Less than three minutes away from completing one of the most remarkable comeback stories in sporting history, Tyson Fury faints, flicks out the same jab which has irritated Deontay Wilder all night long and stings him with a right hand.
He takes a step back out of range and regroups for just a split second before attempting to slip a left hand coming his way. Then, a vicious combination from boxing’s master of destruction sends him tumbling to the canvas, ending any hopes of a world-title triumph for the ages. Or so it seemed.
What followed, of course, was a resurrection like no other as Fury applied his astonishing powers of recovery and pulled himself off the deck to arguably win the remainder of an epic final round in Los Angeles.
And veteran referee Jack Reiss was right at the heart of it.
Five years on from that dramatic ending at Staples Center, Reiss recalls a night he considers one of the proudest in his 24 years as a boxing official; providing a fascinating insight into his decision to let Fury continue, expressing his belief that Wilder made ‘excuses’ post-fight after being influenced by disingenuous members of his inner circle, and explaining why the controversy surrounding the result wasn’t warranted.
Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury played out an epic heavyweight encounter five years ago today
Less than three minutes away from victory, Fury was flattened by Wilder in the 12th round
Somehow he beat referee Jack Reiss’s count and got back to his feet to hear the final bell
Reiss recalled that dramatic night in Los Angeles five years on in a chat with Dailymail.com
In an exclusive interview with Dailymail.com, the 67-year-old – also an ex-firefighter and retired real-estate agent – takes us right back to the very start. So how does it feel to be assigned a fight of this magnitude in the first place?
‘It’s a spectrum of emotions,’ he says. ‘The first one is excitement. I’m really happy and I feel a lot of gratitude to be put on fights like that. There’s not too many boxing referees in the entire world, so to be chosen and do one of these fights, it’s just a great thing.
‘But then the reality sets in and you want to do a great job, so the work starts in terms of researching the fighters, what to expect in the ring and maybe doing some things that can negate the negative stuff they do in the ring beforehand.
‘And we did a lot of that for this fight.’
After being allocated a contest, Reiss will conduct his own meticulous background check on each of the combatants he is set to run the rule over. Past performances, tendencies when fatigued, level of activity, age, weight history – the list goes on.
And unbeknown to many, even facial hair is assessed.
‘Both fighters had big beards,’ Reiss remembers. ‘And in the past there’s been controversies where they say one fighter had an advantage because his beard was so big. So we thought to nip that in the bud going forward.
‘We put out a letter to both of them and notified both camps to come, not clean shaven, but with the beards trimmed well enough down so that there’s no added cushion.’
Both men duly obliged, with Fury most notably ditching his grizzly brown number in favor of a clean-shaven look.
The Gypsy King, heading into this date of destiny with WBC heavyweight champion Wilder after only returning from a three-year hiatus in two routine tune-up bouts over the summer, was also warned against some of the sly, illegal tricks Reiss claims he had gotten away with in previous fights.
Both fighters were told to remove their beards by Reiss in the lead-up to the contest
Fury, who had only returned from a three-year hiatus in tune-up fights that summer, was taking on the most feared fighter in the world in Wilder
Wilder is considered by many as the hardest-hitting heavyweight to ever grace the sport
‘I refereed Wilder four times, so I had a good idea of what he was all about and what he does,’ Reiss says. ‘With Fury I watched a bunch of his fights, and what I noticed was that he did some things that would be unacceptable to me.
‘One of the things he did in the past, he would grab the ropes with one hand and jump with his right hand, and with his big long body step and throw a jab and have the rope assist him to get him back out of the way. You can’t hold the ropes and hit.
‘The other thing I told both of those guys was no posting with your hand. You can’t leave your arm out, you’ve got to use it as a punch. You either punch or bring it back. You can’t post because that leads to touching the head and then you’re either blinding the guy or you’re turning them and it’s holding and hitting.
‘So those were the things I addressed in the dressing room and none of it happened in the ring – zero.’
Making his expectations clear paid dividends for Reiss as Wilder and Fury went about settling their feud in a clean, intriguing battle of styles which pitted the puncher against the boxer.
Many had foreboded a brave Fury performance ending in painful defeat at the hands of a man heralded by some as the hardest puncher to ever grace the sport. Though in the first half of the fight, he appeared the one in firm control. Wilder, meanwhile, looked to be either still configuring the awkward style in front of him or simply short of ideas.
Floyd Mayweather, sat at ringside in LA, said he had Fury 5-0 up heading into the sixth. Yet Reiss saw things very differently from inside the ropes.
‘In my mind I felt that Wilder was the effective aggressor,’ he admits. ‘He wasn’t the effective puncher per say, but he was the effective aggressor. And I thought he was up initially on those [early] rounds.
‘Then it changed and Fury took over, besides the knockdowns.’
In the first half of the fight, Fury appeared the man in control as Wilder failed to get much off
Floyd Mayweather, sat at ringside in LA, said he had Fury leading 5-0 heading into the sixth
But Reiss thought Wilder was the effective aggressor early on and had him winning
In Reiss’s defense, up until the championship rounds this heavyweight super-fight had generally failed to live up to expectation. Wilder, bamboozled by the unique athleticism and ring craft of the 256.5lbs giant standing in his way, was struggling to get anything off and Fury had no qualms with dodging and weaving his way to victory.
The ninth round was the first to inject some suspense into proceedings as Fury hit the deck for the first time. However, after being dropped by a passing right hand which merely grazed the top of his head, he was able to poke fun at himself by gesturing a look up to the sky before regaining both his feet and his composure.
Soon after, another two rounds of Fury combinations and Wilder swing-and-misses had passed and, for a large portion of the boxing public as well as two of the judges scoring it, the former unified champion went into the final round on the cusp of a stunning upset.
All Fury needed to do was steer clear of the Alabaman wrecking ball’s well-documented power for another three minutes and the WBC title, the only one that had eluded him during his previous reign on the heavyweight throne, was his. A task most certainly easier said than done.
Less than 40 seconds had passed in round 12 when Wilder distracted Fury with a left, clipped him with a right and whipped in another brutal left on his way down. Surely another frightening knockout had been added to his highlight reel.
As he laid flat out on the canvas, it seemed almost impossible that Fury could muster the strength to get back to his feet and continue.
‘What you might not realize is that all of us [referees], we’re not just looking at the knockdown,’ Reiss says. ‘We’re taking into consideration what happened prior, we’re taking into consideration how the punch landed, where he got hit, the body language of his head when he got hit, how he fell, how he landed and what he did.
‘And what I saw was different to everybody else.’
After knocking him down in the ninth, Wilder sent Fury tumbling seemingly to the point of no return in the final round
The WBC champion thought he had finished the job two minutes before he was destined to lose his title on the scorecards
But Reiss had seen enough in Fury to suggest he was not unconscious and potentially able to continue in the fight
Leaning on his education and experience as an elite-level referee, Reiss spotted a number of tell-tale signs which indicated Fury was not rendered unconscious by Wilder and, incredibly, had a chance of recovering.
‘I saw him get hit but kind of roll with the left hand a little bit,’ he continues. ‘And when he went down he took the fall on his elbows and his shoulders. His head snapped from the weight of his body and the fall of a 6ft 9in man going down, but I don’t believe his head ever touched the canvas when it snapped back.’
Reiss then asks for permission to share his screen on our Zoom call before pulling up a photo from that very moment in California.
‘You can see me here looking at the timekeeper, and Wilder going to the corner thinking he’s got him with the executioner gesture,’ he says.
‘But I turned back and the two things that I saw were that his right leg was up. If he was unconscious, that thing would be laying flat. He was also moving his hands and gripping his hands, so I said to myself: “Wow, let me see what I’ve got because he might not be totally unconscious.”
‘Look at his eyes. He wasn’t out. He told everybody he was unconscious, everybody thought he was unconscious, but you could see by the position of his leg that he wasn’t out because that leg would have been flopped down.
‘He was basically doing the smart thing and regaining his composure while he was on the ground by staying down for a second or two. When I hit six he just started rolling over and getting up.’
Somehow, Fury rose to his feet and heard the final bell, and Reiss believed he was using his experience to buy time on the floor
Somehow, almost as if a switch had been flicked to reboot him, Fury sprung back up at that count of six and dusted himself off before continuing. There are few more enthralling, unfathomable rounds out there in the illustrious archives of boxing history.
As the bout resumed, he shipped another crisp left hand straight on the chin as Wilder, smelling blood, unleashed a series of chopping overhands, albeit which mainly hit the gloves.
And after having the audacity to stalk his buoyant opponent with two hands behind his back, Fury then stiffened Wilder’s knees with a terrific right hand. In the end, the champion was the one in need of the bell.
When it sounded the drama hadn’t ended there. Scorecards on the night read 114-112 to Fury, 115-111 to Wilder, and 113-113. A split-decision draw.
If he had stayed on his feet in the final round, Fury’s hand would have been raised – his fairytale story complete.
The boxing world still cried robbery. Regardless of the knockdown, many felt Fury should have been afforded the cherry on top of his heroic fight back from 350lbs in size and mental-health issues to the top of the heavyweight mountain once more. Ben Davison, Fury’s trainer at the time, said it took a ‘sick, sick man’ to deny him of that poetic ending in a clear attack on the judges.
Yet five years on from an evening which brought multiple controversies, Reiss doesn’t believe the result should have been one of them.
The Gypsy King went on to arguably win the 12th round after pulling himself off the floor
The result was a controversial split-decision draw, with many arguing Fury did enough to prevail, but Reiss doesn’t see it that way
‘Figure it out mathematically,’ he stresses. ‘Fury was down four points from two rounds alone. How many other rounds do you have to win to get a draw or be ahead?
‘It just doesn’t support the controversy that everybody was making it, because there were rounds that were extremely close.
‘Depending on if you like the effective aggressor or if you like the more damaging puncher, you’ve got to know the criteria.’
Another point of contention was the count which allowed Fury to famously climb off the floor and hear the final bell. Wilder, incensed after being denied victory for the first time in his career, still claims to this day that Reiss’s count was prolonged to give his nemesis a chance to recover.
‘We’re trying to mirror 10 seconds, but we’re human. I’m not a stopwatch,’ the referee says.
‘But that particular count, I was very fortunate, lucky, whatever you wanna call it… my count was right on the money.
‘I stand by my decision [to let him get up]. I thought it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.’
In Wilder’s eyes, Reiss had robbed him of his flawless professional record by not counting Fury out in the final round. ‘Jack Reiss showed favoritism, he had an emotional connection to Fury because of his story, along with everyone else,’ he said in 2019.
The referee has also taken aim at Wilder for making ‘excuses’ after he claimed Fury was given too long of a count in the final round
Reiss blames the people around Wilder for his comments, including wife Telli Swift (right)
For all of his snipes in the media and online, Wilder nor his team ever made their frustrations known to Reiss in the flesh. Though he does recall a member of the Bronze Bomber’s family taking issue with him.
‘When the fight was over I went to the corner to wipe my hands and face and stuff like that, and Wilder’s wife was sitting in the second row screaming at me,’ he remembers. ‘She was just yelling something, and I think that’s where a lot of this came from.
‘In my opinion, Mike Tyson’s demise was not caused by a loss of his skills or talent – it was caused by the people around him. His ex-wife named Robyn Givens and Don King, they were twisting his brain. That’s what started his demise. In boxing it’s the people around you, I feel like there’s a correlation.’
Reiss then highlights a comparison between Tyson and Wilder. ‘Deontay made sense of things that I know my wife would never let me say. He made excuses, his uniform was too heavy [in the rematch]. You’ve got to have good people around you to say “calm down, don’t do that”.
‘But I can tell you, there’s a lot of yes men in fighter’s corners.’
Wilder and Fury would have two further opportunities to avenge what they both felt was an injustice on that December night in LA. In the rematch, Wilder again cried foul play when his trainer Mark Breland saved him of any further punishment after seven heavily one-sided Fury rounds.
Breland was fired for making that selfless, justified call. Fury was accused of tampering with his gloves before entering the ring. And to complete the hattrick, Wilder also claimed the 45-pound costume he wore to the ring that night contributed to his sluggish display.
Fury and Wilder went on to fight twice more, with the former winning both contests, and Reiss says both men owe him gratitude for not waving their first fight off
He could make no such justifications or accusations after the trilogy fight, when Fury put their rivalry to bed once and for all by knocking him out at the end of an all-time classic heavyweight slugfest, in which both men thickened their wallets significantly.
And Reiss feels the two of them owe him a thank you.
‘They made $100m each from the next two fights. If I waved the first fight off it changes the whole landscape,’ he jokes.
‘They should be patting me on the back!’