Tyson Fury retained his WBC heavyweight title but only after rising from the canvas twice before knocking out Deontay Wilder in the 11th round of a spellbinding contest at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
This third fight between the pair was unquestionably their most riveting with five knockdowns in total, Wilder the first to go over after being put on his back in the face of some punishing blows from his great rival.
Wilder not only survived the third round but turned the fight on its head in the next session with his famed right hand decking Fury twice and this time it was the Briton holding on to preserve his unbeaten record.
But the exertions seemed to take their toll on Wilder, and Fury regained the upper hand around the scheduled halfway stage, evening up the knockdowns in the 10th before a flurry in the penultimate round brought an end to the bout.
Fury said in the ring afterwards: “It was a great fight, worthy of the best trilogies. 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.”
Few gave Wilder any chance of reversing the result that saw him lose his title 20 months ago, when he was left bloodied and broken following a savage beating from Fury, who was making the first defence of that crown.
Many observers expected this to be a similar script to that second fight – their opener in December 2018 finished in a controversial draw – but Wilder’s improved display, allied to his fortitude, marked this out as an all-time classic.
Wilder (now 42-2-1, 41KOs) had exercised his right to a third meeting with Fury (31-0-1, 22KOs) via a United States arbitrator, scuppering the Briton’s hopes of a domestic showdown against Anthony Joshua this summer.
This is a fight that has been put back on a number of occasions and Wilder kept those in attendance waiting before emerging from his dressing room in a more understated manner than Fury, who was rather appropriately dressed in a gladiatorial costume ahead of what was both fighters’ first outing since they last met in the ring.
Wilder blamed an elaborate ringwalk costume, among many other reasons, for the first defeat of his professional career in February last year. He made a decent start here, with rapier left jabs to Fury’s fleshy torso but the champion ended the first round with a bruising right hand, a sign of what was to come.
Fury, though, steadily grew into the fight, notably closing the distance before pushing his opponent back to the ropes in the third round and then unloading a stinging blow to the temple, plus a couple of other heavy blows, as Wilder sagged to the floor.
Wilder looked to be on unsteady legs and only seemed to be saved by the bell as Fury went in for a finish. But remarkably the former champion turned the tide with a straight right hand that has knocked out many of his former foes, Fury tumbling over after a delayed reaction.
Fury, who was 39lbs heavier at Friday’s weigh-in, hit the floor again – marking the first time he has been knocked down twice in a round – as Wilder rained down the shots.
Fury, though, absorbed everything that was thrown at him and came back strong in the fifth round, with a double jab and right hand forcing Wilder to cling on, the Alabaman looking increasingly fatigued as the minutes ticked on.
His punches seemed to lack the impact they might have had earlier on as the rounds ticked by. In rounds six, seven and eight the harder shots and higher work-rate came from Fury, looking like he had fully recovered from his knockdowns.
A bleeding Wilder was checked by the doctor before the start of the ninth but he served notice of his threat with a huge uppercut at the end of the round, but he was on his knees in the 10th after another overhand right.
Wilder ended the round strongly but he looked to be out on his feet by the time the end came, with a flurry from Fury and the coup de grace of a brutal right hand sending Wilder tumbling face first to the canvas.
It was the ninth and final knockdown in their trilogy of fights and the most decisive as referee Russell Mora immediately signalled a halt to proceedings one minute and 10 seconds into the penultimate round.