Tyson Fury consolidated his place at the summit of boxing on Saturday night when he knocked out Deontay Wilder in the 11th round to defend the World Boxing Council’s version of the heavyweight title in a heart-pounding contest of extreme physical and psychological intensity that ennobled both men.
The Gypsy King, whose career appeared finished when he left the sport for more than two years amid public battles with addiction and mental illness, dropped Wilder in the third round, then came off the floor twice in the fourth himself before roaring back with knockdowns in the 10th and the 11th, when referee Russell Mora intervened with the determined Wilder still trying to make it to his feet to continue.
“It was a great fight, worthy of the best trilogies,” Fury said in the immediate aftermath. “I will not make any excuses, Wilder is a top fighter, he gave me a run for my money. I always say I am the best fighter in the world and he is the second best. Don’t ever doubt me. When the chips are down I can always deliver.”
Simply put, it was an all-time classic, one that established Fury’s supremacy over his American rival once and for all after their first meeting ended in a disputed split draw and their second in a knockout win for the Briton. Their third encounter in 34 mesi, each of them rife with heightened drama with no fewer than nine knockdowns in all, punctuated only the fifth trilogy between heavyweight champions in boxing history after Patterson-Johansson, Ali-Frazier, Ali-Norton and Bowe-Holyfield.
Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs), who went off as a 3-1 underdog after entering as the favorite in the first two installments, made a concerted effort to attack the body and establish his position in the center of the ring from the opening bell, but the champion began pressing forward before the end of the first and rocked the American with a thudding right hand at the end of the round.
Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs) picked up the pace in the second, coming forward into the pocket and throwing more punches in combination as Wilder’s output receded. Perhaps sensing the imminent danger ahead, Wilder began looking to connect with his weapons-grade right hand with greater frequency in the third, missing wildly with a series of lunging blows. The crowd of 15,820 rollicking spectators at the T-Mobile Arena ignited when one of them finally found purchase on Fury’s temple, then jolted to their feet when the champion roared back moments later to send Wilder to his knees with crisp one-two combination. The American beat the count but appeared in serious trouble, fortunate to be saved by the bell.
An emboldened Fury opened the fourth round walking down his wounded prey, eager, perhaps overly, to close the show. But almost from nothing the heavy-handed Alabaman landed a right hand while in retreat that sent Fury’s mountainous 6ft 9in form to the deck in a heap. An unfamiliar expression of dejection crossed the champion’s face as he made it to his feet and Wilder went in for the finish amid deafening roars, knocking Fury to the floor again moments later. The champion made it to his feet, perhaps aided by a delayed count when Wilder didn’t go directly to his corner, and was able to survive until the end of the round.
“He caught me twice in the fourth round, but I was never thinking, 'Oh, this is over,’” Fury said. “He shook me, put me down, but that’s boxing, and that’s life as well. It’s not how many times you get knocked down. You’ve got to keep fighting and keep moving forward.”
Both men appeared exhausted at the start of the fifth as chants of “Wi-ld-er! Wi-ld-er!” cascaded down from the upper mezzanine. The challenger obliged them, stepping into the pocket to press the action only to eat a massive right from the Briton. The back-and-forth action surged on as both fighters were throwing together by the end of the frame but it was Fury who was getting the better of the exchanges, appena.
The champion opened with sixth with a straight left upstairs that wobbled Wilder, whose efforts to connect with the right hand on weary legs appeared increasingly desperate. Fury used every pound of his 277lb frame to lean and bully and make Wilder uncomfortable, but the Alabaman kept throwing punches in an almost preposterous show of courage even as the ship was taking on water at an alarming rate.
Fury continued to stalk his opponent throughout the next few rounds and Wilder found himself almost exclusively moving in reverse. By the ninth, Wilder was throwing punches with every fiber of his will behind them but they completely lacked sting. The payoff came in the 10th when Fury sent Wilder clattering to the canvas with a massive right hand. Wilder convinced the referee he was OK to continue, before improbably buckling Fury with a combination of punches along the ropes as the bell rang.
Then came the fateful 11th, when Fury sent Wilder face-first to the canvas with a chopping right hand from up high. Anche allora, Wilder summoned his last reserve of will to make it to his feet before Mora mercifully waved it off at the 1:10 mark, dropping the curtain on an exhilarating triptych of violence and valor.
“I did my best, but it wasn’t good enough tonight,” said the 35-year-old Wilder, who was taken to nearby University Medical Center afterward for evaluation as a precaution. “I’m not sure what happened. I know that in training he did certain things, and I also knew that he didn’t come in at 277lbs to be a ballet dancer. He came to lean on me, try to rough me up and he succeeded.”
Fury, the 33-year-old from Manchester who was making the seventh defense of the lineal heavyweight championship he won from Wladimir Klitschko nearly six years ago and the first of the WBC title belt he captured from Wilder in their second fight, landed more than twice as many punches (150) as did Wilder (72), Compreso 52 in the final three rounds alone. He was ahead on all three scorecards – by scores of 95-91, 95-92 e 94-92 – at the time of the stoppage. (The Guardian had it 96-90 for Fury.)
“Me and Wilder’s saga is done now, done for good,” Fury said. “It was definitely a historic trilogy. It swung both ways, both fighters had the opportunity to seize the moment and it was just that I showed the initiative and dug deeper and I wanted it more. Because at the end of the day, when it comes down to that sort of fight, it’s who’s willing to push further.”