Deontay Wilder retained his WBC heavyweight title after an enthralling fight against Tyson Fury in Los Angeles ended as a split-decision draw.
The champion scored two knockdowns in the contest but struggled throughout to find the target against the tricky and tactically astute Fury, who used his superior boxing skills to control proceedings for long spells.
The Briton – who famously dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 to become the IBF, WBA and WBO champion – was dropped in the ninth but recovered well and appeared on course to win on points heading into the final round at the Staples Center.
However, Fury had to climb off the canvas for a second time in a dramatic finish to proceedings, showing tremendous powers of recovery when initially appearing to be out cold from a right-left combination.
IT’S A DRAW!! What a fight! Much respect to both @BronzeBomber and @Tyson_Fury for bringing a great fight for Boxing Fans around the World!
Deontay Wilder is still the WBC World Heavyweight Champion!
Design by @HECZAR / WBC #WBC #BoxingInspires #WilderFury #DeontayWilder pic.twitter.com/8HcymGmVPg
— World Boxing Council (@WBCBoxing) December 2, 2018
The 10-8 round proved crucial in the final reckoning, though. Wilder surprisingly got the nod by a 115-111 margin from one judge, but Fury was awarded the fight 114-110 by another.
A 113-113 draw on the final card confirmed Wilder would remain as champion, disappointing both Fury and the raucous travelling fans who greeted the result with a chorus of boos.
While the outcome will be debated for the foreseeable future, what few can deny is the two big men put on a superb spectacle for a global audience.
A draw, I understand (even tho I feel Fury won by a 2 or 3 rds). With 2 knockdowns & round here or there for Wilder and you have a draw in some people’s eyes. But 115-111 for Wilder is terrible, just terrible !! That’s what’s wrong with boxing. Fury’s stock went up !!!!!
— Andre S.O.G. Ward (@andreward) December 2, 2018
With Ricky Hatton and Freddie Roach joining trainer Ben Davison in the corner, Fury defied his lack of action – he had fought just 14 rounds since that famous night against Klitschko in Dusseldorf – to impress from the opening bell.
As he did when becoming the unified world champion just over three years ago, the 30-year-old used feints, footwork and fast hands to confuse his rival.
Classy combinations drew cheers from his supporters as Wilder failed to rise to the occasion, often missing the target horribly as he tried to land a big punch.
The Alabama native finally found the target in the ninth, though he emptied the tank trying to force a stoppage and finished the round on the back foot.
Fury raised his hands at the end of the 11th, though his celebrations appeared premature when he was dropped again, a right hand doing the damage before a left hook caught him flush while already on the way down.
The challenger was flat-out on the canvas but somehow found a way to not only recover to beat the count but also box the better of the two men down the stretch.
Still, the knockdown scuppered his hopes of becoming a two-time world champion, with the controversial outcome paving the way for a lucrative rematch in 2019.