On December 1, 2018, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury fought to a twelve-round draw in Los Angeles. The fight generated a modest live gate of $3,515,122 with an estimated 315,000 buys on Showtime Pay-Per-View in the United States and 420,000 more with BT Sport in the United Kingdom. But their anticipated rematch was expected to put up stronger numbers. Team Fury was offered a 50-50 split to fight Wilder at Barclays Center on May 18, 2019, with Showtime PPV and BT Sport reprising their roles. Then things got complicated.
On February 18, 2019, ESPN, Top Rank, and Queensberry Promotions (Fury's promoter) announced a multi-year agreement that called for Fury to fight at least twice annually in the United States. All of his fights were to be televised in the U.S. on an ESPN platform. Wilder was then offered a multi-fight deal that would have seen him fight in spring 2019 on ESPN or ESPN+ against a relatively easy opponent for a purse of $12.5 million before moving to a Fury rematch for a minimum guarantee of $20 million. However, Wilder's management team (guided by Al Haymon and Shelly Finkel with input from Jay Deas) preferred that Deontay remain with Showtime. And Haymon didn't want to work with Top Rank CEO Bob Arum. The ESPN offer was turned down. But by then, DAZN had entered the fray.
On March 12, 2019, Wilder, Haymon, and Finkel met with DAZN executive chairman John Skipper in New York and were offered two alternative packages. The first offer was $100 million for three fights on DAZN to be divided as follows: $20 million to fight Dominic Breazeale in May 2019; $40 million to fight Anthony Joshua in autumn 2019; and $40 million for an immediate rematch with Joshua in early 2020. Alternatively, Wilder could opt for the same package with a $20 million fight against a non-threatening opponent thrown in between the two Joshua outings. The first fight with Joshua would have been in the United States and the second in the United Kingdom.
Wilder turned down DAZN's offer in favor of a one-bout deal to fight Breazeale on Showtime. Explaining his decision in terms of self-empowerment, he declared, "I move as I please. Those guys [Joshua and Fury], they have to do as they're told. I make commands and demands. They take them. I move where I want. ESPN and DAZN, they wanted a long term on me. I like to dictate my own career. I don't like people to have too much control over me and my career because I know what it is and I know where it's going."
A year-and-a-half later, it's time to ask, "How would boxing be different today if Wilder had accepted DAZN's offer?"
First, let's note that, even if Team Wilder had agreed in principle to the offer, there's no guarantee that a deal would have been consummated. Skipper set forth the basic concept and numbers that DAZN was offering, and Team Wilder shot them down. The dialogue never got to the point of discussing details such as what would happen if Wilder or Joshua lost before they fought each other.
But let's assume that the details were ironed out and a Wilder-DAZN contract was signed.
History tells us that many of the deals DAZN has made during the past two years didn't work out as planned. The network's $365 contract for eleven Canelo Alvarez fights and its multi-bout agreement with Gennady Golovkin are Exhibits A and B in that regard. It's possible that Team Joshua would have balked at the terms DAZN offered to their side for two Joshua-Wilder fights.
There were other contingencies as well.
DAZN envisioned being able to opt out of the contract or reduce the money it paid to Wilder if Deontay lost to Dominic Breazeale. Wilder took care of business on May 18, 2019, when he knocked out Breazeale in the first round. By then, Jarrell Miller (who was slated to fight Joshua at Madison Square Garden on June 1) had tested positive for banned performance enhancing drugs and been replaced as A.J.'s opponent by Andy Ruiz. If Wilder had fought Breazeale on DAZN, it's possible that Joshua would have gone straight to the Wilder fight once Miller tested positive. But more likely, the lure of a big payday for an "easy" fight against Ruiz would have been too enticing for Team Joshua to pass up.
What would Joshua's loss to Ruiz have done to the proposed Joshua-Wilder match-up?
Under the contract terms contemplated by DAZN, if Joshua lost or was otherwise unavailable to fight Wilder, Deontay would have received a $40 million purse from DAZN to fight the best (in terms of marketability and skill) available opponent in each of his next two fights. It would have been DAZN's responsibility to deliver Joshua or another opponent.
Had Wilder signed with DAZN, most likely his bank account would be larger than it is today.
In elaborating on his rationale for rejecting DAZN's offer, Deontay proclaimed, "Soon, I will be the highest paid athlete in the world. You'll see. I'm betting on myself. I look at the bigger picture. You sell me a number, and I know there's going to be a bigger number than that. They saw a guy they thought they could throw some money at and that would be it. But they found out the hard way. I'm not no fool. I know the cards that I hold in this division. I bet on myself because I know that I hold all the keys and I possess the power. I'm a living walking icon. I am the best heavyweight in the world. I am the most dangerous and exciting heavyweight in the game, period. Everyone is going to want somebody like me. So why would I give that all away when I can bet in on myself."
So Wilder bet on himself. After turning down the DAZN offer, he fought Breazeale and then rematches against Luis Ortiz (on November 13, 2019) and Tyson Fury (on February 22, 2020).
Wilder's purse for fighting Breazeale was reported to the New York State Atlhetic commission as being $4 million. The real number is speculative with industry estimates ranging from $12.5 million to $18 million. Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza told BoxingScene.com that Deontay's purse for fighting Breazeale was less than $20 million but that the path he had chosen left him “generally in the same neighborhood with the financial opportunities.” It's believed that Premier Boxing Champions (the promotional-management company controlled by Al Haymon) contributed millions of dollars to Wilder's purse to keep Deontay away from DAZN.
Wilder's official purse for the Ortiz rematch was reported to the Nevada State Athletic Commission as being $3 million. It's thought that he was guaranteed roughly $20 million for the bout, which was distributed on pay-per-view by FOX and engendered a disappointing 225,000-to-275,000 buys. Since FOX is believed to have needed 500,000 buys to break even, that translated into a lot of red ink for the network.
ESPN.com reported that Wilder and Fury were each guaranteed $25 million for their February 2020 rematch.
So let's assume for the moment that Wilder's purses before deductions were $15 million for Breazeale, $20 million for Ortiz II, and $25 million for Fury II. That comes to $60 million, which is a lot of money. But it's less than Deontay would have earned had he signed with DAZN.
What fights would boxing fans have seen pursuant to a Wilder-DAZN contract?
As noted above, when Jarrell Miller tested positive for PEDs, Matchroom and DAZN might have pulled down the Madison Square Garden card and gone straight to Joshua-Wilder. Based on what we now know about Joshua's chin, it's not unreasonable to suggest that Deontay would have fared better against A.J. than he did against Fury the second time around.
Once Joshua lost to Ruiz, substituting Fury as an opponent for Wilder on DAZN would have been problematic since, by then, Fury was locked into a deal with Top Rank and ESPN. And the loss to Ruiz would have devalued Wilder-Joshua when it finally happened.
Would DAZN USA be in a significantly different place than it is now had the Wilder deal gone through? Probably not.
Joshua-Wilder was the fight that boxing fans wanted to see at that time, and the bout would have been a strong subscription driver for DAZN. But play out the scenarios. First, Joshua lost to Ruiz which would have devalued Joshua-Wilder when it finally happened. Now suppose that, when Jarrell Miller tested positive for PEDs, Matchroom and DAZN pulled down the Madison Square Garden card and went straight to Joshua-Wilder. It would have been big. But it wouldn't have had the ESPN and FOX platforms to promote it the way Wilder-Fury II did. And even with those platforms, Wilder-Fury II generated only 750,000 buys.
Also, quite possibly, DAZN would have lost Wilder when the contract expired.
What can be said with certainty is that, if Wilder had taken DAZN's offer, Top Rank, Queensberry, and Fury would have been on the outside looking in instead of Fury being the dominant figure on the heavyweight landscape that he is now.
As for Wilder's future; Deontay has said that he'll enforce his contractual right to a third fight against Fury before either man fights another opponent. We know that there will be a 60-40 revenue split in favor of Team Fury when that happens. What we don't know is how big the pie will be and what the guarantees will be for each fighter.
Contractual details have been kept close to the vest by the parties involved. But it's known that Top Rank will be responsible for Fury's guarantee while PBC (and possibly FOX) will be responsible for Wilder's. There's likely to be less money to divide up this time than there was for Wilder-Fury II.
ESPN and FOX (which jointly handled the pay-per-view for Wilder-Fury II) went all-in on that promotion. There's a widespread belief that FOX needed between 1.1 and 1.2 million buys to break even on the fight. And Top Rank is believed to have gone deep into loss territory to pay Fury. FOX/PBC and ESPN/Top Rank have no intention of losing more money on Fury-Wilder III. But neither fighter wants to take less than he was guaranteed for their second bout. Certainly, Fury doesn't.
Also, one area where Wilder-Fury II met financial expectations was the live gate. According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the fight generated $16,916,440 from 15,210 tickets sold. But the coronavirus is expected to gut the live gate for Fury-Wilder III.
"All sorts of places have been mentioned as possible sites," Frank Warren (who heads Queensberry Promotions) told Boxing Scene recently. "Macau, Australia, the Middle East. But if you ask me what we know with certainty about Fury-Wilder III, the answer is "nothing." There's no date. There's no venue. We are where we are, and no one knows where we are."
As for Fury against Anthony Joshua, Warren notes, "That's even more speculative."
Thomas Hauser's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.