Ten reasons why the Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder fight must be held in England
IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua’s unanimous decision victory over Joseph Parker revealed some things to us about Joshua inside the ring. That said, I found what he said in the post-fight interview to be just as informative. Joshua let the world know who is setting the rules of engagement and seemed adamant that, if he is to fight WBC beltholder Deontay Wilder, it will happen in Great Britain. This, for this American, is a reasonable demand and hard to argue against, for reasons I will list. Joshua told the 80,000 in attendance, “I’m not interested in coming to America. All these years, we’ve gone to the States. People have spent a lot of money following British boxers over there. We can do it in London, Cardiff (Wales). We are staying right here.” Joshua then left no doubt about whom he wants to fight next, “I want Wilder. Get him in the ring and I’ll knock his spark out.”
This is not an anti-Wilder article, as I believe Wilder is willing to travel to England for this fight. Wilder already proved as much, accepting and preparing for a fight against Alexander Povetkin in Russia before Povetkin’s PED suspension. Wilder also publicly stated this desire during an international press conference on Tuesday, “I accept that challenge and I am ready to come to the U.K. for my next fight. There is nothing on Team Wilder’s side to prevent me from fighting you next,” which Wilder’s co-manager Shelly Finkel confirmed, “We want to make it public that Deontay wants the fight and we are prepared to come over, or meet here, and get the deal done. Deontay is ready to sign and come to the U.K. to fight this summer.”
The other side of the promotion, mainly Eddie Hearn who represents Anthony Joshua through Matchroom Boxing, is not so sure about the willingness of Joshua’s team to make the fight happen. They evoked the possibility of another fight before the duo meet, “Anthony Joshua’s focus is on Deontay Wilder but we don’t believe his team wants the fight so we have to look at other options. If AJ is to fight in the summer and it’s not Deontay, then a win over (Johann) Duhaupas on April 28 will put Jarrell (Miller) in a great spot to land a shot at Joshua.” Either way, here are 10 reasons why I believe everyone is better off if this showdown happens in England.
1. Atmosphere – What is a great athletic event if it is not matched by a great backdrop of screaming fans? Well, often times, a soulless Vegas casino hall, that puts comped high rollers in the front rows, whom, many times, did not go to Vegas for the fight in the first place. Unless the fight is hosted in Dallas, it will not draw 90,000 fans and, given neither Joshua nor Wilder are Mexican, I doubt that audience figure would be reached, even in Texas. The atmosphere for the Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko bout crackled with tension, passion and excitement from the opening bell to final punch. That came across over the television screen and will lend a huge fight like this the electric feel it deserves. Plus let’s be honest: pay-per-view prices have risen so astronomically in America that any extra features, such as ambiance or crowd size, are sorely needed talking points.
2. It’s been earned – European heavyweights have dominated boxing’s prestige division for the past two decades. Going back to the 1980s, and half of the 1990s, we Americans loudly proclaimed Europeans, Asians, Africans or South Americans had to win in America to gain respect because this is where the majority of the champions compete. Guess what? That is no longer the case. With few exceptions, the Europeans have taken our boxers’ lunches from heavyweight to super middleweight and are now pushing us back on the 160-pound front as well. Do we tell Asian boxers at flyweight and below that they have to come to America to be respected champions? Wilder and other American heavyweights need to prove they are the beginning of a new era of American dominance instead of throwing out cliches that are no longer valid or relevant. Sadly the sporting table has been well and truly turned on us, when it comes to heavyweights.
3. A bigger draw – This is simple math. In his last three fights, Joshua has attracted attendances of 75,000, 78,000 and 90,000 fans. Compare and contrast those numbers to 14,069 fans for Wilder’s most recent defense in New York City – and the Barclays Center has a capacity of 19,000 fans. More fans attended the Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia fight, 364 days earlier, so there is little doubt which half of this heavyweight duo has a greater fanbase. Why should a boxer whom is better supported be told to perform in front of a smaller crowd? I can envision the New York Yankees traveling to Mexico City to perform in front of 100,000 fans at Estadio Azteca…but not flying across the ocean to face the Netherlands International Squad at Sportpark Ookmeer Stadium, which seats 1,000 fans. Does Joshua gain more American admirers and long-term fans by performing on an American PPV, which limits his audience size in the first place? If this event is about generating new fans, then watching an exciting product in front of passionate audience will do that. New fans are not generated just because an event happens in Vegas.
4. It is better for the majority of real boxing fans – How many Deontay Wilder fans are going to London for this fight? A couple hundred, maximum? I was generous with that figure too, not deducting Wilder’s family members or entourage. On the other hand, it has already been shown that thousands will travel to support U.K. boxers like Ricky Hatton, Naseem Hamed and Lennox Lewis. They have proven their fandom, so why make them pay for the flight, hotel rooms and tickets to boot? The promoters would be adversely affecting a larger number of fans, who want to attend the live event by forcing them to travel a long distance with a large financial investment (hotel, tickets and food money) on top of that. Also, if the fight happens this summer, many English sport fans would have to choose between attending the Joshua fight or the World Cup to cheer on their national soccer team.
5. Better presentation – No offense to American promoters but it has reached a point where you are simply the suppliers of a commodity to television networks or casinos. Once the contracts have been signed, it seems many are content to let the TV side do the rest, not investing in special lighting or intro videos that are played before the boxers enter the arena. When have fans seen Al Haymon selling an event or boxer in a interview? I will compliment Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions for doing a better-than-average job for fans, whom attend their live shows with their videos and staging. However if you have watched how the World Boxing Super Series, or other major productions from Europe, pump up and inform their crowds, they are “out-Hollywooding” America!
6. Saturday afternoon boxing – Kids, listen up: This used to be “a thing.” Yes, give me back afternoon boxing matches, even if I have to pay for them, in this case. I am not denying that everyone loves the social aspect of going over to someone’s house to watch a PPV but who wants to attend a PPV party that ends just before or after midnight, in many cases? Have the fight in London, so American audiences can throw a backyard barbecue during the undercard, then leave with full stomachs at 4 or 4:30 p.m Eastern Time, to get home and spend the rest of the evening with the family. Yes, American PPV audiences are used to getting their products in the evening but perhaps having it from 1 to 4 p.m. will give the event a sense of being different. Besides if we pay $75 or $100 bucks for this event, you will not forget what time it starts!
7. Superior media coverage – The internet presence for boxing in America takes a backseat to no one and, in most cases, is superior to European content. However the mainstream media coverage of boxing in America sucks at covering our sport. England still has a vibrant newspaper business and tradition, which will devote infinitely more column space and ink than USA Today or the New York Times ever would. HBO and Showtime will still do their “24/7”-type features but will not offer them to the masses for free like British outlets such as the BBC, Sky Sports or Talksport.
8. Because Joshua calls the shots – We might not like to hear this, given the recent wave of “America First” rhetoric but, in this case, Joshua has the superior financial power and fan base. There is a reason Wladimir Klitschko traveled to England for their showdown, besides being the challenger, and also a reason why Al Haymon’s PBC lost a purse bid to Russian Alexander Povetkin. That reason is fiscal, since Joshua is a huge commercial draw, with a devoted fan base that goes beyond the niche boxing fraternity. Joshua is a crossover star like Oscar De La Hoya or Mike Tyson were in America. In America, Wilder barely makes 60-second features on SportsCenter, three times a year, while Joshua hits the U.K. talk show circuit that is the equivalent to “Late Night with Steven Colbert” or “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” Joshua has built his brand while Wilder is still trying to find a market for his.
9. The respect is in the check – In his most recent outing, Wilder was paid between 2.1 and 2.5 million dollars (the highest payday ever for him) while Joshua reportedly raked in 20 million pounds against Joseph Parker. Currently one pound is worth $1.40 USD making the pay gap even more enormous! So will they earn less staging this fight in America, which would mean the opening bell for their fight 4 a.m. for English PPV buyers? Does the American market make up for an estimated 1,000,000 U.K. PPV buyers? (The Joshua-Klitschko fight had 1.5 million PPV buys in U.K. alone.) I know I would hesitate buying an event that starts at 2 a.m. on a Sunday. American boxing PPVs rarely crack a million buys, so can the American market make up for a projected U.K. shortfall? The casino site fee is the only real money-producing avenue that is not open to Joshua in England and, to date, he has been happy doing without that, given his compensation. That casino check could be made up for in mainstream advertisers in England (Joshua also has personal sponsors like JD Sports, Beats by Dre headphones and Lucozade), as American PPVs are no longer backed by major beer sponsors, unless a Mexican boxer is the headliner.
10. Make a case for Wilder deserving the hometown advantage – Money? Perhaps but as I pointed out, even that is debatable and marginal, at best. Has Wilder looked dominant? Nope. Even in a knockout win over Luis Ortiz (whom a panel of experts expected to lose by a 20-0 margin), there were many moments of doubt. Should Wilder get it just because he is American and that is the way things have been done in the past? Do some non-nationalistic soul-searching and ask yourself what Wilder had done better than Joshua to deserve a home field advantage.