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LOS ANGELES — It’s no stretch to say that Saturday was the greatest night for boxing in the U.S. in recent memory. It began with a compelling battle between two unbeaten heavyweights with a legitimate claim to the title.
It ended with Tyson Fury, a 6-foot-9 Brit who nearly took his own life less than two years ago, singing Don McLean’s “American Pie,” and then dropping the microphone as he left the news conference following a split draw with WBC champion Deontay Wilder that satisfied no one but entertained everyone.
This was what boxing has needed for so long: A heavyweight nail-biter that had an abundance of skill, courage and drama.
Wilder needed the 12th to get the draw and save his title, though he didn’t know it at the time.
“I didn’t feel I needed to win the 12th, especially having those two knockdowns, but I wanted as a champion to finish in great fashion,” Wilder said. “That’s why I was trying to turn it up.”
Turn it up he did.
Wilder landed a howitzer of a right hand and followed with a left hook. Fury went down and Wilder moonwalked to the neutral corner. Wilder manager Shelly Finkel was on the steps to climb into the ring to celebrate the victory, and Fury cut man Freddie Roach was getting ready to pack up. They, like nearly everyone else among the 17,698 at Staples Center, thought it was over.
And then, miraculously, Fury managed to pull himself to his feet.
“I think someone laid hands on me and brought me back, rose me from the brink of defeat,” Fury cackled.
Wilder promoter Lou DiBella couldn’t believe what he had seen.
“His eyes were rolled back in his head, but he popped up like The Undertaker,” DiBella said.
It was one thing to get up; it took a Herculean effort to just make it back to his feet. But Fury still had to survive nearly two minutes.
That he did tells the story of this wonderful, remarkable and hard-fought battle. None of the judges saw it the same way. Alejandro Rochin scored it 115-111 for Wilder. Robert Tapper had it 114-112 for Fury and Phil Edwards had it 113-113. Yahoo Sports also scored it 113-113.
Fury was rightly proud of his performance, and enjoyed himself at the post-fight news conference. He didn’t complain about the result, though many of his fans didn’t hold back.
But he did not complain about the verdict in the ring, and he believes that helped keep the peace. There was a huge pro-Fury contingent in the arena who were none too pleased with the result.
“I was telling my brothers and my family to be quiet,” Fury said. “There were about 8,000 Travellers, maybe 10,000, who had come from all around the world. They probably would have smashed this arena up if I had instigated. They’d have torn it down to the walls.”
Staples Center survived and Fury and Wilder live to fight what will be an extraordinarily lucrative rematch. Fury regaled the media with one-liners afterward, praising Wilder as one of the greatest punchers in boxing history and taunting his longtime rival, Anthony Joshua.
Wilder’s team had offered Joshua, the unbeaten IBF-WBA-WBO champion, $50 million off the top plus a split of all revenue after that to fight, but Joshua said no. So Wilder turned to Fury and the sport is the better for it.
Fury couldn’t resist getting in a few zingers at Joshua’s expense afterward, especially in regard to his ability to get up after Wilder knocked him down in the ninth and in the 12th.
“It’s no secret that Joshua did not want this fight,” Fury said. “He turned it down for a reason, because Deontay Wilder is the best puncher in boxing history. I saw it and I felt it. No wonder [Joshua] wanted no part of that right hand. He can’t move like me, and he’d have been nailed.”
It might have been divine intervention that got Fury up, particularly after the second knockdown. Wilder hit him clean with his best shot, and Fury went down with a thud.
“I thought that was it,” Roach said of the 12th-round knockdown. “You don’t see guys get up from a shot like that very often.”
DiBella said that in his memory, the only similar occurrence came when Larry Holmes arose after being dumped violently in the seventh by Earnie Shavers in a 1979 heavyweight title match.
Wilder was amazed, as well, but it was representative of how his night went. He’s been the target of critics for years and had sought a mega-fight with Joshua to prove that he is the best heavyweight in the world.
Fury wryly noted that Wilder’s offer to Fury “was a lot of money, enough money that it would have made a broke country rich.”
Wilder was happy about what the fight did for the sport he loves, though he noted that it could have been better.
He complained that he was “overshooting” his punches, and said he should have gone more to Fury’s body than he did.
He said he didn’t feel vindicated by his performance, but in a bow to the legion of his detractors, he said fans can be too negative and too focused on the past.
“Boxing fans, and fans in general, hold high expectations for us,” Wilder said. “Everybody is dwelling and living in the past. You can’t move on from dwelling and living in the past. We could make the future better, make the present better, but there is so much negativity.”
Not on this night, even when no one was satisfied with the scores. Fury’s camp thought he’d clearly outboxed Wilder. Wilder wondered about what he said was a slow count after the 12th-round knockdown.
Fury, though, hit the nail on the head when he entered the post-fight news conference and bellowed, “Are you not entertained?!”
It was a close, dramatic fight and a harbinger of things to come. The heavyweight division has a lot of talent and one of those rising fighters, Joe Joyce, scored an impressive first-round knockout on the undercard.
Joyce was marveling later at the fight and how Fury got up from “taking a missile” from Wilder.
“The future of boxing is so bright tonight because the heavyweight division is so vibrant,” DiBella said.
No one smirked or laughed under their breath when he said it. What would have been an unthinkably stupid comment a couple of years ago accurately depicted where the sport stands now.
Neither Fury nor Wilder won on this night.
Boxing won, though. It came out on top big-time.
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