Wilder-Fury Yields Not Another Rematch, but a Path to a Unified Title

Late in the 10th round of their heavyweight title fight on Saturday, Tyson Fury floored Deontay Wilder with a clubbing right hand to the jaw, and the end of their brawl seemed imminent. But Wilder climbed off the canvas and spent the late stages of the round landing heavy punches as Fury covered up.

When a fighter goes down, judges generally score the round, 10-8, in favor of the fighter who scored the knockdown, but Wilder’s comeback compelled one judge to score the round, 10-9, for Fury.

By then, Fury, a 6-foot-9, 277-pound champion from Manchester, England, looked tired, leaning on Wilder during clinches and breathing heavily in breaks in the action. And Wilder, a 6-7, 238-pound former champion from Tuscaloosa, Ala., appeared exhausted, wilting under Fury’s weight and relentless attack.

But Wilder’s stunning punching power meant he always had a chance, even in a fight, like this one, where he trailed on the scorecards. And his 10th-round rally raised a tantalizing, fretful possibility.

If he had managed to defeat Fury, 33, the pair might have had to fight a fourth time — great news for fans of high-octane slugfests, but dreadful for the fighters’ health, Wilder’s especially. Fury beat him so thoroughly in February 2020 that one of Wilder’s trainers stopped the fight. They competed more evenly Saturday, but Wilder, 35, still entered the 11th round bruised, bleeding and bobbing on wobbly legs.

A minute into the 11th, Fury smashed Wilder’s temple with a right hand. Wilder crashed to the mat. The referee, Russell Mora, waved the fight off without a count. Instead of another rematch, and an entertaining detour on the path to a unified heavyweight title, Fury delivered closure and clarity.

“Me and Wilder are done now,” said Fury, who is 31-0-1 with 22 knockouts and who retained his World Boxing Council championship. “Done for good. It was definitely a historic trilogy.”

Fury and Wilder’s series immediately joins other dramatic heavyweight trilogies as must-see material for serious fans of boxing. The pair now rank alongside Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. After a draw in their first fight, Fury won the next two by knockout.

But matchmakers, like fighters, sometimes ignore signals that they should quit. After three brutal fights between Rafael Márquez and Israel Vázquez in the mid-2000s, the two junior featherweights met again.

Fury, right, with his trainer Javan Hill after the match. “Me and Wilder are done now,” Fury said. “Done for good. It was definitely a historic trilogy.”Credit…Steve Marcus/Reuters

Juan Manuel Márquez and Manny Pacquiao fought three times from 2004 to 2011, with a draw and two Pacquiao victories. Their fourth bout, in December 2012, ended with Márquez knocking Pacquiao out cold.

Before the third Wilder-Fury bout, Wilder promised to reinvent himself as a boxer-puncher, using a style to focus on belting Fury’s body before scoring a knockout. And he delivered early, landing jabs to Fury’s midsection and mixing in right hands.

Then a brawl broke out. A Fury uppercut knocked Wilder down in Round 3. In the fourth, Wilder dropped Fury twice. After that came the 10th round, Wilder’s short-lived resurgence and the concussive last punch in the 11th.

“I haven’t seen the knockout, but I felt it,” Fury said at the postfight news conference. “Shots like that, they end careers. I hope he’s OK.”

Fury’s strategy involved forward movement and winning by attrition. Afterward, Wilder acknowledged that it worked.

“I did my best, but it wasn’t good enough,” Wilder, now 42-2-1 with 41 knockouts, said afterward. “He didn’t come in at 277 to be a ballet dancer. He came to lean on me, try to rough me up, and he succeeded.”

One key takeaway from the bout: Big fights between big fighters are still big business.

The announced attendance of 15,820 did not fill T-Mobile Arena to its capacity, but it also did not include Fury’s numerous fans, many of whom are based in England and were unable to travel to Las Vegas because of travel restrictions related to the pandemic. Promoters still expected the fight card to generate more than $10 million in ticket revenue. Fury and Wilder’s previous bout sold $17 million in tickets.

“I want to apologize to all the fans who spent their money to see such a boring fight,” Bob Arum, the event’s co-promoter, joked at the news conference.

Then Arum, who runs Top Rank, turned serious.

“I have never seen a heavyweight fight as magnificent as this,” he said.

Another outcome: more progress toward a unified heavyweight title.

With a fourth Fury-Wilder fight off the table, Fury can target the winner of the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk, the surprise winner of their bout late last month. In theory, within 12 months, the heavyweight division could have a single champion.

Wilder, for his part, could regroup and take some tuneup fights, or he could make big-money matches in the aftermath of the Joshua-Usyk-Fury round-robin. The main point, for Fury, Wilder and fans, is that options abound for entertaining, high-stakes fights.

“Boxing is big, and boxing is back,” Javan Hill, Fury’s trainer, said at the news conference. “The heavyweight division is flourishing.”

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