By Corey Erdman
More than one person said it this past week—even by stepping through the ropes on Saturday night to face Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury was already a winner.
Two years earlier, he was addicted to cocaine and binge drinking more than 20 beers a night, hoping to either drink himself to death or build up the liquid courage to do the deed himself. But somehow, he got himself back into the gym at over 400 pounds, got himself out on the roads notching mile after mile, even if it meant walking, and found a way back into fighting shape, and more importantly the will to live once again.
Even prior to Fury’s downward spiral becoming visibly evident and heavily publicized, a fight against Deontay Wilder was first conceived in 2016, months after Fury’s career-shaping victory over Wladimir Klitschko, while “The Gypsy King” was loaded drunk on vodka and orange juice and decided to storm the ring after Wilder’s win over Artur Szpilka.
Even getting to the point of being printed on the bout sheet in Los Angeles on Saturday was a bonus, playing with house money, so to speak.
And yet, it still felt as though Fury was denied something. Denied the storybook ending to one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all-time.
The ending to Fury’s clash with Wilder can be characterized in many ways—as one of the most dramatic and most controversial endings to a heavyweight title fight in the history of the sport.
Fury used his slick and awkward boxing style to mostly befuddle Wilder for the majority of the fight, save for a knockdown in the sixth round on a shot to the temple. Many ringside observers believed Fury had the fight wrapped up heading into the 12th round, before Wilder hit him with a titanic right hand, followed by a left hook as Fury was freefalling to the canvas. Fury’s head smacked against the canvas and he appeared limp as referee Jack Reiss administered what looked to be a purely academic ten count.
Instead, Fury sat up at the count of five, rose to his feet, jogged back and forth to show he was fit to fight, and went on to control the remainder of the round. It was a recuperative ability and finale that would have appeared absurd even in the universe of professional wrestling or action movies, playing out in a real, live sporting event.
“Seeing Tyson Fury get up off the canvas and continue was one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen in a boxing ring,” said Hall of Fame SHOWTIME commentator Al Bernstein.
The logical comparison to Fury’s miraculous recovery is Larry Holmes’ similar effort against Ken Norton, one which launched him into heavyweight superstardom and later immortality.
The difference is that Holmes was given the decision he deserved that night, and Fury was not.
No doubt there will be an argument that wages on for weeks between the majority of viewers who believe Fury won, and the vocal minority who believe that the scorecards were defensible enough for this not to be considered a “robbery.”
But there was a robbery, at least in a grander sense. Fury was denied the perfect storybook ending to one of sports’ most inspirational comebacks. And while viewers could never complain that they were shortchanged by a fight of that level of ferocity and intrigue, they were denied the perfect ending.
Boxing has the capability of producing both human emotional stories and drama in a way that all other sports aspire to. It’s the reason so many of life and sports’ metaphors are rooted in boxing terms. It’s the reason every Oscar-winning sports film is based on boxing.
Had Fury received the decision on Saturday night, it would have been the most perfect ending anyone could ever draw up. A man returning from the brink of a self-inflicted death, rising off the floor after what seemed like a certain knockout to have his hand raised in the most significant heavyweight title fight on American soil in recent history.
“It's an iconic comeback, isn't it? You know what I mean? A year and half out of the ring, ten stone ballooned, mental health problems. I just showed that world tonight that everyone suffering from mental health problems, you can come back, it can be done. Everybody out there who has the same problems I was suffering with, I did that for you. You know the truth. Everybody knows I won that fight. And if I can come back from where I come from, then you can do it too. So get up, get over it, seek help, and let's do it as a team. I did it for you guys,” said Fury to BT Sport cameras in the locker room following the fight.
Funny enough, Fury has shied away from causing a stir about the decision. Perhaps that’s because he understands what only someone who has walked through the types of darkness he has could fully comprehend. That in life and in the ring, getting up to fight again is the only victory that matters.
After the fight, Fury had the look of a man who had found peace, and in him, we can all find a source of hope for whatever battles we are fighting.