LAS VEGAS — It was reminiscent of a scene from “Rocky” in which Apollo Creed flattens Rocky Balboa and thinks he has scored a knockout, only to watch the underdog challenger rise to his feet to continue their war.
That’s what happened in the 12th round of the first meeting between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury in December 2018. It was the second time Wilder had dropped Fury in their bout at Staples Center. Each time, Fury got up, and their 12-round battle for the heavyweight championship eventually ended in a split draw.
They’ll meet again Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, when the unbeaten heavyweights attempt to determine the king of the division. The pay-per-view bout is being presented by ESPN and Fox.
Fury, still considered the lineal champion, says it was divine intervention that got him off the canvas in that brutal 12th round, when the Englishman was dropped flat on his back by a right hand followed by a left hook from Wilder, of Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“Me personally, looking back at it, I think God got me off the canvas for a reason, because not another man living on the planet could have gotten up from those punches in Round 12,” Fury said, later adding, “The so-called best puncher couldn’t keep a man down in the 12th round. This time, I’m going to see if he can get up off the floor. I don’t think he’s got it in him. He’s a bully fighter and when a bully gets bullied he folds every single time.”
Of course the fighters view the impact of that 12th round differently. It came up often during their contentious press conference Wednesday, when they exchanged a few shoves and an avalanche of verbal taunts.
“Credit to Wilder. He got me with two of the best punches I’ve ever seen thrown in a 12-round heavyweight fight,” Fury said. “But the thing that Wilder must be thinking is, ‘I hit that guy with the best two punches I’ve ever thrown in Round 12, and he got up.’ ”
Wilder, who has knocked out all of his other previous opponents, doesn’t see it as a negative.
“It felt good hitting him and dropping him and it felt good seeing him rise,” Wilder said. “The fight lived up to the hype. Fans want to see knockdowns. When you knock a guy down and he rises up like that, it makes greats fights. Now there’s more exposure and more attention.”
That wasn’t the first time Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) has gotten off the canvas. He earned the WBC title by defeating long-standing champion Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015. But then Fury encountered substance abuse and mental health issues and ballooned to more than 400 pounds. He never lost his belt in the ring, which is why he is considered the lineal champion. This will be the sixth fight of his comeback, and Fury says his improved conditioning will make a difference.
“Before the first Wilder fight, I was out of the ring for three years and I ballooned to 400 pounds,” he said. “It was no secret what I was going through. This time, I’ve been match fit and active for over two years. I’ve had five fights back-to-back now.”
Fury’s confidence is such that he has predicted a second-round knockout, a stunning proclamation considering he may expose himself to Wilder’s destructive power.
“It’s a bold move, that’s for sure, but we fight fire with fire,” Fury said. “I’ve never lost a dogfight before. I’m working on my 21st knockout victim, and it would be lovely to have a 6-foot-7, 21st knockout victim on my record.”
Much has changed since their first bout. Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) signed a $100 million contract with Top Rank and ESPN, and fought twice more in Las Vegas — earning an easy knockout over Tom Schwarz in June 2019 and surviving a bad cut over his eye that would require 47 stitches to decision Otto Wallin last September. Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs), meanwhile, easily knocked out Dominic Breazeale and was down on points when he stopped Luis Ortiz in their rematch last September.
Fury has changed trainers for the rematch, switching from Ben Davidson to Javan “Sugarhill” Steward, the nephew of legendary Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward.
“What I did last time clearly wasn’t good enough, so we had to change and look for the knockout,” said Fury, who is looking to be more technical and more aggressive.
There is plenty at stake for both fighters.
“We’ve both got a lot to lose: 12-year undefeated records, reputations, careers,” Fury said. “This is a defining career fight me. This will decide the best boxer of our era for sure.”