By Keith Idec
Tyson Fury overcame three life-threatening conditions – alcoholism, cocaine addiction and depression – and two knockdowns against Deontay Wilder to continue crafting one of the most fascinating, inspiring sports stories of our time.
His numbers this week don’t favor Fury nearly as much, certainly not among aggravated boxing fans who want a Wilder-Fury rematch next. BoxingScene.com has learned that Fury walked away from a 50-50 split to fight Wilder in a Showtime Pay-Per-View main event May 18 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for either a 60-40 split that would favor Wilder in a WBC purse bid or a less profitable fight against another opponent. Fury had that 50-50 contract in his hands for more than a week, but never returned it.
As it turned out, his promoter, Frank Warren, was working with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. on a co-promotional agreement and negotiating with Al Haymon, Wilder’s adviser, and Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza at the same time. Fury, Warren, Arum and ESPN stunned virtually everyone in boxing by announcing their new deal early Monday morning.
Two days later, in a Wednesday interview with The Ring’s Mike Coppinger, the entertaining Englishman definitely didn’t come across as someone who wants Wilder next.
“I’m not too sure,” Fury said. “I’m not a political person. The promoters do what promoters do. … There’s not much I can do about it, is there? … I signed a contract now. Whatever fights they get, they get.”
What we’re likely to get now that Fury has signed a co-promotional agreement with Arum and ESPN is interim fights for Fury and Wilder before they revisit this rematch again later this year.
Arum told BoxingScene.com and other outlets this week that Top Rank wants Wilder-Fury next. What the Hall-of-Fame promoter didn’t mention is that the accompanying contract his company offered Wilder on Wednesday is for five fights.
BoxingScene.com has been informed that the first fight of that proposed deal for Wilder would require him to fight someone other than Fury on ESPN+, the streaming service Arum’s company is helping ESPN push. Wilder would be paid handsomely to fight an undetermined opponent next on ESPN+ because Top Rank’s budget for fights on ESPN+ is bigger than its budget for fights on ESPN.
A Wilder-Fury rematch is part of that five-fight offer, yet that deal could require Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) to take multiple fights before facing Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) a second time in an ESPN Pay-Per-View main event.
While Wilder did make it known Monday that he isn’t contractually tied to Showtime or any other network, he also appreciates all that Showtime has done to build his brand and his bank account in recent years. Furthermore, Haymon has a three-year deal with Showtime to provide Premier Boxing Champions content for that premium cable network and no active fighter in his huge stable has consistently drawn greater viewership for Showtime than the hard-hitting WBC heavyweight champion.
There are financial components to Top Rank’s offer that are attractive. Wilder wants to remain loyal to Showtime, however, and doesn’t want Arum to be the front man for promoting his career because the 87-year-old legend hasn’t had a hand in building it.
Then there’s the fact that, in an interview with Fight Hub TV, Arum called Haymon “a cancer in boxing” just four months ago. Whatever you think of Haymon, that cannot be ignored when assessing whether Haymon, for all his business savvy, would rush to enter even a fruitful financial partnership with an adversary that has publicly questioned his business practices repeatedly.
Arum went as far – for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but him – to tell BoxingScene.com two weeks before that Fight Hub interview that the notoriously private Haymon doesn’t actually exist. Arum, whose tongue was planted firmly in his cheek, claimed then that Haymon is a figment of friend Sam Watson’s imagination, even though Arum and Haymon have sat in rooms together.
Arum understandably is fond of reminding reporters and fans that, despite their love-hate relationship, he and Don King typically put their differences aside to make huge fights when necessary. Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad is a perfect case in point.
The difference, unfortunately for those of us that want to see Wilder-Fury next – or ever, really – is that Arum and Haymon don’t have anything resembling that type of relationship.
They came together four years ago to make the most lucrative event in the history of boxing, Mayweather-Pacquiao. But there isn’t nearly as much money at stake with Wilder-Fury II as there was when those welterweights were finally matched in May 2015.
And as much as Arum claims Wilder, Haymon and co-managers Shelly Finkel and Jay Deas need the promotional muscle the vast reach of ESPN can provide, that wouldn’t necessarily require Wilder to sign with Top Rank, either. ESPN promoted the first Wilder-Fury fight on all of its platforms – everything from SportsCenter to “First Take,” with Max Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith – throughout the week that led up to their dubious draw December 1 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
ESPN, as the most prominent sports network in the United States, is going to cover and promote Wilder-Fury II whether it’s distributed by Showtime, ESPN or both.
“[Wilder-Fury II] has to happen and it has to happen on the terms that make sense for us, for the fighters, for ESPN,” Arum told BoxingScene.com on Monday. “I mean, let’s be honest about it – Showtime did a very good job for boxing when it was Showtime and HBO. But this is past the era of Showtime and HBO. Showtime and HBO are great entertainment channels, but they play to a relatively small audience and an older audience.
“And therefore, their megaphones are not what a megaphone is for a sports network that programs on multiple channels 24 hours a day. Now, with ESPN being the megaphone, any pay-per-view fight worth its salt, like a Fury-Wilder fight, will out-perform anything that they had before. This is a different, different era that we’re getting into, and we’re not playing around with the old way things were done.”
Wilder’s back-and-forth fight with Luis Ortiz peaked at 1.3 million viewers on Showtime last March 3 from Barclays Center. Showtime, which has roughly 27 million subscribers, is capable when it comes to an intriguing fighter like Wilder, of drawing better ratings for boxing than ESPN.
The highest peak audience any of Top Rank’s three shows on ESPN in 2019 was 1.02 million viewers February 2. Top Rank’s most recent ESPN telecast, headlined by Jose Ramirez and Jose Zepeda on February 10, averaged 655,000 viewers.
A Wilder fight on ESPN clearly would draw better viewership than what’s mentioned above. But there’s no way to quantify just how many of the approximate three million subscribers of ESPN+ would watch him fight on that streaming service because ESPN doesn’t release those figures.
What Arum also ignores is that Showtime is owned by CBS – literally the most-watched network on American television. CBS, which also owns BoxingScene.com and employs this writer, could promote Wilder-Fury II on a network available in approximately 118 million American homes, roughly 32 million more than ESPN.
Unlike ESPN, CBS doesn’t televise sports 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It does, however, own CBS Sports Network, a 24/7 sports channel that is offered in 56 million homes within the U.S.
The point is, while contractually partnering with Top Rank and ESPN certainly could help the Wilder-Fury rematch do bigger business, it’s not the only way to significantly out-do the reported 325,000 pay-per-view buys their first fight produced.
None of these network and promotional issues even take into account perhaps the quintessential question – does Fury even want to fight Wilder next? Circling back to his aforementioned comments Wednesday, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Maybe Fury is content fighting Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs), a Colombian heavyweight contender Top Rank promotes. Former WBO champion Joseph Parker (25-2, 19 KOs), whose promoter, David Higgins, has reached out this week to Top Rank regarding the New Zealand native’s willingness to fight Fury next, is a possibility, too.
Top Rank also has a co-promotional agreement with Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (26-1, 13 KOs). Pulev is the IBF’s No. 1 challenger for Anthony Joshua, however, and Top Rank apparently plans to guide him into position for a purse bid for that fight if Pulev wins a March 23 bout against Romania’s Bogdan Dinu (18-1, 14 KOs) in Costa Mesa, California.
Regardless, Fury now must pay two promoters, not one, out of however much he’ll make for lesser fights. There’s obviously also the possibility he could lose one of those fights and ruin the momentum the rematch has now.
Reports of him earning $100 million for five fights through this Top Rank/ESPN deal are curious, to say the least. Do you think Top Rank and ESPN will pay Fury $20 million to fight Rivas? Or Parker? Or anyone other than Wilder or Anthony Joshua?
The WBC’s impending purse bid for the Wilder-Fury rematch doesn’t figure to make an impact in this mess, either.
“It doesn’t factor into it at all,” Arum told BoxingScene.com on Monday. “The WBC wants the fight to happen. Good luck to them. But we don’t need them to tell us how the purses should be. That’ll come with reasonable negotiations.”
If they were to go to purse bid, the WBC’s 60-40 split would favor Wilder because he’s the defending champion. Arum isn’t likely to risk losing that purse bid to Haymon because Top Rank didn’t sign Fury to a reported five-fight agreement just to have him fight Wilder next on Showtime Pay-Per-View anyway.
Now that the dust has settled since Monday’s unforeseen announcement and the terms of Arum’s offer are known, what we’re likely to get is Fury versus someone other than Wilder on a date to be determined and Wilder-Dominic Breazeale on May 18 at Barclays Center. Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs) is Wilder’s mandatory challenger, thus that fight will be next for the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native if not the Fury rematch.
Wilder would have to fight at least twice to make the type of money he would earn for facing Fury next, whether it was distributed by Showtime or ESPN.
That is, unless Arum, Warren, Haymon, ESPN and Showtime all decide to work together. Or they go to purse bid, and whomever wins, wins, and the fight takes places next.
With boxing being boxing, don’t hold your breath.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.