Tyson Fury’s shot at completing a remarkable return to the top of world boxing saw him survive two knockdowns in 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 that made his name before his 30-month spell away from the sport and he enjoyed success in 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, which 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 [a rematch] will be my next fight but would love it to be. We need to do it again.”
Those at ringside – who included boxing greats Floyd Mayweather, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and James ‘Buster’ Douglas, as well as actress Hayden Panettiere and footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic – were left asking the same question after the fight: how did Tyson Fury get up?
The right hand and left hook Wilder landed cleanly in the final round looked to have ended the contest.
“I saw his eyes roll into the back of his head. I was like it’s over,” Wilder said afterwards.
It would have been cruel. The 17,698 in the Staples Center had seen Fury contribute immensely, landing punches time and again and goading his rival.
Wilder’s ring walk was accompanied by his WBC belt being lowered into the ring under spotlight, while Fury worked pads with trainer Ben Davison, seemingly oblivious to the spectacle.
The Briton frustrated his big-hitting American counterpart but produced blows of his own, landing a stunning left-right in the seventh that prompted Wilder to give chase and swing to no avail as Fury evaded.
But the threat from a man with 39 knockout wins remained always in evidence, as some at ringside watched through their hands.
The power punches duly came, a chopping right hand behind Fury’s ear sending the Briton down in round nine. He held on, ducked, bravely punched back and survived, somehow.
And so to the 12th, three minutes few will forget. Wilder looked a little stunned to see his rival come back for more after crashing to the mat and the bell brought roars of appreciation from the crowd.