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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Tyson Fury won more than a title in his epic duel against Deontay Wilder

British fighter has fought back from the brink of self-destruction and has inspired other sufferers of mental-health problems, while on a boxing level he proved his pedigree

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder embrace after their WBC world heavyweight title fight in Los Angeles on Saturday. Reuters
Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder embrace after their WBC world heavyweight title fight in Los Angeles on Saturday. Reuters

In the end, it wasn't meant to be. Not quite anyway. Tyson Fury was tantalisingly close – two minutes and 20 seconds to be exact – to the fairy-tale ending his remarkable comeback to heavyweight prizefighting deserved.

That was how much time was left of his absorbing WBC world title clash with Deontay Wilder when the American's flattening power delivered once again, leaving Fury sprawled on his back. Referee Jack Reiss began his 10 count, more out of necessity than anything else: Fury was not getting up, Wilder began his shoulder shuffling celebration safe in the knowledge all of his previous opponents were unable to climb off the canvas after receiving similarly brutal treatment.

Wilder would then soak up the applause and adulation, sling the belt over his shoulder and head back to Alabama realising that he had scraped through this one by the narrowest of margins.

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Instead, against all logic, Fury bolted upright – like Dracula rising out of a coffin in an old black-and-white movie – stumbled to his feet and beat the count by one second. Not only did the British fighter survive the rest of the round, but he even went on the offensive.

As the final bell rang, everyone – including it seemed Wilder – thought Fury had done more than enough to win on the scorecards, his vastly superior work over the previous rounds, barring the ninth when he also hit the deck, rewarded with a raised arm and a return to world-champion status. That is, everyone but one judge who ludicrously gave a wide decision to Wilder, ensuring the American fortuitously earned a split draw to retain his belt.

Cue much outrage among the boxing community, with the likes of former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and former welterweight champion and now prominent analyst Paulie Malignaggi vocal in their disgust.

Granted, from the perspective of most onlookers, Fury was indeed denied a deserved victory – his trainer Ben Davison said post-fight that he felt "sick and gutted" by the result – but when the dust settles on this epic duel and its subsequent controversy, Fury should realise the magnitude of his achievement arguably outweighs the elusive title.

Fury's battles with mental-health problems have been well-documented in recent years, while his disregard for his physical health was evident as he tipped the scales at more than 400lbs during his 30-month absence from the ring. He entered the ring just over 250lbs, representing the weight-loss equivalent of a fight-ready welterweight.

Fury has openly spoken about hitting rock bottom, when his mind was often dominated with thoughts of suicide, and it was those who continue to suffer from similar mental-health problems he was hoping to inspire on Saturday night. That he is sure to have done, and then some, with the public perception of Fury a complete contrast to the one that campaigned for him to be banned from an awards ceremony following his career-defining win over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.

But even when reflecting on Saturday night from a purely boxing perspective, Fury will know that he remains the man to beat in the heavyweight division. After two-and-a-half years out and with two tune-up fights against woeful opposition, the British fighter proceeded to box the ears off the longest-reigning current world champion. Imagine what Fury will be capable of another year down the road, when he will still be only 31 years old?

Unless an immediate rematch is arranged, Fury's attention is sure to turn to compatriot Anthony Joshua – the champion in possession of the other world titles. Would Joshua fancy risking it all against Fury, possibly as early as April? Only he can answer that, but Fury proved on Saturday night that there is still plenty left in the tank, and his return to the upper reaches of heavyweight boxing is a welcome sight.

But beyond boxing, if Fury's achievements in recovering from the brink can inspire just one person, then that is worth more than any title.

Updated: December 3, 2018 02:14 PM

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