LAS VEGAS -- Perhaps on paper the unknown and untested Otto Wallin looked like a second consecutive soft touch for lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but it turned out nothing could have been further from the truth.
Fury had to overcome a tremendously spirited effort from Wallin and two horrendous cuts over his right eye in a memorable rumble before 8,249 in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Fury won 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112, but it was a dogfight all the way with palpable drama because it seemed as though the fight could have been stopped at any time due to the severity of the cuts. ESPN also scored the fight 116-112 for Fury.
"It was a good performance. I got a good 12 rounds in," Fury said. "It was a great fight. I got cut [in the third round] on the eyelid and [it] changed the fight completely. I couldn't see out of the eye, and there was a lot of [head] clashes. I am the 'Gypsy Warrior,' and this is Mexican Independence Day! Viva Mexico!"
Fury retained the lineal title for the fifth time and did his part to fight his way into a rematch with titlist Deontay Wilder, but it was not supposed to be nearly this tough against Wallin, a 30-to-1 underdog looking to pull an upset that would have been even bigger than the one Andy Ruiz Jr. engineered on June 1 when he knocked out Anthony Joshua to take his three title belts.
In June, Fury kicked off his nine-figure Top Rank/ESPN contract by blowing away then-undefeated, unknown and untested German Tom Schwarz in the second round in Fury's Las Vegas debut. The "Gypsy King" was expected to do the same against an equally unknown, undefeated and untested Wallin, but instead Fury got perhaps the toughest fight of his career.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum praised Fury's fortitude.
"Once the referee ruled the cut was from a blow, it means if the fight was stopped he would have lost," Arum said. "He fought back with the blood, a lot of blood. I thought it was a great performance and a terrific fight. We knew the Swede wasn't a quitter. He was a hell of a fighter. And Fury is a real warrior."
Tyson Fury congratulates Otto Wallin on a competitive fight after his victory, then calls out Deontay Wilder for his next match. For more Top Rank Boxing action, sign up for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/.
Wallin elevated his career despite the loss and was humble in defeat.
"I did everything I could. I tried my best, and Tyson is a great champion," Wallin said. "[The way I fought] tells me that no one can question my heart or question that I am a good fighter."
Fury gave Wallin credit for a performance that pushed him to the brink, and even saluted Wallin's father, Carl, who died in May.
"Congrats to Otto -- and God bless his father and let him rest in peace," Fury said. "He would be very proud of Otto's performance. The Viking Warrior!"
Wallin got Fury's attention with a left hand midway through the first round and forced him back. He did not seem undone by the moment. Instead, he was poised and moving forward, although it was hard for him to get inside Fury's long jab.
Fury, boxing for the fifth time in just 15 months following a 31-month layoff dealing with myriad personal problems, turned to a southpaw stance in the second round. When he returned to a right-handed stance, he began to land punches, including a right hand that forced Wallin back.
Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) suffered a cut over his right eye late in the third round that referee Tony Weeks ruled was from a punch.
Wallin (20-1, 13 KOs), a 6-foot-5½ southpaw, had a good fourth round against a seemingly agitated Fury, who was talking to him as blood streamed down the side of his face from what had become two cuts. Fury was clearly unnerved by the cuts, as he continually dabbed his eye in the fifth round, during which Wallin nailed him with a right hand that shook Fury, and then he followed up with a left.
Wallin also tried to target Fury's wound.
"I tried to hit it even more," he said. "I know it was a punch that did it. I was happy that he was cut, but I wish I could have put more pressure on it."
Weeks called timeout late in the fifth round to have the ringside doctor examine Fury's worsening cuts. When the fight resumed there was urgency from Fury, who tried to go for a knockout and was met by a Wallin who was ready to brawl.
The 6-foot-9 Fury seemed to have lost any semblance of a game plan in the seventh round. Instead, he just marched to Wallin, 28, of Sweden, looking to get him out of there because of the urgency over the cuts. He sent Wallin into the ropes with a long right hand and then another, but Wallin fired back and tied him up.
"It is all heart and determination," Fury said of getting through so many tough rounds. "If I can keep going, I will keep going. He's a tough guy. I hit him with some chin shots and some body shots, and he kept coming. He [was] undefeated, but tonight I was the man."
Fury, 31, of England, nailed Wallin with a right uppercut that forced him to the ropes in the eighth round. Blood continued to stream down Fury's face, turning the white part of his trunks pink.
By the end of the ninth round, Wallin's left eye was swollen, and black and blue. Fury opened the 10th round with a sustained flurry that hurt Wallin repeatedly and had him sagging along the ropes. He continued to unload, landing numerous punches, especially clean right hands, that were breaking down Wallin, yet Wallin somehow made it to the end of the round.
Fury continued to pound Wallin in the 11th round, finding time to dab at the massive amount of blood coming from his cuts between landing punches to the head and body.
Wallin landed a clean left hand to open the 12th round and put a few punches together that seemed to hurt Fury, who grabbed onto him. Fury then backed up to stay away from the left hand and also wiped blood from his eye as they rumbled to the final bell of an outstanding fight.
According to CompuBox statistics, Fury landed 179 of 651 punches (28%), and Wallin landed 127 of 334 (38%). Wallin landed more punches against Fury than any opponent in 15 of his fights tracked by CompuBox.
The fight was critical for Fury because he already has signed for the rematch with Wilder, which is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 22 in Las Vegas. Wilder still has to do his part, which is make it through a rematch with Luis "King Kong" Ortiz. That fight has not been officially announced but is ticketed for Nov. 23, also in Las Vegas.
Fury, who was guaranteed $12.5 million to Wallin's guarantee of more than $1 million, clearly took his training for the fight seriously. He came in at 254.4 pounds, nine pounds lighter than he was against Schwarz and the lightest he has been since he was 247 when he outpointed Wladimir Klitschko in a massive upset to become lineal champion and also win three major sanctioning body belts in 2015.
During the lead-up to the fight with Wallin, Fury declined to speak much about the prospect of a rematch with Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs), whom he fought to a heavily disputed draw on Dec. 1 in Los Angeles in a fight in which Wilder scored two knockdowns but was also outboxed for long stretches.
With Wallin out of the way, however, Fury was happy to talk about it, seemingly almost relieved.
"Deontay Wilder, I want you next, bum! It is all preparation," Fury said. "I had a long time out of the ring, [but] next is the big boy, the big 'Bronze Bomber' on Feb. 22."