The story of Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder’s rivalry has always felt like a professional wrestling storyline. 

Over the course of three fights spanning four years, there have been allegations of loaded gloves, crooked referees, illegal punches, poisoned water bottles, accusations of betrayal, heavy costumes that sapped fighters’ energy, COVID-19 cases, lawsuits, vows of silence, threats of retirement and threats to kill one another in the ring. In general, the type of over-the-top chaos that would typically characterize a scripted feud.

Most boxing rivalries have a fairly basic, shallow premise. Both fighters want to beat one another, and dislike one another simply because they stand in the way of whatever trinket happens to be on the line. Sometimes, fighters will try to force a “personal” element to fight buildups by loosely insisting that the other is trying to take food away from their family, but even that feels normal to observers by this point. Mostly, fights are treated simply as athletic competitions, and the chatter from the participants beforehand is typically directed inward, discussing their own personal ambition. 

But Fury and Wilder are not normal people, nor are they normal fighters. That was confirmed on Saturday night, as the two engaged in an all-time classic heavyweight title fight, one that even the best pro wrestlers and writers handling a script would struggle to replicate. Somehow, the violence and drama of the action between the two men in the ring was more astonishing than the circus that preceded it. 

Fury and Wilder traded five knockdowns. Wilder hit the mat first in the third round, Fury twice in the fourth, Wilder again in the 10th and then for good in the 11th, giving Fury the definitive knockout victory needed to put this trilogy to rest. 

The rivalry between Fury and Wilder was long, loud and divisive. Theirs was a feud that found its fans on opposite sides on topics of race, vaccination, and more. Rarely have supporters of two fighters been so vehemently opposed to one another - another aspect of the story that was wrestling-esque. Fans of Fury and Wilder made their support of either fighter their identity, in the same way one might as a fan of a particular faction in AEW or WWE, which made for ugly online discourse but a truly electric atmosphere inside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this past weekend.  

Even to the untrained eye, Fury and Wilder are stark visual contrasts, which was never more evident than in their entrances on Saturday. Wilder’s entrance (which was mysteriously delayed, because of course) was deeply serious and even elegant, the fighter slowly marching to the ring in a perfectly curated, diamond encrusted mask and robe to the tune of a haunting hip-hop track which used a sample of Wilder’s infamous “til’ this day” rant. As he disrobed he revealed a chiseled Adonis physique with perfectly tailored trunks. 

Fury’s entrance, meanwhile, had and air of tongue-in-cheek cheesiness and nonchalance, a tone The Gypsy King utilizes to great effect in his dealings with the press. The theme of his entrance was only loosely cohesive, combining Irish Traveler smack talk, interpretive dance and a gladiator outfit that was supposed to present him as a spartan. The costume looked like it could have been purchased at Dollar General on Lake Mead Boulevard. Fury wore it with a knowing smile, and sung along with “Shook Me All Night Long” on his way down the aisle. As he took off his spartan getup, he revealed a fleshy 277 pounds encased by a set of trunks that could have been a size bigger. To those who aren’t familiar with him, Fury is a walking “this is what peak male performance looks like” meme. Except there would be no irony in using a photo of Fury, because it would be true. 

And just to hammer home the dichotomy further, as the fighters’ teams stood behind their charges in the ring during introductions, Wilder’s team wore masks, while Fury’s did not. 

For all of their differences, we found out that Fury and Wilder have fundamental things in common as fighters: indomitable will and a borderline foolish willingness to endure punishment.

The latter, when it comes to Wilder, is what specifically made the fight great. Beyond the legal reasons why the fight rightfully needed to happen, the “storyline” reason for the third bout was that Wilder believed his former trainer Mark Breland should not have thrown in the towel in the second bout as he was taking a beating in the seventh round. Wilder contended that he could have survived and still been dangerous as long as he was conscious, and that even if that didn’t work out, he deserved to have been, in his words, “carried out on his shield.”

In the third fight, he got what he asked for—both good and bad. Wilder hired new trainer Malik Scott with the understanding that he would not throw in the towel under any circumstances.  He proved his recuperative ability in the fourth round, when after being floored and badly hurt in the third, he dropped Fury twice the very next round. Unfortunately for Wilder, as evidenced by his Undertaker-like sit-up in their first bout, Fury has an almost supernatural ability to not just survive knockdowns, but come back somewhere between unfazed and actually emboldened by them. 

Fury gradually broke down Wilder physically, but never mentally. There were times when watching him swat Wilder around the ring and maul him along the ropes was uncomfortable, but Wilder would detonate a big right hand just often enough to convince you to not feel sympathy for him quite yet. The feeling of watching Wilder was unlike any other fight experience in recent memory. Simultaneously, you were both worried for his life and also on the edge of your seat thinking he could win the fight any second. The combination of courage, toughness and raw power to produce those feelings for the viewer was, well, only something you see in “fake fights.”

People that wounded, that tired, with eyes drooping and mouth dangling open, are only dangerous in the pro wrestling universe where fighters can power up and hit their signature maneuver out of nowhere. To watch that scenario play out in real life was nothing short of astonishing. 

And then there was the ending. The chilling right hand shot that sent Wilder’s limp body ricocheting off the top rope and onto the canvas. Rarely do you see a more cinematic, violent ending.

Minutes later, the tone shifted again, as Fury took the microphone in the ring and offered a full-throated acapella performance of Mark Cohn’s “Walking In Memphis.”

It was a spectacle so good that you couldn’t script it. In wrestling terms, Saturday’s fight was the “blow off” match, a match meant to produce a conclusive ending to end a feud. 

In general, pro wrestling is meant to dramatize a fight, orchestrated and engineered specifically to evoke desired emotions. It’s effectively imagining the best fight and then adding layers and violence and storytelling to make it even better. But sometimes you get a fight so good, so dramatic, so emotional that could only have occurred organically. 

On a sports Saturday that included some of the most dramatic college football games of the year and MLB playoff games, all anyone wanted to talk about was the fight. Because a great fight is better than anything else in sports. Wilder-Fury III, and the tale that led to it, was better than one could ever imagine.

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.