By Tris Dixon
THERE are plenty of things to get upset about in the life of a boxing fan.
We boast a sport of splintered leaders, struggle for mainstream respect, we are home to drug users and abusers who are too often allowed off the hook for the errors of their ways and that is even before we venture into the realms of poor decisions and judging anomalies.
Yet there is little that lights a fire under us like painful, protracted and public negotiations for a superfight, especially when each week that passes the said contest seems to move further away rather than closer.
During those frustratingly slow periods of brinkmanship, we wonder why we follow the sport, why we tolerate it and why we cannot have things that seem so simple to arrange.
Yes, the logistics for a fight between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder extend beyond the sensibilities of the two best active fighters in the division facing one another.
That, annoyingly, has to be respected.
But when the common goal benefits everyone in the sport it becomes infuriating. The trickle down effect the sport has from huge events is enormous.
Undercard fighters get opportunities. TV networks get freakish ratings. The sport gets more coverage. The money pours in. Sponsors and advertisers are interested. The internet buzzes with boxing. Social media snowballs. Audiences grow exponentially.
Magazines and websites are able to get more financial traction by delivering spikes that stand them in good stead when the quieter weeks come up. The advertisers are brought to them, too.
Those not usually interested with the sport choose to align themselves with us, even if it’s only for a fleeting visit, a grubby night in sport’s red light district.
Brands who would not normally endorse a fight or a boxer become attracted to having the association. That, in turn, creates new relationships that can – and often do – extend beyond one good night, certainly once the numbers come in from a big event.
So why, when something that will help us all, is it so hard?
With the five-year on-off saga between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in the recent memory, there is the increasingly prevailing sense of ‘here we go again’ with the negotiations between Wilder, the WBC’s heavyweight champion, and Joshua, who holds the WBO, WBA and IBF straps.
No, the sides do not have to get along to get the deal done but it invariably helps and Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn and Wilder’s team of Lou DiBella and Shelley Finkel seem to be growing rapidly apart on the matter.
Wilder, via social media, made a $50 million offer to face Joshua later this year.
Hearn said he will counter the offer this week after his calls to meet with Team Wilder while he was in New York over the weekend were spurned.
“It’s very disheartening when they make an offer but won’t send a contract to review or meet to discuss it and therefore you have to question it’s sincerity,” said Hearn, shortly after landing back in the UK on Sunday night ahead of a busy week for the Tony Bellew-David Haye rematch.
“People have a misconception that I call the shots – AJ is the boss and we all work together to guide his career the best way possible, something we have done faultlessly to this point. AJ wants the Wilder fight next and we have spoken a dozen times since the offer and both agreed we would look at the contract and I would meet with Wilder’s team to discuss the offer in more detail – both this requests were denied.”
It makes sense that Hearn and Joshua would need to see the detail in the deal. The Joshua brand is meticulously and carefully controlled. Contracts could dictate networks, UK rights, rematches, venues, options… It is not just about dollars and cents but dollars and sense. The Joshua brand has been cultivated, turning him into arguably the UK’s leading sporting export. His future will remain in his hands and it is unlikely any price could change that.
“It’s an interesting offer but again at this point it’s hard to know whether it’s legitimate,” Hearn continued. “They know that we have a number of rights and sponsorship deals that will need to be considered and discussed and in that sense we would want control in the show – I’m not really interested in them offering out AJ to try and attract the money, he is the clear money in this fight so it’s likely that any deal we ensure he has some kind of control.”
Both sets of supporters argue about who the bigger draw is. English fans can boast bigger pay-per-view ratings but it costs far less to watch PPV in the UK than it does in the USA. Joshua has fought in sold-out stadiums, while Wilder can now command significant site fees in casinos. For every argument there is a counter.
Both will have alternative options, too. Wilder is lining up Dominic Breazeale while Joshua could make his American bow against Jarrell Miller, who defeated Johann Duhaupas last night. But the audiences will not grow exponentially for those bouts and we know fights, even when they do happen, can lose their luster if fans have, frankly, been jerked around in the making of them.
One gets the feeling that longer it takes the harder the deal is going to be to do.
“It’s too early to say if it’s the hardest deal I’ve had to do but it’s the biggest fight in world boxing so if it wasn’t hard I’d be concerned,” admitted Hearn, seemingly ready for a long slog to get it done.
And I suppose that sums it up. It will be very hard to construct a contract that pleases everyone, that keeps everyone’s pockets full, happy with their future regardless of the outcome and secure in the knowledge that the other team has not got one over on them.
While boxing waits with baited breath for the trickle down from another superfight, we are left wondering why it cannot be easier, why so many egos need to be massaged around a conference table when the end goal is the same; that the best should want to fight the best to prove they are the best.
If only it was that simple.