By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) -Tyson Fury retained his WBC heavyweight title on Saturday when he sent Deontay Wilder to the canvas for a third time with a vicious right hand to the head in the 11th round at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The enthralling slugfest was more competitive than many expected but still ended as most predicted, with the Briton outboxing the American to remain the undefeated lineal champion.
After losing the WBC belt to Fury 20 months ago in a one-sided bout, Wilder was the aggressor early, using his jab to back up the larger Fury while seizing on every opportunity to throw his powerful right hand.
Fury weathered the early storm and knocked Wilder down in the third round with a short uppercut but the American responded in the fourth, knocking Fury down twice with shots to the head from close range.
But like he did when he was knocked down in the 12th round of their first meeting, Fury absorbed the punishment and picked himself up.
From there, Fury took control and bludgeoned Wilder, knocking him off his feet in the 10th round before ending the brutal affair with a clean right hand to the side of his head that sent Wilder face-first into the canvas.
Although down on the score cards, the fight never felt completely out of reach for Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs) due to his right hand but the defensive-minded Fury mostly managed to avoid it.
With the win, Fury (31-0-1) has now taken two of the three meetings between the rivals after the first fight ended in a draw and Fury dominated the second.
“It was a great fight tonight, it was worthy of any trilogy in the history of the sport,” Fury said on Saturday.
“Deontay Wilder’s a top fighter, he gave me a real run for my money. I always said I’m the best in the world and he’s second best.”
Fury serenaded the crowd after the bout with a rendition of “Walking in Memphis.”
The battered Wilder reportedly went to hospital immediately after the fight.
DOUBTS ON READINESS SETTLED
Before the fight, which was moved from its original July 24 date after Fury contracted COVID-19, there were questions about Fury’s readiness.
Fury and wife Paris welcomed a baby girl nearly two months ago but she had to be placed into the hospital’s intensive care unit. He said he spent two weeks by her side before she came home but insisted he was in excellent condition.
“Don’t ever doubt me. When the chips are down, I can always deliver,” Fury said.
It is unclear what is next for Fury.
Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk holds the other three titles and the winner of a fight between the two would lead to the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis 21 years ago.
That fight may have to wait, however, as Britain’s Anthony Joshua earlier in the day triggered his clause for a rematch against Usyk, who defeated him last month to take the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts.
“We’ll see. I’ve just earned a well-earned break from everything. I’ve been away from me family, I’ve only been home for two weeks over the past six months,” he told a press conference.
“Before I think about fighting other men, I’m going to bask in this victory because this tonight was one of my greatest wins.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)