Deontay Wilder retains WBC heavyweight title over Tyson Fury after split draw

Tyson Fury looked up from the canvas.

He’d spent the first 11 rounds of Saturday’s heavyweight title fight mostly boxing the ears off Deontay Wilder, frustrating the undefeated American champion with a stubbornly effective jab and deft movement, even surviving a ninth-round knockdown to roar back in the championship rounds. Yet in one moment of shocking violence, a slashing Wilder left hook early in the 12th, all of it came undone.

The supine Fury’s eyes slowly rolled back into his head as referee Jack Reiss counted to five while Wilder celebrated a certain victory in a neutral corner. At six, Fury jolted to life and moved to get up. By nine, he’d made it to his feet and convinced Reiss to allow him to continue.

“I had a holy hand upon me tonight,” Fury said after the fight. “And it brought me back.”

In the end Fury, who bravely made it to the final bell, fell short in his bid to regain the world heavyweight championship he’d never lost in the ring as Wilder retained his WBC title in a white-knuckle split draw at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Mexico’s Alejandro Rochin scored the fight 115-111 to Wilder, Canada’s Robert Tapper had it 114-112 for Fury and Phil Edwards of the United Kingdom called it even at 113-113. (The Guardian scored it 115-111 to Fury.)

But the 30-year-old former champion’s improbable revival from a public bout with mental illness, as he ballooned from 260lbs to nearly 400lbs during a 31-month layoff, left him deeply gratified late Saturday night even as he disputed the result. After never defending the titles he captured when he ended Wladimir Klitschko’s decade-long title reign three years ago this week in Düsseldorf, Fury was a winner on Saturday simply by climbing through the ropes. That he nearly sprung one of the great comebacks to reclaim the heavyweight crown in the division’s centuries-spanning history almost felt secondary.

“It’s not been any secret what I’ve been doing out of the ring,” Fury said. “I’ve been living like a rock star. That ain’t a great thing, by the way, because I’ve had a very low time doing it. I’ve fought back from suicide and mental health [issues] and depression and anxiety. And I wanted more than anything tonight to show the world that it can be done. Anything is possible with the right mindset.”

Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs), facing live fire against an elite opponent for the first time in more than three years, used feints and a confident left jab to score from the opening bell. He looked even more comfortable in the second, stepping closer into the pocket and throwing his gloves skyward to bait the champion. He continued the gameplan into the third and fourth, using head and upper-body movement to keep Wilder, a devastating puncher who had finished all but one of his professional fights inside the distance, off balance and tentative.

Deontay Wilder felled Tyson Fury for the second time in the 12th round
Deontay Wilder felled Tyson Fury for the second time in the 12th round. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) was able to land occasional shots and they were frequently the heavier ones, as evinced by the trickle of blood that appeared from Fury’s nose in the fourth. But the 33-year-old American managed virtually no punches in combination in the first half of the bout as Fury methodically stayed clear of Wilder’s right, the most devastating weapon in the sport. Even Wilder confessed: “It felt like he had baby oil on him. He was slippery.”

Fury, who out-weighed Wilder by 44lbs at Friday’s weigh-in, continued to use the jab effectively into the second half of the fight: as an offensive weapon, as a rangefinder, as a buttress. By then it appeared Fury was in command. The Alabama native’s eye was swelling and it was clear his only apparent plan was hoping Fury would walk into a right hand.

In the ninth Wilder landed a short series of right hands that sent Fury down in a heap. The challenger appeared unhurt when he rose and smartly wrapped up Wilder as he attempted to close the show and by the end of the round it was Fury who had the upper hand against his punched-out opponent.

Fury’s bearings had completely returned in the 10th and 11th rounds as he came forward throwing the jab with authority, doubling and tripling it up. When the bell sounded, Fury was three minutes away from a seemingly impossible comeback from the abyss.

Then came the final round when Wilder sent Fury’s 6ft 9in, 256½lb form crashing to the deck about 40 seconds in. It didn’t seem like the challenger was going to beat the count as he lay nearly motionless before a crowd of 17,698 in full throat, but somehow Fury made it to his feet. He hung on for dear life for the next minute but he regathered once more and by the end of the round he had Wilder gassed and reeling.

“I don’t know how he got up,” said Wilder, who landed 71 of 430 shots (17%), compared 84 of 327 for Fury (26%), according to CompuBox’s punch statistics. “I don’t know why they didn’t start the count earlier.”

Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham)

The CSAC's corrected scorecard for #WilderFury. pic.twitter.com/l82pddBfh9

December 2, 2018

Wilder, who retained the WBC title for an eighth time, earned a career-high minimum purse of $4m compared to $3m for Fury, with both fighters’ takehomes likely to swell once the pay-per-view receipts are tallied. Yet it was immediately clear the prospect of a rematch could do even bigger business.

“I think it was a great fight,” Wilder said. “We need to do it again. We need to do it again in America, [but] it doesn’t matter to me … We’re the best in the world. The respect was mutual.”

Fury also expressed interest in a rematch, though he believed he should have won on the night. “We’re on away soil, I got knocked down twice, but I still believe I won that fight,” Fury said. “I’m being a total professional here. I went to Germany to fight [Wladimir] Klitschko and I went to America to fight Deontay Wilder. God bless America. The Gypsy King has returned.”

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