If you saw it in a movie you wouldn’t buy it. You would roll your eyes and bemoan the director’s inability to avoid rote, boxing movie clichés. A story, a fight, and a moment like this could only come from the minds of writers with just the faintest exposure to actual prizefighting.
But this was no movie.
There lay Tyson Fury. A 260-pound mountain of metaphors, slumped on the canvas with one knee up and the other splayed out to the side as if frozen in time at the exact moment his improbable dream had died. The victim of a Deontay Wilder right hand bomb and a follow-up left hook for good measure, Fury sat motionless, eyes closed, just inches from the finish line of a race no one ever saw him running.
By simply being in the ring, Fury could claim a moral victory of sorts. The 30 months that preceded this moment could be considered, shall we say trying, for the six foot nine inch Fury. Struggles with substance abuse, weight gain and mental health issues made a return to the ring unlikely at best, impossible at worst.
A lot of ink has and will be spilled about Fury being a survivor of the circumstances he faced but that’s reductive. Tyson Fury is a fighter, first and foremost. That is what defines him. He was not a passenger on this redemptive journey. He did not sit idly by and just hope things would get better. Through action, discomfort, perseverance and ridicule, he fought to get his life and career back. He has risen because he’s a fighter, not in spite of it.
After getting his proverbial shit together and a couple of tune up fights against Sefer Seferi (Remember him? Didn’t think so) and Francesco Pianeta, Fury accepted arguably the biggest challenge in the heavyweight division in Deontay Wilder.
It’s not a stretch to describe Deontay Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KO) as one dimensional. Having started boxing at the nearly ancient age of 20, Wilder’s fundamentals haven’t developed much past those of a button-mashing toddler playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out for the first time. He would have to choke down an entire bottle of Adderall to simply focus hard enough on throwing a punch one wouldn’t describe as “clumsy.” But being one dimensional isn’t necessarily problematic if that one dimension involves knocking other fighters the entire fuck out. And last time I checked, that’s kinda sorta the point of this here sport.
As Saturday night approached, one could be forgiven for expecting a less than aesthetically pleasing fight. Fury (27-0-1, 19 KO), not exactly Salvador Sanchez himself, was seen as the more agile of the two which did not exactly bode well for the tactical aspects of the fight. Wilder has an entire server farm at Google tasked with storing all the gifs of him swinging wildly at imaginary poltergeists, and I’ve personally watched the video of Fury punching himself in the face so many times that I get royalties from it. The stakes were high but the bar was low. Would they manage to clear it?
Oh yes, they would.
Not only did they clear it, they jumped a flaming sports car over it while hanging out the side window and spraying the bad guys’ hideout with machine gun fire.
Over the course of 11 rounds, the two fighters displayed a surprising level ring of acumen. Yes, it was sloppy in parts and slow in others, but it was, for the most part, a boxing match. As Fury bobbed and feinted incessantly, Wilder looked for openings and occasionally rammed his way inside with his signature fly-swatting hooks. It’s to Fury’s credit that Wilder was forced to keep his vaunted right hand holstered for large portions of the fight. It’s always just a matter of time with Wilder, however, and that time came toward the end of the 9th round.
In a fight he was winning handily — more on that in a minute — Fury attempted to get under Wilder’s skin by clowning a bit. Guess what? It worked. As Fury backed into a corner, Wilder caught him on the top of the head and sent him to the canvas. It was a glancing blow but one that reminded Fury of the dangers of letting one’s guard down against a murderous puncher as well as a desperately needed two point swing on the scorecards for Wilder. For the viewer it helped spark the unexpected realization that hey, we got a pretty good fight going here.
Through the 10th and 11th rounds there was more of the same. Fury using his jab and his awkward movement to keep Wilder on the outside and Deontay trying to find a way to land that one big punch to nullify the increasingly unfriendly scorecards. In the 12th round he found it. Oh my God, did he ever find it.
As the bell for the final round started, the storyline was simple: If Tyson Fury stays on his feet, he wins the biggest heavyweight fight of this era. If Wilder finds a way to detonate his right hand he goes on to fight Anthony Joshua for eleventy billion dollars. Three minutes to turn this from a good fight to a great one. One hundred eighty seconds to determine the course of two men’s careers and ultimately the rest of their lives. It would only take 40 of them to get an answer. As Fury landed a short right hand and backed out of harm’s way, Wilder found the punch he had been looking for all night. Two of them, in fact.
The right hand would’ve been enough, but the left hook on the way down rendered the result almost moot. Fury was out cold, referee Jack Reiss’ count a mere formality. The English giant had bitten off just slightly more than he could chew and finally choked. Two years of personal renaissance and 1 hard fought rounds had earned him enough good will for a nice consolation prize. The reward for his efforts would be simply having competed at all. It was a valiant performance even in spite of the demons he warded off, but just not quite enough for the Hollywood ending.
But then something happened.
Fury’s eyes opened.
Then his hand moved.
Then he was rolling over and attempting to get up. At the count of nine and a half he was up and bouncing on his toes. Like Michael Myers or the Undertaker or even fictional characters like Jesus, Fury had risen from the dead.
I don’t want to spend any more time rummaging around inside Fury’s psyche than I have to, but it’s almost as if he said “What are you doing down here on the ground, mate? A little knock on the noggin ain’t nothing compared to what you’ve been through. Get up and finish the fight. Oh behave!”
(I don’t know a lot about English culture so I always like to throw in an Austin Powers’ quote for authenticity sake.)
And finish the fight he did. After a couple scary moments Fury himself went on the offensive in the second half of the round and capped off a finish to the fight more sensational than he himself could’ve ever imagined.
Remember when I said we’d get to the scorecards in a minute? Well it’s been a minute. As they were read aloud and a split draw was announced, some of the luster wore off what should’ve been the celebration of a lifetime for Tyson Fury. The two knockdowns for Wilder helped close the gap a bit and if you were really stretching you could maybe get to a draw. How you get to a 115-111 in favor of Deontay Wilder as judge Alejandro Rochin did though is beyond me. It’s not fair to any fighter to have their performance judged by someone incapable of accurately adjudicating a professional boxing match but in this case it seemed particularly cruel. With what he went through before and during the fight Fury deserved this moment. Except….
Someone forgot to tell Fury he was supposed to be disappointed. The final bell initiated a celebration for Fury. A celebration of finishing the fight on his feet. A celebration of rising from the proverbial dead. But most of all, a celebration of life. Of taking back one’s life and living it the right way. Life. It can be pretty good, can’t it?
In the coming months we’ll know more about what’s next for both guys; possibly a fight with Anthony Joshua, or rematch with each other. It’s safe to say both fighters have earned the right to call their own shots.
For all his technical shortcomings, Wilder is the most exciting fighter in the division. Wherever he goes, violence follows. He’s what we were all asking for during the dog days of the Wladimir Klitschko era. Now he’s here and we damn well better appreciate him.
However, when we look back on this night only one thing will stick in our memories. Tyson Fury, the English giant, motionless on the canvas with his conqueror standing over him.
And then his eyes opened….
Tyson Fury, the Get Up Kid.
- Up in Montreal, Alexander Gvozdyk (16-0, 13 KO) struck a blow for beleaguered prostitutes everywhere with an 11th round KO of Adonis Stevenson (29-2-1, 24 KO) ending Adonis’ five and a half year (!) title reign.
- Jarret Hurd (23-0, 16 KO) continued his upward trajectory toward superstardom with a 4th round body shot KO of U.K. fighter Jason Wellborn (24-7, 7KO). Hurd’s hair looks like a blooming onion from Chili’s and that’s still like only the fourth coolest thing about him. Kid is a helluva fighter.
- It will be some time before I understand how Fury got up from that punch. This may be one of those “go away to a sweat lodge, take ayahuasca and ponder the human condition” type of journeys for me. Hopefully I’ll see you guys on the other side.