Tyson Fury delivered a thrilling 11th-round knockout of Deontay Wilder to retain his WBC heavyweight crown as their trilogy bout produced another classic on an electric night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Twenty months since Fury dethroned the American, the 33-year-old had to show all his resolve and resilience to extend his undefeated professional record to 32 fights after twice being floored in the fourth round.
Fury sent his opponent sprawling in an explosive third only to see Wilder recover, and the Briton found himself on the end of the Bronze Bomber’s huge right hand twice in quick succession.
Wilder was hanging on by the end of the seventh but was still in a gruelling fight come the 10th, when Fury knocked him down once more, before delivering the final blow in the 11th to bring this particular chapter of heavyweight boxing to a close.
“I was down a couple of times, I was hurt. Wilder is a strong puncher,” said Fury of his opponent, who was taken to hospital as a precaution after the fight.
“It was a great fight. 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.”
Fury shows he is never beaten
This might not have been the fight Fury wanted but, after a controversial draw in their first meeting in 2018 and seventh-round stoppage from Fury last time out, it again delivered the blockbuster battle the Las Vegas crowd was craving.
Tensions had been simmering throughout fight week and only continued to bubble as Wilder’s delayed entrance left the arena waiting, before the lights finally went down and the American, who listed his elaborate and heavy ring-walk outfit as one of the excuses for his loss to Fury last year, emerged in a more understated fur-lined gown.
But what’s a few minutes when a classic tussle is more than a year in the making?
Fury, dressed as a Roman centurion, followed to a backdrop of AC/DC as both fighters stepped inside the ropes for the first time since their explosive meeting at the MGM Grand in February 2020.
That was pre-pandemic and the Morecambe-based boxer was buoyed by the thousands of UK fans who had flooded to Las Vegas to support their charge, although travel restrictions meant there was never going to be the boisterous following for the British hopeful this time.
But the local support could not help but be wowed by Fury once more as he again proved that, despite finding himself on the canvas, you can never write this man off.
Wilder came out looking to dictate from the opening bell with a series of jabs to the body as Fury took his time to size up a remodelled opponent, one new trainer Malik Scott says has more in his toolbox than previously shown.
Wilder’s new regime came amid question marks around Fury’s own preparation – the original summer fight date was scrapped when he contracted Covid-19 and quickly rescheduled for October, and Fury then had to rush home to the UK to be with wife Paris for the birth of their sixth child, Athena.
The American had also closed the gap in terms of weight, and despite Fury carrying 39lbs more than his opponent both were the heaviest of their professional careers – Fury at 19st 11lbs and Wilder 17st.
It was Fury who began to dominate after Wilder’s brisk opening exchange and a huge left-right combination sent the Alabaman to the ground.
The 35-year-old survived the count and, rejuvenated by the bell, felled Fury with a mammoth right of his own in the fourth and followed with another to send the champion tumbling twice in the same round for the first time in his career, as the anticipation of an upset grew.
Fury, though, rose and a determined Wilder had been hanging on for several rounds when he was knocked down again in the 10th, before the champion finally landed a right that ended the fight after 11 enthralling rounds.
Fury climbed on to the ropes in celebration and was not done entertaining there, taking the mic in what has become his customary style to serenade the crowd with a victory song.
‘I am the greatest heavyweight champion of my era’
Fury has passed every challenge thrown his way but to become the first undisputed heavyweight world champion since Lennox Lewis in 2000 he will need to take the titles held by Oleksandr Usyk.
The Ukrainian looks set to face Anthony Joshua in a rematch first to see if the Briton can win back his WBF, IBF and WBO crowns, but in Fury’s mind there is no doubt as to who is the greatest heavyweight of this enticing era.
“I have proved time and again that I can never be written off,” he said. “I didn’t have my best performance but I pulled it out of the bag when it needed to be done.
“He did keep getting up but it was that final right hand to the side of the head that finished him.
“I wasn’t hurt. You get hit, you wake up on the floor. I got up and was very conscious the whole time. I was one punch away from knocking him out in the whole fight.
“I am the greatest heavyweight champion of my era, without a doubt. Number one. If you play with fire long enough you will get burned.”