The past month has emphatically proven that the sport flows better when all parties work together.
A collaborative effort between ESPN and Fox Sports to present the February 22 rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder resulted in unprecedented programming measures, a packed venue and favorable ratings leading up to the actual Pay-Per-View event. The televised preliminary undercard produced a combined average viewership of 1.42 million from coverage airing live across ESPN and Fox Sports platforms from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
FS1 and Fox Deportes carried the entire 90-minute telecast on its networks from 7:30-9:00pm ET, while ESPNews picked up the first 30 minutes of the show before turning over to ESPN just after the 8:00pm ET hour upon conclusion of live college basketball coverage.
ESPN boasted the highest viewership total among all platforms, with the 61-minute block on its flagship network averaging 862,000 viewers. The 92-minute slot on FS1 averaged 441,000 viewers, with the balance of the viewership total provided by Fox Deportes.
The final prelim bout prior to the PPV portion of the event saw a major upset as Petros Ananyan (15-2-2, 7KOs) rode a 7th round knockdown all the way to the finish line in a narrow 10-round decision win over previously unbeaten Subriel Matias (15-1, 15KOs).
The figure is the best performing PPV prelim since August 2017, when a Fox-televised card topped by Yordenis Ugas’ 10-round win over Thomas Dulorme averaged 2.438 million viewers live from T-Mobile Arena, also in Las Vegas. That event preceded what would serve as the second-highest grossing PPV event of all time, with Floyd Mayweather stopping UFC superstar and boxing rookie Conor McGregor for the 50th and final win of his legendary career atop a show which generated roughly 4.4 million units sold for the Showtime PPV event.
The February 22 event—in which England’s Fury (30-0-1, 21KOs) scored a one-sided 7th round stoppage of Alabama’s Wilder (42-1-1, 41KOs) in their highly anticipated rematch—saw ESPN and Fox Sports join forces for the first time in a boxing event. The two platforms swarmed the public with high quality shoulder programming, all of which drew favorable numbers and reviews. Live coverage was provided across all ESPN and Fox Sports platforms and social media channels for the final main event pre-fight press conference on Wednesday, the undercard press conference on Thursday and the pre-fight weigh-in on Friday.
It is still too early for final PPV figures for the event, although all indications suggest the best-selling heavyweight headlined PPV since Lennox Lewis’ 8th round knockout of Mike Tyson in June 2002. That event marked the first joint collaboration between premium cable giants HBO and Showtime, generating 1.97 million PPV buys and more than $108 million in PPV revenue, the dollar amount serving as a record haul at the time.
For now, Fury’s revenge-fueled knockout of Wilder currently stands as the best-performing live gate for any heavyweight main event to take place in Las Vegas. Fight night reports of the event generating $16,916,440 at the box office surpassed the non-adjusted total for November 1999 rematch between Lewis and Evander Holyfield, which produced $16,860,300 in ticket sales [the figure adjusts to $26,107,253.61 with inflation).
A 30-minute pre-fight show carried by FS1 at the 7:00pm hour averaged 364,000 viewers leading into the non-PPV prelim telecast.
The rematch between Fury and Wilder came nearly 15 months after the two fought to a disputed 12-round draw in their December 2018 title fight. The Showtime PPV-headlined event sold a reported 325,000 units.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox