LOS ANGELES -- When Tyson Fury seemingly rose from the dead following a vicious knockdown by Deontay Wilder in the 12th round as if he were The Undertaker in a WWE match, he not only etched an indelible image in the minds of everyone watching but he resurrected the heavyweight division in the process.
Saturday's Wilder-Fury match for the WBC heavyweight championship was already arguably the most anticipated heavyweight championship fight in over 15 years, but the maligned division could have easily gone back to where it was if Wilder finished Fury early and once again forced everyone to pine for a match between Wilder and Anthony Joshua, which we may never see.
Instead, Fury showed there is much more to the division than Wilder and Joshua. He reminded everyone why he became the lineal heavyweight champion three years ago after defeating Wladimir Klitschko and was still undefeated. In just his third fight back in over three years, he not only infused a new people's champion into the division but new life.
For the first time since Lennox Lewis fought Vitali Klitschko at Staples Center in 2003, there was a heavyweight championship fight on American soil that everyone wanted to see.
On a day when Alabama played Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, Texas played Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game and Ohio State played Northwestern in the Big 10 Championship Game, among other championship games, more money had been bet on the Wilder-Fury fight than had been wagered on any college football game at William Hill's Nevada sportsbooks.
The seats around the ring at Staples Center were filled with athletes and celebrities such as Shaquille O'Neal, Floyd Mayweather, Michael Strahan, Michael Irvin, Jerry West, William H. Macy, Hayden Penetierre and Vinnie Jones. There was also a strong mix of former heavyweight greats such as Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Buster Douglas, Gerry Cooney, Earnie Shavers and Michael Spinks, who wanted to see the rebirth of the heavyweight division in person.
"I was the last (heavyweight) champion from the United States but when I lost the decision to Lennox, it seemed like boxing started falling off," Holyfield said. "When you no longer have an amateur program everything starts fading. At one point in time, every big guy was from the United States because we had a very good amateur program."
With the resurgence of the amateur program and the rise of Wilder's popularity, the heavyweight division is back to a place of prominence where casual fans are now clamoring for a rematch next year between Wilder and Fury and will be demanding to see the winner face Joshua after that. If fans in England would stop selling out Wembley Stadium to see Joshua face B-list fighters and demand that mega fight, we might just see it happen at some point next year.
"This energized the division hugely," said boxing promoter Lou DiBella. "The top of this division is super high quality for the first time in a long, long time. There's an American heavyweight champion that people can be proud of and there's two guys over in Great Britain who are great champions. I'm not denigrating anybody but I think both (Wilder and Fury) could beat (Joshua). It was just a great night for the heavyweight division.
"You know the old saying, 'so goes the heavyweight division, so goes boxing,' well, tonight was a great night for boxing. The heavyweights are back in the picture and we have a great American heavyweight champion... The future of boxing is brighter because the heavyweight division right now is vibrant."
While the split decision draw wasn't the result either fighter wanted, it was a fight where fans of both fighters left as the real winners. Not only did they see one of the best fights of the year and one of the most miraculous recoveries from a knockdown ever, but they did so with the knowledge that a rematch will take place in the not-too-distant future. It's a fight that not only once again puts Fury among the best heavyweights in the world but allows Wilder to start thinking about how his next two fights could potentially propel him to the superstardom some of the former heavyweight greats sitting ringside enjoyed.
"It puts me amongst them but there's still a lot of work to be done and I'm still building," Wilder said. "I think boxing fans and fans in general they hold us to high expectations because people are always dwelling and living in the past, they can't move on from the past, but we can make the future and the present better."
After the fight, Fury smiled and grabbed his crotch when someone asked how he got up from that knockdown. Moments later, he channeled his inner "Gladiator" and yelled at the assembled press," Are you not entertained?" He finished his news conference with a rousing rendition of "American Pie." It was the culmination of one of the more entertaining fight build-ups in recent heavyweight history.
"I enjoyed every second of it," Wilder said. "Two men tried their hardest and fought their guts out. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did and I'm sure we're going to put on a great show in the second fight."
No one knows when the rematch will take place, but whoever wins that fight will want to face Joshua, who currently holds the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles, and finally unify the heavyweight championship. That will be the final step in bringing the heavyweight division back to where it was when everyone in the world knew who the heavyweight champion was.
"I would love to go for the other titles," Wilder said. "I've always talked about having one champion, one face, one name. I've always wanted to unify the division. I feel the one who unifies the division will bring back boxing."