the one penned by Tyson Fury in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

The self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ didn’t leave the Staples Centre with the WBC World heavyweight belt fastened around his waist, but after 12 pulsating rounds of the heaviest of hitting, he returned to British shores with something more valuable. After delving into the depths of despair, he has reclaimed a starring role on the sporting stage with his reputation and dignity intact.

In a year of epic sporting revivals – led, prior to Saturday, by Tiger Woods’ remarkable return to the winners’ enclosure – Fury might just have completed the greatest sporting comeback of all time. Even some unfathomable judges’ scorecards were unable to rob him of that.

Fury is a difficult sportsman to love. For a start, there’s the sexism and homophobia that completely overshadowed his first coming, when he delivered a boxing masterclass to beat the previously untouchable Wladimir Klitschko. Fury said some pretty unpalatable things back then, and seemed completely unrepentant when the rest of the world took offence.

Then there was the drugs ban that split the 30-year-old’s two World title fights. In February 2015, Fury tested positive for the banned steroid, nandrolone. He continues to protest his innocence, blaming the positive result on eating uncastrated wild boar, a defence that has also been used by Tour de France winning cyclist Alberto Contador, but he eventually accepted a back-dated two-year ban in order to be able to resume his boxing career.

If we condemn returning drug cheats in other sports – Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin perhaps – then we cannot issue Fury with a free pass just because he has a good back-story and a novel excuse. Amid all the pre and post-fight posturing that bookended last weekend’s tear-up, Fury did not display a sign of contrition for his doping offence.

But should someone be forever damned because of their previous failings? If we do not afford people the opportunity to change, to put the errors of the past behind them, are we not depriving ourselves of one of the most powerful narratives not only in sport, but in life itself?

Fury’s story is so emotive and inspiring largely because it is so tarnished. The Mancunian has looked into the bowels of hell and withdrawn from the edge of the abyss with a smile on his face. He has come back from a place where people ordinarily do not come back from. He is living proof that it is possible to turn your life around.

To understand how that life became so challenging, it is probably important to get a sense of Fury’s background. He has been described as the ‘outsider’s outsider’, and that perfectly sums him up.

He comes from a family with Irish traveller heritage – one of the most misunderstood and prejudicially maligned ethnic groups in this country – and his father, ‘Gypsy’ John Fury, is a former bare-knuckle boxing champion who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2013 after gouging a man’s eye out in a brawl at a car auction that stemmed from a grudge that had been simmering for more than a decade. By any measure, that is hardly your conventional family background.

Fury had existed on the fringe of what might be described as ‘mainstream society’ prior to the Klitschko fight, happily living by his own rules, but that changed in an instant when he outfought and outthought the Ukrainian to claim the World title.

Suddenly, microphones were thrust under his lips, picking up the ramblings of his travelling-community catholic beliefs, and when the world recoiled from so many of his statements, he did not know how to react.

Fame and fortune did not sit easily with him, even less so the demands of the celebrity circuit, and he rapidly went off the rails. Spectacularly. There was the drink and the drugs, not to mention the 24-hour benders in Magaluf captured rapaciously on a cavalcade of camera phones.

There was the comfort eating that saw his weight balloon to almost 29 stone. Then, there was the real despair. Depression, mental illness and horribly dark thoughts that led to moments contemplating suicide.

“I prayed for death on a daily basis,” said Fury, in an interview with BT Sport that was screened prior to Saturday’s fight. “I woke up and thought, ‘Why didn’t I die in my sleep?’ I tried to drink myself to death. I attempted to crash into a bridge one time.”

Far too many people, famous or not, can relate to such thoughts. Far too many again fail to seek help. Given his background, it must have been extremely difficult for Fury to admit to his mental fragility and seek assistance to begin turning things around, but he spoke up in a way that men in particular seem afraid to, and his road to personal redemption reached its climax when he climbed back into the ring at the weekend.

Fury insists he never wanted to become a poster boy for overcoming mental illness, but that is exactly what he has become, and his ongoing honesty is one of his most commendable traits.

It an emotional post-fight interview that has become something of an internet sensation, Fury, with his face battered and bruised, speaks directly into the camera: “I showed the world tonight, that everyone suffering with mental health problems, you can come back, and it can be done.

“Everybody out there that has the same problems I’ve been suffering with, I did that for you guys. You know the truth, everybody knows I won that fight, and if I can come back from where I’ve come from, then you can do it too.

“So get up, get over it, and let’s do it. Seek help, and let’s do it together, as a team. I did it for you guys.” Moments later, Fury announced he was donating his £8m purse from the fight to homeless charities.

With the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award looming, a debate has started about whether Fury would be a worthy winner.

Yes, he comes with baggage. But in an era when all sport has become increasingly anodyne, an inspirational figure like Fury becomes increasingly rare. As a result, I could not think of a worthier winner of the BBC award.