By Jake Donovan
In the wake of growing concern over Tyson Fury’s alignment with Top Rank and ESPN potentially ruining plans for a rematch with Deontay Wilder, Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum is doing his best to assure the public of the exact opposite to be true.
The founder and CEO of Top Rank has steadily insisted that his company’s involvement—which includes a long-term deal with leading sports platform ESPN—can only sweeten the pot for a planned sequel between the pair of unbeaten heavyweights. Representatives for Wilder and Fury have been in talks almost immediately following their Showtime Pay-Per-View thriller last December, which ended in a widely disputed 12-round draw.
A deal was believed to be far enough along to where an announcement was expected to come as early as this week. That storyline endured an unexpected plot twist when England’s Fury (27-0-1, 19KOs) and promoter Frank Warren instead revealed on Monday a reached co-promotional agreement with Top Rank, and with all of his future fights to air live on BT Sport in the United Kingdom and on ESPN platforms in the United States.
Wilder (40-0-1, 39KOs) fights under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner, a conglomerate who does its business with Showtime and Fox Sports in the United States. On the other side of the pond, PBC entered a lucrative agreement with ITV, with the first fight under that relationship due to launch this Saturday with the long-awaited grudge match between Chris Eubank Jr. and James DeGale.
Whereas PBC is contractually bound to Showtime, Fox Sports and ITV, Wilder insists he is free to fight wherever the best deal resides. “Of course, it’s always where the money is that’s gonna make the fight right,” the unbeaten heavyweight titlist declared during a recent podcast interview with Tha Boxing Voice. “I’m a (network) free agent; I can fight anyone. I just don’t have to necessarily fight on the networks that I’m on. I can fight anywhere. That’s what so great about me.”
It’s also great to those on the ESPN side of the street, as they are fully prepared to secure the services of the undefeated Alabama native.
“Deontay Wilder himself said that as far as networks are concerned, he is a free agent,” Arum noted Wednesday morning on ESPN’s Sportscenter. “Today. we are sending out an offer to Deontay Wilder, which will also go to his manager Shelly Finkel and his adviser Al Haymon making this offer—which is a tremendous one—to do the fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.”
Calls and emails requesting comment from Finkel and appropriate PBC representatives went unreturned as this goes to publish.
For his part, Wilder has always spoken fondly of his longtime relationship with Showtime, which has housed eight of his last 12 starts. The 33-year old heavyweight titlist has also fought twice on Fox and once on NBC during that stretch, all coming as part of time-buy deals with PBC whereas his appearances on Showtime were full investments on the part of the industry-leading cable giant.
Despite his going on the record in claiming network free-agent status, it’s clear his loyalty still remains to those who’ve been there all along as well as his career-long adviser and PBC founder Al Haymon.
“(Fury signing with ESPN/BT Sport) don’t really affect me. If he wants to fight (the rematch), then he’s gonna fight,” Wilder insists. “If not, then we move on to the next one.
“We have enough guys in the (PBC) stable that we can fight for the next two years… the great thing is, I can maneuver around and do whatever I want. The rematch is still on the table for him. If he wants it, he wants it. If not, then may God be with him.”
One variable still exists in the World Boxing Council (WBC), whose heavyweight title Wilder has held since Jan. ’15. The Mexico-based sanctioning body offered its blessing for a proposed rematch, then actually ordering the fight with an initial February 5 deadline to reach terms or else be subject to a purse bid hearing.
Both sides requested a one-week extension, which in turn was also postponed indefinitely as the WBC has allowed talks to continue “in good faith.”
A ruling has yet to be made by the WBC, as a meeting is planned with its board once a clear indication is offered on where talks currently reside.
Arum himself has offered mixed signals on the potential of a straight away rematch, previously insisting he’d welcome the fight but also of the belief that separate interim fights can help sweeten the pot for an even bigger event later in the year.
Nevertheless, his ultimate goal is to not be responsible for the rematch not happening at all.
“The public deserves to see the best fights,” Arum insists. “If promoters can't work together to present the best fights, then shame on the promoters.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox