Tyson Fury’s shot at completing a remarkable return to the top of world boxing saw him survive two knockdowns to share an enthralling draw with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in Los Angeles.
In one of the most thrilling heavyweight contests for years, the Briton was floored in the ninth round and brutally dropped in the 12th, somehow regaining his feet to survive for two minutes.
Fury had shown plenty of the evasive, counter-punching skill set which made his name before his 30-month spell away from the sport and he enjoyed joy during the middle rounds.
But in the 12th he lay motionless after a savage combination, barely making the count to see out the contest, which was scored 115-111 for Wilder, 114-112 for Fury and 113-113.
Fury – and much of the ringside media – felt he had won and had he stayed on his feet in the final three minutes, the WBC title would have been his.
After 36 minutes of the most tense and absorbing action, both men spoke of a rematch and such a date now appears a certainty.
Fury, whose promoter Frank Warren claimed “everyone knows” his man had won, said “We’re on away soil, I got knocked down but I still believe I won the fight. I’m showing total professionalism.
“The Gypsy King has returned. I’m a professional athlete who loves to fight. He is a fearsome fighter. The world knows the truth.”
Wilder said his two knockdowns meant he “definitely won the fight”.
“I don’t know if it [a rematch] will be my next fight but would love it to be. We need to do it again
Those ringside were left asking the same question ‘how did Tyson Fury get up?’. The right hand and left hook Wilder landed cleanly in the final throes looked to have turned out the lights.
It would have been cruel. The 17,698 in the Staples Center had seen Fury contribute immensely, persistently goading his rival with showmanship and landing slick work time and time again to find a classy flow.
The likes of Hollywood actress Hayden Panettiere sat ringside, as did football’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and boxing greats such as Floyd Mayweather, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and James ‘Buster’ Douglas.
While Wilder walked from his dressing room, his WBC title being lowered into the ring under spotlight, Fury worked pads with trainer Ben Davison, seemingly oblivious to the lavish spectacle.
They would serve up drama to match the glamour – Fury, pawing his nose as if damaged after five rounds, Wilder sporting a swollen left eye.
The Briton frustrated his American counterpart, thrusting home a stunning left-right in the seventh, prompting Wilder to give chase and swing to no avail as Fury evaded.
The moment summed up the challenger’s swagger and he briefly looked un-hittable. But the jeopardy that comes with Wilder’s 39 previous knockouts remained, as some ringside watched through their hands.
The power punches came, a chopping right hand behind Fury’s ear sent him down in nine, prompting him to hold, duck, bravely punch back and survive, somehow.
And so to the 12th, three minutes few will forget. Wilder looked briefly stunned his rival came back for more after crashing to the mat and the bell saw roars of appreciation roll down to ringside.
Fury’s promoter Frank Warren said “everyone knows” his man had won. The 115-111 scorecard in Wilder’s favour will likely raise most eye browse but the dust must first settle on a truly incredible fight.