LOS ANGELES — Deontay Wilder did what he needed to do Saturday in his heavyweight title showdown with Tyson Fury before 17,698 at Staples Center. He scored two knockdowns of Fury, including a brutal and dramatic one with a right hand in the final round in which it appeared Fury wouldn’t be able to beat referee Jack Reiss’ count.
Fury, though, did exactly what he wanted, as well. He showed his prowess as a boxer, and Wilder kept missing shots, and Fury piled up points. Fury stayed in the fight with his grit, pulling himself off the canvas twice and fighting back furiously to prevent a Wilder onslaught.
In the end, it wound up a split draw. One judge had it 113-113, the same as Yahoo Sports. Another had it 115-111 for Wilder, while the other had it 114-112 for Fury.
The WBC heavyweight title remained around Wilder’s waist in the entertaining battle between two of the division’s best.
“I think with the two knockdowns, I definitely won the fight,” Wilder said. “We poured our hearts out tonight. We’re both warriors, but with those two drops, I think I won the fight. I came out slow. I rushed my punches. I didn’t sit still. I was too hesitant. I started overthrowing the right hand and I just couldn’t adjust.”
Fury, unsurprisingly, saw it the other way.
“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.”
Naturally, talk of a rematch dominated the post-fight conversation, but this is a bout each will look at as an opportunity lost. Wilder didn’t seem to have the urgency he frequently displays, and particularly not as time was running out and Fury was using his slick boxing skills.
Wilder scored the first of his knockdowns in the ninth. He landed a combination that backed Fury into a corner, then followed with a blistering straight right that put Fury down and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Few have been able to take a clean Wilder right, but Fury did it twice. After the first knockdown, he dragged himself from the canvas and bounced on his toes as Reiss asked if he wanted to continue.
Fury landed the better shots in the remainder of the ninth when Wilder was looking for the finish.
It was nothing compared to what was to come in the 12th. Fury seemed in control when Wilder landed his trademark, a howitzer of a right that landed on the side of Fury’s head. Fury tumbled like a giant redwood cut down in the forest as Wilder moonwalked to a neutral corner.
Fury laid on his back for a long time, taking the count with Reiss crouched in his face. Inexplicably, in a massive show of heart, he pulled himself up again and with just under two minutes left, managed to make it to the finish.
The outcome wasn’t what anyone wanted, but it was a good fight in a division that is suddenly rising from the dead.
Both fighters gave a good account of themselves and showed themselves to be championship material.
Undoubtedly, they’ll see each other again. Each will make adjustments based on their review of the video, but what this fight showed is two evenly matched men at the top of their games.
Each will look at moments in the fight and wish they’d done something differently, but when you’re fighting the best in the world, it’s not simple to do what you want, when you want.
Wilder can take solace in the fact that he nearly pulled off the finish that would have brought the house down. And Fury undoubtedly will go home proud that he traveled away from home and hung with one of the game’s most powerful punchers.
Where IBF-WBA-WBO champion Anthony Joshua fits into this is anybody’s guess. He could meet one of them next, or fight another opponent in April and then wait for what will be a massive Wilder-Fury rematch.