Deontay Wilder retains WBC heavyweight title over Tyson Fury after split draw.

Tyson Fury looked up from the canvas.

He’d spent the first 11 rounds of Saturday’s WBC heavyweight title fight mostly boxing the ears off Deontay Wilder, frustrating the undefeated American champion with a stubbornly effective jab and deft movement, even surviving a ninth-round knockdown to roar back in the championship rounds. Yet in one moment of shocking violence, a slashing Wilder left hook early in the 12th, all of it came undone.

The supine Fury’s eyes slowly rolled back into his head as referee Jack Reiss counted to five while Wilder celebrated a certain victory in a neutral corner. At six, Fury jolted to life and moved to get up. By nine, he’d made it to his feet and convinced Reiss to allow him to continue.

“I had a holy hand upon me tonight,” Fury said after the fight. “And it brought me back.”

Wilder jabs at Fury. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters

In the end Fury lost his bid to regain the world heavyweight championship he’d never lost in the ring after Wilder retained his WBC title in a thrilling split draw before a rollicking crowd of 17,698 at the Staples Center. Mexico’s Alejandro Rochin scored the fight 115-111 to Wilder, Canada’s Robert Tapper had it 114-112 for Fury and Phil Edwards of the United Kingdom called it even at 113-113. (The Guardian scored it 115-111 to Fury.)

But the 30-year-old former champion’s improbable comeback from a public bout with mental illness that pushed him to extreme despair left him gratified even as he disputed the result.

“It’s not been any secret what I’ve been doing out of the ring,” Fury said. “I’ve been living like a rock star. That ain’t a great thing, by the way, because I’ve had a very low time doing it. I’ve fought back from suicide and mental health [issues] and depression and anxiety. And I wanted more than anything tonight to show the world that it can be done. Anything is possible with the right mindset.”

Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs), facing live fire against an elite opponent for the first time in more than three years, used feints and a confident left jab from the opening bell. He looked even more comfortable in the second, stepping closer into the pocket and throwing his gloves skyward to bait the champion. He continued the gameplan into the third and fourth, using head and upper-body movement to keep Wilder off balance and tentative.

Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) was able to land occasional shots and they were frequently the heavier ones, as evinced by the trickle of blood that appeared from Fury’s nose in the fourth. But the American managed virtually no punches in combination in the first half of the bout as Fury methodically stayed clear of Wilder’s slashing right hand.

Fury continued to use the jab effectively into the second half of the fight: as an offensive weapon, as a rangefinder, as a buttress. By then it appeared Fury was in command. Wilder’s eye was swelling and it was clear the champion’s only plan was hoping Fury would walk into a right hand.

Then came the ninth when Wilder landed a short series of right hands that sent Fury down in a heap. The challenger managed to beat the count and smartly wrapped up Wilder as he attempted to close the show and by the end of the round it was Fury who had the upper hand against the punched-out challenger.

Fury’s bearings had completely returned in the 10th and 11th rounds as he came forward throwing the jab with authority, doubling and tripling it up. When the bell sounded, Fury was three rounds away from a seemingly impossible comeback from the abyss.

Then came the final round when Wilder sent Fury crumpled to the canvas. It didn’t seem like the challenger was going to beat the count, but somehow he made it to his feet and the referee allowed him to continue. He hung on for dear life for a minute but he regathered once more, and by the end of the round he had Wilder reeling.

“I don’t know how he got up,” said Wilder, who landed 71 of 430 shots (17%), compared 84 of 327 for Fury (26%). “I don’t know why they didn’t start the count earlier.”

After the fight, Wilder said he was keen to meet Fury again. “I think it was a great fight,” Wilder said. “We need to do it again. We need to do it again in America, [but] it doesn’t matter to me … We’re the best in the world. The respect was mutual.”

Fury also expressed interest in a rematch, and believed he should have won on the night. “We’re on away soil, I got knocked down twice, but I still believe I won that fight,” Fury said. “I’m being a total professional here. I went to Germany to fight [Wladimir] Klitschko and I went to America to fight Deontay Wilder. God bless America. The Gypsy King has returned.”

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