Tyson Fury’s unbelievable comeback to the top of the boxing world was all but complete when the bell sounded the end of 12 rounds at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday night. But victory over Deontay Wilder for his WBC World Heavyweight title was not made official, two knockdowns and an especially suspect scorecard from judge Alejandro Rochin made the fight a split draw.
The fight, recognised as the biggest heavyweight contest of the year exceeded expectations, developing into an enthralling, tense battle between the slick Mancunian, and the unrefined but incredibly powerful American. They gave us another heavyweight title fight to remember and showcased exactly what makes them two of the most exciting fighters in the sport.
It began as expected, slowly with the focus being on establishing the lead hand. Through the early rounds Fury’s active guard, proactive head movement, and feints kept Wilder under control with Fury only jabbing the head when Wilder went straight back or was frozen by the feints.
Wilder meanwhile looked to land his missile of a right hand without much success, scoring best with jabs to the body and glancing left hooks when exiting exchanges. In the middle rounds, Fury looked very much on top, getting home with the jab and finding openings for several clean right hands as Wilder failed to adjust to Fury’s disruptive rhythm.
However Wilder can never be entirely neutralised, having knocked out 5 of his last 7 opponents after the 7th round, and in round 9 Fury gave him a chance to get back into the fight. A Wilder right glanced off Fury’s cheek as he backed to a corner. Wilder put on the pressure with the same jab, straight right, left hook combination Fury had been slipping all night.
But Fury had become too comfortable, dropping his hands and relying on his reflexes to defend himself. He was a fraction to slow though, the left hook caught him on the chin, the follow up right hook caught the top of his ducking head and he slipped to the floor.
Unhurt he posed for the cameras before rising to face two minutes of a Deontay Wilder who could smell blood in the water. Yet ‘The Gypsy King’ flipped the script again, riding Wilder’s onslaught while landing a couple of sweet counters, arguably finishing the round in better shape than the fatiguing champion.
Rounds 10 and 11 returned the bout to its usual rhythm though Wilder was able to land on Fury more regularly in the penultimate round. The 12th round though is where this fight wrote its way into boxing history, with Wilder needing a knockout in the view of the majority of viewers, fireworks were guaranteed.
Wilder refused to throw caution to the wind, still trying to set up the right-hand Fury had been calmly ducking away from to his right all night. But by defending the straight right identically almost every time, Fury allowed one aimed just a few inches lower to crack him on the temple and send him to the canvas, Wilder had finally adjusted.
A left hook on the way down appeared to have sealed a remarkable title-saving victory. Those watching underestimated Tyson’s resolve, his chin, and the year and a half he spent working his way back to the top, culminating in a resurrection from a punch which had knocked out every single one of the Bronze Bomber’s previous opponents.
From flat on his back, with his eyes shut Fury finished the round clowning with his arms behind his back in between sharp counters which potentially won him the round. Fury demonstrated the mental strength that led him out of drug addiction and depression in making it through 12 rounds on Saturday, and in the eyes of most claimed a decision win and a world title.
However, history has shown it is very difficult for a British challenger to win a decision over an American heavyweight champion in the US, going back as far as Tommy Farr against Joe Louis in 1937, and most notoriously in Lennox Lewis’s first fight with Evander Holyfield in 1999.
And again, history was not kind to the British fighter. Winning most rounds without dominating, meant the champ often got the benefit of the doubt in those less busy rounds, and Wilder held on to his belt with scorecards of 115-111 Wilder, 114-110 Fury, and 113-113.
This is despite public opinion favouring Fury, and the American boxer’s promoter being heard on the broadcast telling Fury ‘you won’ before the decision was announced. As expected we will now likely get an even more lucrative rematch, offering an opportunity for Wilder to silence his critics and keep Fury down for a 10 count and for Fury to add another chapter to his now remarkable post-Klitschko career.
The undercard offered up a series of showcase fights for intriguing talent at varying stages of development. British Super Heavyweight Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce maintained his momentum towards bigger fights by knocking out American journeyman Joe Hanks in the first round with the same combination which Fury survived in the main event.
A potential next opponent for Joyce and Deontay Wilder’s last victim veteran Luis Ortiz got a win on this card as well, dominating a cautious Travis Kauffman who he knocked down in the 6th, 8th and the 10th before stopping him on his feet a minute or so before the final bell.
The co-main featured unified light middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd getting back in the ring after his impressive victory over veteran champion Erislandy Lara in April. He fought domestic British middleweight champion Jason Welborn who came forward all night, while Hurd appeared to work on his defence and look to get rounds in.
In the 4th Hurd finished the Englishman with an accurate right uppercut to the liver to halt Welborn in his tracks. Expect to see the winners in much more competitive fights in the new year.