In a decision that will forever be debated, WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder retained his belt with a controversial draw versus the crafty Tyson Fury on Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
While many analysts ringside believed Fury should have had his hands raised in victory, Alejandro Rochin had Wilder up by the score of 115-111, while Robert Tapper tabbed Fury by the tally of 115-111 and Phil Edwards had it dead even at 113-113.
This pairing of heavyweights, who's size was only dwarfed by their colorful personalities, was one that for the most part was controlled by the strategic boxing of Fury, 27, who for long stretches put on a masterclass exhibition of boxing.
But while he won the overwhelming majority of rounds in my scorecard and dominated large segments of this fight with his deft movement and feints that threw Wilder off his rhythm, he was struck down to the canvas in Round 9 and (most dramatically) Round 12, when the prevailing sense was that Wilder needed a miraculous finish to retain his title.
While Fury (27-0-1, 19 KO) was significantly hurt after both knockdowns, in both rounds he rallied back to actually stun Wilder before those rounds ended.
Getting a draw in a foreign land while hitting the deck twice has to feel like a win for Fury. His stock is raised -- if not his hand.
He showed that despite his long layoff from the ring and his well-documented personal trials and tribulations, he absolutely remains a premiere heavyweight -- one that doesn't win so much with power and strength but with tactics and guile. He isn't particularly exciting or entertaining, but he is an adroit ring tactician who possesses a high boxing IQ.
"I'm what you call a pro athlete that loves to box. I don't know anyone on the planet that can move like that. That man is a fearsome puncher and I was able to avoid that. The world knows I won the fight," Fury said.
Of course, Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KO) disagreed, saying, "I think with the two knockdowns I definitely won the fight. We poured our hearts out tonight. We're both warriors, but with those two drops I think I won the fight. I came out slow. I rushed my punches. I didn't sit still. I was too hesitant. I started overthrowing the right hand and I just couldn't adjust."
So the question is: What now?
A bout that was supposed to at least put public pressure on Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KO), the owner of the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles and the biggest draw in the division, to face the winner at some point in 2019 -- especially if it was Wilder -- instead may have tabled that fight for the time being.
Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sports, which promotes Joshua, stayed up to watch the fight from England and told ESPN.com via email: "I had Fury winning the fight as most did. From our side we want that undisputed fight ASAP, and that's Deontay Wilder in April 13 at Wembley. If he doesn't want the fight, then we'd certainly be up for sitting down with Tyson too for that date as he deserves another shot."
Well, after this disputed draw, there's really no choice but for Wilder to clear things up more definitively with Fury. Coming into this fight there was a rematch clause in place. Regardless, Wilder-Fury II should take place in 2019, and it should happen immediately.
When asked whether this was his preference, Fury was vague at the postfight news conference.
"I'm just going to enjoy the moment because the last big fight I didn't enjoy the moment," said Fury. "I got depressed right away, afterwords."
The "Gypsy King" says the rest of 2018 will be spent with friends and loved ones.
Frank Warren, who promotes Fury, says that regardless of the result this past weekend, a return bout should take place, but he added one caveat.
"We want to do it again but we want to do it in the [United Kingdom]. There's where it should be, the next one. [Fury] came here, he traveled to Germany, fought in another guy's backyard in [Wladimir] Klitschko."
In Warren's opinion, if this fight took place at Wembley Stadium and not the Staples Center, "[Fury] would have won this fight."
While Wilder retains his belt, now even more questions exist about his overall skill set. But as was shown versus Fury, he has the proverbial eraser, one that can cover up a lot of other deficiencies and blemishes. While Fury came out with heightened public perception of his abilities and standing in the game, Wilder's stock drops with this draw.
But the "Bronze Bomber" believes that after 36 minutes inside the ring with the tricky craftsmen from England, the next time around he'll be much easier to touch.
"I'll be more patient in throwing punches," said the 33-year-old Wilder, who at times was made to look downright amateurish by Fury. He freely admitted, "I was too anxious in trying to get him out of there. I think my emotions got the best of me and I don't think, I know, my emotions got the best of me, just wanting to just really get him out of there. Some of the game plan went out the window and it resulted to just trying to knock him out."
And to his credit, he nearly did so in the 11th hour.
But the draw left more questions than answers for Wilder, and for the time being, the long-awaited showdown with Joshua might be tabled.
"At this point we don't know what is going to be next," said Shelly Finkel, who manages Wilder and has been frustrated in what he believes have been fruitless discussions in the past with Hearn to make this particular fight. "If this other promoter calls tomorrow like he said, we'll hear him out. If not, it's fine.
"I believe the fight right now, the fight with Fury is a stronger fight and probably more logical to happen because, look, he still dropped the guy twice."
Finkel also pointed out that it appears these two are actually willing to face one another (again).
"I'm not sure the other side is still not afraid of him," opined Finkel.