Tyson Fury was denied one of the greatest comebacks in history when his WBC heavyweight title fight against Deontay Wilder at the Staples Center in Los Angeles was scored a draw.
Despite two heavy knockdowns, a victory greater than even that over Wladimir Klitschko and after only 14 rounds following over two-and-a-half traumatic years of inactivity was prevented by harsh scores of 115-111, 112-114 and 113-113, despite him impressively outboxing the champion, who retains his title.
Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) was first knocked down in the ninth, and again in the 12th when he appeared out cold, but he returned to his feet and recovered enough to survive to the final bell.
If Wilder's (40-0-1, 39KOs) explosive power already posed a significant threat, the biggest question surrounding Fury's chances was whether he had truly recovered from that period, in which he admitted to taking cocaine, becoming suicidal and lived to such excess he reached an estimated 27 stone.
The answer to that ultimately became clear when, even as their fight progressed into the dangerous final rounds, he somehow performed with the same sharpness that inspired his memorable victory over Klitschko, even recovering from the second knockdown to end their fight on top.
An affair that was expected to be cagey instead produced 12 thrilling rounds that made a rematch inevitable even before the scores were announced.
They are likely to fight again next spring, when Fury would become the favourite, posing a greater threat to Anthony Joshua's status as the world's leading heavyweight.
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Sky Bet Boxing Odds
- Wilder v Fury potential rematch: Wilder 11/10, Fury 8/11, draw 25/1
- Wilder v Joshua: Wilder 15/8, Joshua 4/9, draw 28/1
- Fury v Joshua: Fury 6/5, Joshua 4/6, draw 28/1
- Click here to place your bets
Fury, who can be backed at 8/11 with Sky Bet to win the rematch (Wilder 11/10, draw 25/1), said: "We're on away soil, I got knocked down twice but I still believe I won the fight and I believe every man in here thought I won that fight tonight.
"But I'm showing total professionalism here, I'm a true champion and a true warrior. I went to Germany to fight Klitschko, I've come to America to fight Deontay Wilder. Bless Deontay Wilder, he's a top fighting man.
"I was never going to be knocked out tonight. I got put down with some good shots, I showed good heart to get up. I came here tonight and I fought my heart out."
Fury believes he and Wilder are the two best fighters in the blue riband division, pointedly sending a message to British rival - and IBF, WBA and WBO beltholder - Anthony Joshua.
Fury added: "We'll do the rematch but we're going to go away, recalculate, see what's going to happen. We are two great champions. Never mind an anybody, me and this man here are the two greatest heavyweights on the planet.
"I stepped up after the amount of time I had out the ring, there's another certain heavyweight out there. (He's a) chicken - Joshua, where are you AJ?"
Wilder thought he had done enough to see his hand raised, saying in the ring afterwards: "I think with the two knockdowns I definitely won the fight.
"We poured our hearts out tonight, we're both warriors, we both went head-to-head but with those two drops I feel I won the fight. I didn't think he had control of the fight, I think I let out just as much as he did, I wasn't hurt."
Wilder felt he was too eager to grab the knockout, adding on BT Sport: "I was rushing my punches, that's something I usually don't do. Tonight I couldn't let it go tonight, I was forcing my punches instead of just staying patient and just waiting on it.
"All the build up for the fight, I wanted to really get him out of there and give the fans what they wanted to see.
"It was just a simple fact that I was rushing my punches. When I rush my punches like that they never land and I'm never accurate. The rematch, I guarantee, I'm going to get him."
In front of a 17,698-strong attendance, both fighters entertained from the opening bell when they both threw threatening punches and Wilder landed a hurtful right as they briefly fought toe-to-toe.
Demonstrating his confidence with early periods of showboating, Fury often became the more consistent aggressor and while resisting occasional powerful punches he also made the world's most dangerous puncher swing and miss.
The champion began to fall short with jabs, and watched Fury comfortably take a left uppercut as he pursued the knockout while his left eye began to swell.
Fury was gradually building a convincing lead into the fight's second half as he landed with several straight rights, even when Wilder's occasional successes looked the more hurtful.
The final four were always going to be the most threatening when he tired and his reflexes may have waned, and so it gradually proved when after taking a left-right combination, a right hand to the back of the head knocked him to the canvas.
Fury had twice previously recovered from knockdowns to remain undefeated, and this time the 30-year-old fought back and stuck out his tongue in a sign of his self-belief.
Further success in the 10th round when he landed with both lefts and rights and hurt Wilder, 33, again gave him the momentum when it became increasingly clear the champion was running out of time.
He resiliently then retained his title when, despite his exhaustion, a big right sent Fury tumbling and a further left secured so heavy a knockdown his admirable challenge seemed over.
The Briton instead survived as the tired Wilder struggled to force another attack and the stoppage, meaning an immediate rematch will be next.
It was after the unprecedented high of his victory over Klitschko that Fury fell into the darkest period of his life. This performance showed he has convincingly recovered from that, and he may even again prove the best heavyweight in the world.
Fury's promoter Frank Warren thought his charge was out for the count in the 12th but felt he had done enough to earn the nod from the judges.
"I didn't think he was going to get up. And after he got up, Fury was pushing him back. He's a natural born fighter," Warren told BT Sport Box Office.
"It's a draw but everybody knows he won it. We all know that and we'll make the rematch.
"How can after a fight like this there not be a rematch? It's a draw and unfinished business. They're both still undefeated. He won that fight tonight, everybody knows it. We'll do our best to get it back on again.
"In Britain that's an 80,000 job, there's no doubt about that. Everybody's going to come to see that in the UK. Vegas will be drooling over this. When did you last see a great heavyweight fight in the USA? When was the last time?
"Tyson and Deontay have livened this division up."
Fury's trainer Ben Davison was disconsolate following the decision, telling BT Sport Box Office: "They have just taken away the biggest comeback in sports history. You have to be a sick, sick man to do that."
Lennox Lewis led the condemnation of the judges as he said in his role as a pundit for BT Sport: "They need to get some good judges, these judges were terrible."
Former heavyweight champion Frank Bruno tweeted: "Daylight robbery.
"Massive respect to @Tyson_Fury he's a champ, a phenomenal comeback I've never shouted so much at a tv, be proud you've brought so much excitement to British boxing tonight congratulations your a winner in my eyes & the rest of the UK."
Former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said on Twitter: As a sportsman what @Tyson_Fury has done tonight must be respected. What he has been through in his personal life, to put in a performance like that."
Despite the controversial outcome, the effort of both fighters was praised, with LeBron James tweeting: "Man that was the funniest/craziest fight I've ever seen in my life."