Deontay Wilder wanted to walk with the giants of history in his heavyweight division, and he invoked the spirits of the greats who dug deep in desperate minutes by knocking down Tyson Fury in the 12th round and saving his belt in an entertaining draw Saturday night at Staples Center.
By virtue of two knockdowns, Wilder was given a 115-111 scorecard in his favor from judge Alejandro Rochin of Mexico, while Robert Tapper awarded Fury’s evasive, creative, showman performance with a 114-112 card in the Brit’s favor. Judge Phil Edwards of England had it 113-113.
Those scores likely send the still-undefeated combatants to a more anticipated rematch next year. Fury has a rematch clause in his contract, and said “100 percent, we’ll do the rematch.”
“We poured our hearts out tonight. We’re both warriors,” Wilder said. “When … you have a great fight, we give each other all we’ve got. At the end of the fight, that’s what it’s all about.
“We’re the best in the world. The respect was mutual.”
Alabama’s World Boxing Council champion Wilder (40-0-1), fatiguing after he first dropped the clever and resilient former champion in the ninth round, drew from his reserve and belted Fury with a hard right hand and a follow-up left that sent the Englishman to the canvas in the 12th.
What saved Fury — as his eyes closed, then opened to see the rafters of Staples Center, where 17,698 were watching — was the fact he didn’t fall soundly on the back of his head.
As referee Jack Reiss counted, Wilder thought it was over, delivering a throat-slitting motion, posturing for the crowd and even appearing to do a moonwalk.
But Fury (27-0-1), summoning the same resolve that brought him back from a spiral of depression, cocaine use and alcohol abuse that cost him the three belts he won from long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, stood and answered Reiss’ commands and pressed the referee’s shoulders, imploring him to let the fight continue.
“I showed good heart to get up,” Fury said. “I came here tonight and I fought my heart out.”
Wilder followed with some more heavy blows, but they couldn’t drop the former champion who weighed 2561/2 pounds Friday, more than 40 pounds heavier than Wilder.
Wilder, having knocked out each of his prior 39 opponents, sought to add another victim to his list and appeared to bloody Fury’s nose in the fourth round, but Fury impressively dodged and weathered the heavy blows to find his own clean punches through the middle rounds.
If the activity was lacking at times for Fury, his accuracy made up for it.
“That man is a fearsome puncher, and I was able to avoid that,” Fury said. “We’re on away soil. I got knocked down twice, but I still believe I won that fight. God bless America. The ‘Gypsy King’ has returned.”
While boxing greats Evander Holyfield, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Gennady Golovkin looked on, Wilder entered the ring in a black-feathered cape and gold mask, staring down Fury, who was accompanied by English boxing legend Ricky Hatton and assistant trainer Freddie Roach.
His recovery from personal demons seemed to propel him in striking Wilder with blows that caused puffiness near the champion’s left eye by the eighth round, and Fury was sustained even after a Wilder right dropped him briefly in the ninth.
“I was rushing my punches. That’s something I usually don’t do,” Wilder said after connecting on 71 of 430 punches while Fury landed 26% of his, 84 of 327.
“I was forcing my punches … instead of sitting back being patient and waiting for it. The rematch, I guarantee I’m going to get him,” Wilder said. “It was a great fight and let’s do it again. It doesn’t matter to me where we do it.”
Wilder hoped for a unification fight with three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua next year, but it appears that will have to wait. After the impassioned action of Saturday, Fury said, “Me and this man are the two best heavyweights on the planet.”
In other pay-per-view action, 154-pound champion Jarrett Hurd knocked out Jason Welborn in the fourth round. Hurd (23-0, 16 knockouts) retains his International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Assn. junior-middleweight belts.
Recent heavyweight title challenger Luis Ortiz of Cuba scored a 10th-round technical knockout of Travis Kauffman, and heavyweight prospect Joe Joyce won by first-round knockout to improve to 7-0 with seven knockouts.
The Staples Center card was preceded on Showtime by Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk’s 11th-round knockout victory over long-reigning WBC light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson in Quebec City.
Stevenson reportedly was hospitalized in critical condition.