There are a handful of unforgettable moments that are seared forever into the minds of boxing fans.
There is a discombobulated Mike Tyson on all fours grasping for his mouthpiece and trying to shove it back in before he is counted out in his monumental upset loss to Buster Douglas.
There is Sugar Ray Leonard pouring it on and finishing Thomas Hearns, who is draped along the ropes in the 14th round of their magnificent first fight.
There is 45-year-old George Foreman landing the shortest right hand you’ve ever seen to knock out Michael Moorer in the 10th round to regain the heavyweight championship almost 20 years to the day after he lost it to Muhammad Ali.
And then there’s heavyweight world titlist Deontay Wilder flattening lineal champion Tyson Fury with a massive right hand-left hook combination early in the 12th round, leaving Fury motionless on the canvas, seemingly knocked into another dimension — until, amazingly, he beats the count and finishes the fight.
The Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury rematch takes place at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN+ PPV and features two of the best unbeaten heavyweights. Wilder, the WBC titleholder, takes on lineal champion Fury in the main event. The four-fight card also includes Emanuel Navarrete defending his title against Jeo Tupas Santisima.
Order Wilder-Fury II on ESPN+ PPV now
Wilder-Fury II ESPN+ PPV
• Early prelims: ESPN App, Fox Sports App, 5 p.m. ET
• Prelims Part 1: ESPNEWS, Fox Sports 1, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Prelims Part 2: ESPN, Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET
• Main card: Available on PPV via major cable and satellite providers, Fox Sports App and ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET
It was Dec. 1, 2018, and a worldwide audience had already seen an excellent fight. Fury had outboxed Wilder for long stretches, but Wilder, the sport’s most devastating puncher — and perhaps the best puncher of all time — knocked Fury down in the ninth round. Then he seemingly knocked Fury out in the final round before Fury miraculously rose from the mat. Once the bell rang at the end of the 12th, judges ruled it a controversial split draw: 114-112 for Fury, 115-111 Wilder and 113-113.
Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs), 34, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs), 31, of England, who have each won two fights since their previous encounter, will meet again Saturday (ESPN+ PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in what is easily the biggest fight of the 2020 schedule so far.
Told to ESPN by those involved, this is the story of the moment that made this fight possible: the unforgettable 12th round of Wilder-Fury I.
Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for clarity.
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When the fight resumed, Wilder went into all-out attack mode in an effort to finish Fury, cornering him and landing several heavy shots. But Fury survived and roared back, even stunning Wilder with a right hand. Fury seemed to have cleared the cobwebs from the knockdown, as he was bouncing on his toes and even put his hands behind his back and taunted Wilder with 80 seconds left. As the 10-second warning sounded, Fury was bouncing up and down, and Wilder missed with a big right hand and a left hook at the final bell. They each raised their arms, believing they had won. Fury climbed the ring post, Wilder hugged Deas, and Wilder and Fury eventually had a long embrace before the scores were read.
Davison: I know that Wilder’s a formidable finisher, so I’m assessing Tyson and trying to take every little detail in that I can in that last round. I remember a massive left hook landing, and I thought, “Oh, do I need to take action here?”
Deas: Deontay hit him with some shots and backed him up to the ropes and threw an overhand right, and it missed by mere centimeters. It wasn’t that Fury dodged it. It was just that Deontay was just a hair — and I mean a hair — short on the punch. If it had landed, Fury would have fallen right on his face, and it would have been over.
Fury: The referee was nowhere near stopping the fight. I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t hurt at all. Even when he caught me, after he knocked me down, I wasn’t shook up. I wasn’t even hurt. It was like I was bulletproof. The shots were ricocheting off me.
Davison: I remember shouting out to Tyson and saying, “Grab hold of him. Whatever the ref’s doing, it doesn’t matter. Do not let him go!”
Deas: Deontay missed the shot, and Fury grabbed him, and when he grabbed him, I thought, “Man, there went our moment. We were on the verge of finishing this thing, but now he’s found a way to get through this moment.” I was so hopeful. I thought a real significant moment was that moment right there.
Wilder: I didn’t know how much time was on the clock. We were just giving them a show. I’m finishing strong, as I was instructed.
Reiss: Any time there’s a hard knockdown, where I believe a guy has taken a good shot, when they get up, I change my distance. I stay very close to the action so I can jump in because the percentages are the guy is going to get knocked out. So if you watch it again, you’ll see that instead of being 5, 6 feet away, I was right on top of the action.
Referee Jack Reiss, right, follows the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury action closely in the last moments of the fight. Philip Pacheco/Getty Images
I wasn’t thinking about stopping it. Fury was in full control of his body. He was blocking shots. When a fighter is in trouble, he can do a bunch of things. He can run, hold, take a knee, fight back, bob and weave. The best thing a guy can do for me is run to get the buzz out of his head. If a guy doesn’t have his legs, I want him to hold. Tyson moved and held. That told me he was totally conscious of what was going on and trying to survive. Guess what? Twenty or 30 seconds later, Wilder was out of gas from punching him.
Deas: Once Fury did the thing with his hands behind his back, I thought that was completely a mind thing, trying to convince Deontay he was back when I didn’t think he was back. I thought we still had a chance for a knockout, but every moment that goes by, Fury is getting a little more clear-headed, in particular when he started firing back. When he’s kind of punching between Deontay’s punches and somehow is regaining his senses to the point where he’s problem-solving, which is the thing you look for with somebody in that situation. I’m thinking I know we got a 10-8 here. I know we got a 10-8 in the ninth. I thought we won the early rounds. I felt really good about it. I thought this was more cementing a victory than salvaging a draw.
Fury: I remember hitting him with some good shots in Round 12. I had him shook up, and that’s it. The bell sounded, and I immediately ran around the ring celebrating because me and probably the rest of the world thought I won the fight. I acted like a professional after the fight. It was what it was. Deontay Wilder didn’t do anything wrong. He’d done everything he needed to do, and that’s it.
Wilder: We were just telling each other “great fight,” telling each other we love each other. He was telling me thank you. He was thanking me for the opportunity and different things like that. It was all love.
Davison: That 12th round alone has inspired millions of people across the world in terms of Tyson telling his story [about taking time off to address his mental health] and saying if you get knocked down, you’ve always got to get back up and keep fighting. It’s OK saying that, but it’s another thing showing it, and then there’s showing it at an elite level, like he did in the 12th round.
Deas: There’s no question Tyson Fury is a tremendous fighter and has tremendous resolve and heart to be able to get up from that shot — not just get up but to be able to get up and somehow work his way back into the round. He’s everything we thought that he was. He’s a real, real great fighter. That’s something we knew anyway, but he showed it. He proved that he’s one of the two best heavyweights in the world today. I think you just have to give Fury the credit and say he did something remarkable, and he’s a remarkable fighter.
Reiss: Amazing. The only word I can say. Fury truly has an unbelievable heart. He displayed the human spirit that everyone comes to see boxing for — someone taking a licking and keeps on ticking and refuses to quit. Getting off the mat like that was a really significant moment in boxing history.