The hype has already begun on the ESPN side of the promotion, but at least the necessary steps are being taken in efforts to make the heavyweight title fight rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury as big an event as possible.
News of the fight being officially signed and sealed was revealed on the final Friday of 2019, with their anticipated sequel to take place February 22 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Pay-Per-View event will be a joint effort by ESPN and Fox Sports, with the two sports-based powerhouses leading many to believe that the final returns will far exceed that of their first fight last December, where Wilder and Fury fought to a draw atop a Showtime PPV card which garnered 325,000 buys.
Just how far remains to be seen, though early conversation suggests the bar is already being set way too high. A roundtable discussion amongst the ESPN boxing commentating crew included the spoken possibility of the event surpassing the all-time mark established by Floyd Mayweather’s 12-round win over Manny Pacquiao, which generated more than 4.6 million buys and well north of $400 million in PPV revenue alone.
This event, according to ESPN blow-by-blow man Joe Tessitore, will be even bigger.
“When we had [Mayweather-Pacquiao], it was on the shelf for too long by the time we were able to pull up and enjoy it,” insisted Tessitore during the discussion, which ESPN+ released on Monday. “These guys are in their absolute prime. They’re undefeated heavyweight champions.
“They want it and they want it now, and that is why I believe—and it’s the HEAVYWEIGHT division—this to me, will break every pay per view record, it’ll be the most viewed fight in the modern era of boxing.”
In fairness, it’s an opinion that was never co-signed by his peers nor really anyone else in the industry. Nor has anyone bought into Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum’s claims that ESPN shoulder programming and guest appearances by Fury on ESPN-established shows will be viewed by 80-100 million people.
Still, there is something to be said of the early steps taken to promote the event.
England’s Fury (29-0-1, 20KOs) was introduced to the college football audience, making separate ESPN network appearances last Saturday, first on ESPN’s College Gameday and during the Playstation Fiesta Bowl later in the evening.
The Dec. 28 edition of College Gameday drew an average audience of 1.437 million viewers. The Fiesta Bowl—which saw defending national champion Clemson rally from behind to best previously unbeaten Ohio State in their college football playoff semifinal—averaged nearly 20.4 million viewers in primetime, producing the best-ever rating for a non-New Year’s Day-aired college playoff game.
Fury’s recent stint on the college football circuit follows his tour with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), appearing in the company’s debut on Fox in October as well as actually performing on a special Halloween edition of WWE Crown Jewel where he fought and beat Braun Strowman.
It all follows his most recent bout, where he overcame a horrific cut over his right eye to soundly outpoint previously unbeaten Otto Wallin in September. The win ran his mark to 4-0-1 in five fights since returning to the ring in June 2018, following a self-imposed 30-month ring hiatus after dethroning lineal heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Alabama’s Wilder (42-0-1, 41KOs) scored a pair of highlight reel knockouts in his two appearances in 2019, including a 7th round stoppage of Luis Ortiz in their November rematch which also took place at the MGM Grand. The Fox Sports PPV event generated just north of 275,000 buys, with the event preceded by shoulder programming which established series viewership records.
A planned appearance by Wilder at Saturday’s other college football playoff semifinal—with #1 ranked LSU blowing out Oklahoma in Atlanta—was scrapped due to internal issues, although the 6’7” heavyweight will figure to be prominently featured in well-placed spots during the NFL playoffs on Fox. Both heavyweights are also due to make the rounds on the talk show circuit along with additional shoulder programming to be rolled out between ESPN and Fox Sports.
However many viewers resonate with the past and future segments remains to be seen. At the very least, it’s a well-intended and continued effort to put the unbeaten heavyweights in heavily viewed markets where boxing isn’t normally the main conversational topic.
While it likely won’t reach the highest-grossing event in boxing history, every effort is being made to exceed reasonable expectations—which can only be a good thing when such attention is drawn to boxing’s most storied weight division.
“I said that neither guy would want to go through what they previously went through again. I was wrong,,” admitted Andre Ward, the former two-division champ and pound-for-pound king turned ESPN expert analyst. “The fight is happening. Wilder is as dangerous as he’s ever been. Tyson Fury is as confident and as popular as he’s ever been.
“Both of these fighters have a lot of throwback in them, willing to risk a lot to take a lot. I respect them.”
It’s respect well-earned in both directions—and well worth their handlers spending the next two months to ensure the rest of the world becomes more familiar than ever before with them.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox