Tyson Fury kept up his side of the bargain Saturday night in Las Vegas, taking care of business with a unanimous decision victory over Otto Wallin, despite the scare of a bad cut early in his fight, to retain boxing's lineal heavyweight championship.
His attention, along with that of the entire boxing world, now turns to Deontay Wilder and the megafight heavily rumored for early 2020.
There's plenty to talk about after a fight that was far closer than most would have thought, from how his team handled the cut and the strategy thereafter, to what it tells us leading into the rematch with Wilder. ESPN's boxing experts run through the biggest and most pressing questions Fury faces after Saturday night's victory over Wallin.
What went wrong with Tyson Fury's gameplan?
Kim: Some credit should be given to Wallin, who for the first half of the fight proved to be a very difficult and elusive target for Fury to find. Fury looked uncharacteristically out of sync inside the ring and was pressing early on. Maybe Wallin was just a bit better than everyone expected.
But early on, Fury was certainly uncomfortable with the southpaw style of Wallin, and he wasn't necessarily outboxing him. Sometime in the middle of the fight, Fury made the decision that he wasn't going to box and finesse from the outside, and instead step to Wallin and lean on him, while throwing consistent body shots. It was very reminiscent of his outing against Steve Cunningham in 2013, where he was down in the second round and had fits with the speed of the American, who was a natural cruiserweight.
In that fight, Fury decided to use his size advantage and made that fight a phone booth battle, and he wore Cunningham down in seven rounds. Wallin, who has legitimate heavyweight girth, was much more durable and saw it out to the distance.
Based on his last two fights, can Fury win the rematch against Wilder?
Rafael: Of course he can. Fury was just a few months into a comeback after 31 months out of the ring (and two low-level tune-up fights) when he easily outboxed Wilder for long stretches of their fight. Since then he has gotten in better shape, had two more training camps and two more fights. He figures to be a lot sharper in the rematch, so there's no reason to think he can't fight better and perhaps avoid the knockdowns he suffered in the first time.
Kim: Many will perhaps overreact and say that based on the tougher-than-expected victory over a game Wallin that Wilder is now the clear favorite in the rematch. But remember this: styles make fights.
Wallin is a southpaw, while Wilder is an orthodox boxer. They couldn't be more opposite in style and temperament inside the ring. You'd have to think that Fury will approach the rematch with Wilder much differently than he did tonight's fight.
Truth to be told, though, this was not one of Fury's best nights. He got an unexpectedly tough battle from an underdog who didn't go by the script. That being said, the biggest mistake that we can make on fight night is to be a prisoner of the moment and forget how Fury and Wilder's first battle last December played out.
Parkinson: Fury showed he is capable of beating Wilder when they fought to a split draw last December, and two wins over limited opposition since tells us nothing new about Fury.
Fury was expected to beat Wallin. His last two fights were purely designed to keep him active and boost his U.S. profile, while he waits for the Wilder rematch (reportedly set for February). The Wallin performance showed us Fury has good physical fitness, mentally strong, and ready for Wilder.
Can the lineal champion be sharp and stay away from Wilder's big punches? That is up for debate.
What does beating Wallin actually do for Fury? Is he the best of the big four heavyweights (along with Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr.) right now?
Rafael: The fight gave Fury the benefit of another training camp and another fight to sharpen up. And this is also no small matter -- he made about $12.5 million for the fight, which is not insignificant. I still rate Wilder ahead of No. 2 Fury. Wilder didn't have a long layoff like Fury and has overall faced better opposition since Fury's layoff.
Kim: Well, in the big picture, not much, to be honest. But Fury and his trainer, Ben Davison, mentioned at the fighter meeting on Thursday afternoon with the ESPN crew that there was an importance in getting into training camps, in order to continue to sharpen their tools in the gym. Beating the likes of Tom Schwarz and now Wallin is something that was expected of Fury (who came into both bouts as the huge favorite), but based on his past inactivity and propensity to blow up in weight, just being in camp is vital for Fury.
As for who's the best of the four heavyweights mentioned above, that remains to be seen. Everyone can have their opinion, and in the upcoming months you will see a couple of important heavyweight fights taking place to finish out the year.
After Joshua and Ruiz have their rematch, and Wilder presumably takes on Luis Ortiz, Wilder and Fury are hopeful to meet in February.
For several rounds on Saturday, we were left to wonder if Fury-Wilder II was going to be expunged from the upcoming boxing schedule. Now, who's the best heavyweight in the world? I still say it's Fury, but a more definitive answer can be given after their rematch. Like Larry Merchant says, "There's a reason why you fight the fights."
Parkinson: Beating Wallin keeps Fury at No. 2, but due to the quality and ranking of Wallin does not elevate him above the division's No. 1 and WBC titleholder Wilder, in my opinion. Wallin is not even ranked in the top 20 in Europe, so this win does nothing to improve Fury's status.
Fury's draw with Wilder, which many thought he deserved to win, puts him ahead of WBA-IBF-WBO champion Ruiz, who stopped Fury's fellow Briton Joshua in seven rounds in June. I had Joshua as heavyweight king until the upset, and he has now toppled to my No. 4.
Do you think Fury should step aside to allow Wilder to face Ruiz like Wilder suggested?
Rafael: Absolutely not. He has a signed contract for the rematch. That is what the fans want to see and the fight that Fury wants. This is pretty simple and, frankly, idle talk from Wilder in my view.
Kim: No, absolutely not. Last I checked, his concern was his own career and not Wilder.
When Fury was asked about Wilder's comments about this at the fighter meeting, he was very clear in his answer: "I'm not willing to step aside for anybody, because money's one thing but we've got something to set straight, y'know. I believe I won the fight, he believes he got a draw -- we're going to set that straight."
Parkinson: Absolutely not. Fury deserves the rematch after dominating Wilder for periods in December. Wilder needs to assert his authority on the division after the draw with Fury before going for the unification fight.
The timeline, if the cut heals properly, allows for a rematch, too. Ruiz will not be ready to fight Wilder in early 2020 if he beats Joshua. A fight against Ruiz or Joshua will happen later in 2020 (if it happens), allowing Wilder to face Fury. Wilder would face criticism for ducking Fury, the only opponent to deny him victory, for another opponent in 2020.
Did Tyson Fury and his team adjust appropriately after the cut?
Kim: Well, that's hard to say, as none of us our doctors and there are certain cuts that are difficult, or even impossible, to stem. This seemed to be one of the latter type, and the stream of blood was consistent throughout the night from the gash on Fury's right eye.
Round after round, you could see the gobs of Vaseline on Fury's eye, but as soon as a punch was landed or Wallin would rub the laces of his glove over the cut, the crimson tide would resume. Boxing is a tough game, cuts are a part of the sport. The corner did the best they could, and Fury overcame adversity the way you expect from a world class fighter.
What impact will the cut have on the presumptive Feb. 22 rematch date against Wilder?
Kim: This wont be known until Fury goes through a full examination of that injury. At the very least, he will be put under medical suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for a few months. The cut was significant, no doubt, but five months is a long time to heal.
And we've seen countless of other examples where fighters suffer significant cuts, go through medical procedures, recover for a few months and then get back to fighting. Every boxer understands that this is an occupational risk of this profession.
Does Wallin deserve another big fight after his performance against Fury?
Kim: Just like there are never enough good left handed arms in baseball, there are never enough good, solid heavyweights in boxing. Tonight, Wallin showed that he is respectable and earned a great deal of credibility in putting up the effort he did versus Fury. He is now a relevant figure within the division for the foreseeable future, and he showed that not only is he far from hapless, but he's downright competent, with a degree of athleticism and plenty of heart and toughness.
Many observers were expecting a one-sided blowout, like the one they saw back in June when Fury handled Schwarz. But Wallin boxed with a certain composure and wasn't overwhelmed by the moment in the least. While the fight slipped away from him in the second half, he not only survived all 12 rounds, he actually buzzed Fury in the last round.
Based on tonight's effort, wouldn't you want to see him in there versus the likes of Adam Kownacki, Dillian Whyte, Oleksandr Usky or a Jarrell Miller?
For Wallin, there is winning in losing.
Who do you think Emanuel Navarrete will fight next?
Kim: Navarrete, who made two title defenses in less than a month, is a fighter with great momentum. But he mentioned to the ESPN crew a couple of days ago that his days at 122 were quickly coming to an end. His lankly 5-foot-7 frame isn't going to be able to make the junior featherweight limit much longer. And Navarrete says with that limited time he has remaining in this weight class, he would like to focus on unification bouts.
Danny Roman, who has the WBA and IBF belts, still has to deal with his WBA mandatory down the line in Murodjon Akhmadaliev, but WBC belt-holder Rey Vargas was here tonight at T-Mobile Arena watching Navarrete. This is the bout to make.
Parkinson: It would be great to see Navarrete progress to a unification fight, perhaps against his Mexican rival Rey Vargas or American Danny Roman. Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux, 38, a former world champion, still stalks the division, but would be a dangerous fight and a surprise choice. Most likely is that Navarrete faces another boxer from the Philippines, as Marlon Tapales is No. 1 and Albert Pagara is No. 3 in the WBO rankings.