By Francisco Salazar
LOS ANGELES - The heavyweight clash between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury lived up to the expectations (and then some) of boxing fans.
It was a very good prizefight between two fighters with the gift of gab, who insulted one another and almost went to blows at Wednesday’s press conference, but earned each other’s respect to embrace after the fight on Saturday night.
The pedigree of Fury, and the ability to get up from two knockdowns courtesy of Wilder, is what boxing fans should focus on, not the scorecard of judge Alejandro Rochin.
Whether you were a Wilder or Fury fan, the 115-111 scorecard turned in by Rochin is bad, but not as bad like the horrendous 118-110 scorecard by Adelaide Byrd for Canelo Alvarez in the first Alvarez-Golovkin fight.
For Wilder, last night’s decision temporarily halted any talk of a unification fight between Wilder, who owns the WBC belt, and WBA, IBF, and WBO titleholder Anthony Joshua.
Or did it?
Most boxing fans would likely want to watch a rematch of the Wilder-Fury fight with the winner facing Joshua. That depends if Wilder wants to face Fury again.
“The money has to be right,” said Wilder after the fight.
It has to be right for both fighters, especially for Fury, who proved many boxing fans and scribes wrong. The ‘Gypsy King’ relishes the underdog role, just like he relished it three years ago when he shocked the boxing world by beating Wladimir Klitschko to become the linear world champion.
Those same boxing fans and scribes likely picked Wilder over Fury because they thought Fury would not have the stamina to face Wilder or had too much damage to himself from the several months of abusing drugs, dealing with mental health issues, and ballooning in weight to almost 400 pounds.
It is a small miracle Fury dropped down to 256 pounds and was in top shape Saturday night. What was more impressive was his exceptional game-plan of outboxing Wilder, including making ‘The Bronze Bomber’ miss several times with hooks and crosses.
Fury was dropped in round nine, but for him to get up from that devastating knockdown in round 12 was extraordinary. They way Fury stood has become a meme, which includes music from the WWE’s Undertaker, but it is also similar to the way Adonis Creed got up from a 12th round knockdown by Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) in the ‘Creed’ movie.
Plus, in typical fashion, Fury owned the post-fight discourse in the ring, further becoming a favorite to casual boxing fans in the United States who bought the Showtime Pay-Per-View telecast or watched at a local movie theatre.
Wilder’s performance further cemented the criticisms of his detractors. Although Wilder overcame Luis Ortiz’s southpaw style and getting hurt in his last fight on Mar. 3, watching Wilder get outboxed and missing with wild hooks and crosses made people wonder whether he can win a rematch against Fury, let along defeat Joshua.
To his defense, Wilder proved to be a dangerous puncher, as that right hand dropped Fury in round nine and a left hook dropped Fury again in round 12.
Time and again, especially Saturday night, referee Jack Weiss showed why he is one of the top referees in boxing. Probably the best.
A Wilder-Fury rematch is on the top of the list of fights boxing fans want to see in 2019. Fury and promoter Frank Warren will push the WBC to make that happen rather than Wilder defending the title against mandatory challenger Dillian Whyte.
On the plus side, the heavyweight division is in good shape. Sports channels like ESPN led their broadcast with the fight, on top of the 17,698 in attendance who watched the fight at Staples Center that are more than likely going to talk about the fight during their morning breaks and lunch on Monday.
The buzz the fight has generated could not play more into Fury’s hands. Two years ago, the 30-year-old ‘Gypsy King’ was nowhere near the heavyweight picture. Now he is still considered the best fighter in the division.
“I got knocked down twice, but I still believe I won the fight,” said Fury. “I was never going to be knocked out (Saturday night). I showed good heart to get up. I came here and I fought my heart out.”
Can Wilder correct mistakes that exposed him in his last two fights, including the clash with Fury?
At 33 years of age, he may have hit his ceiling, but he will always have that potent and dangerous right hand that has knocked out 39 opponents in his 40 victories.
As much anger and hostility Wilder expressed with boxing scribes during fight week, and the animosity that almost boiled over at Wednesday’s press conference, Wilder displayed a sense of humility after the fight.
“We poured our hearts out tonight. We’re both warriors. (With those two knockdowns), I thought I won the fight.”
Boxing, especially the heavyweight picture, is in good hands going into 2019.
*Reporter’s Note: I scored the fight 114-112 for Tyson Fury.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing