Tyson Fury versus Deontay Wilder: Is second choice worthy of a pay-per-view?
I am convinced that Anthony Joshua is the best and most marketable heavyweight in the world. Because of those virtues, the IBF, WBA and WBO titleholder can dictate when and where a showdown with WBC beltholder Deontay Wilder will take place. Like you, I am frustrated that this showdown has been pushed to 2019 by the Joshua camp but that is the history of big heavyweight fights dating back to John L. Sullivan. Luckily for Wilder, 40-0 (39), an interesting door No. 2 opened up with the return of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, 27-0 (19). The colorful Fury is an easy sell for casual American sports fans who pay more attention to WWE-style trash talk than recent accomplishments. A question boxing fans should ask themselves is, will the pre-fight trash talk be the ONLY entertaining part of the promotion?
In all probability the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder match-up will do excellent numbers in the United Kingdom but will a Wilder-Fury pay-per-view sell in America at a rumored entry point of $60? If not, even without Showtime and BT Sport (the U.K. television side) revealing proposed purses, the Showtime-produced and distributed event could be a financial flop that further strengthens Joshua’s A-side position. Remember, for the sake of comparison, Joshua’s last three fights drew live gates accumulating 243,000 fans, compared to 42,000 for Wilder’s last three outings. It will take a lot of pre-fight buzz, depending on the advertising budget Showtime throws at the event, to entice broad viewership, especially since Wilder and Fury are not relevant with the Hispanic demographic that American PPVs rely heavily on. Negligible or unimpressive American PPV figures ultimately give Joshua more room to maneuver, if Wilder emerges victorious.
Tyson Fury did nothing to sell himself as a knockout threat (which is high on American fans’ list of priorities) to Wilder, in a monotonous 10-round tune-up against an impotent Francesco Pianeta last Saturday. It was among the worst pre-PPV showcases since Zab Judah lost to Carlos Baldomir back in 2006. What does make Fury dangerous is his awkward style. He continually switches stances or changes distance and has the proven ability to focus for 12 championship rounds, when faced with a championship-caliber opponent. A prime Fury did those things almost three years ago, outpointing Wladimir Klitschko, and will need to call on that experience against a Wilder who takes more chances than Klitschko did.
A consensus of reports has the fight landing in Las Vegas, where Wilder has fought three times and Fury never made an appearance. In his most recent Sin City act, Wilder was forced to go the 12-round distance for the only time against Bermane Stiverne. In that fight Wilder won the WBC title but it was a relatively dull bout, for which only 8,463 fans showed up at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The reason a Wilder-Fury showdown has been conjured into reality is because Anthony Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn are employing American-style financial hardball tactics. Joshua makes considerably more money for a title defense than his American counterpart and can afford to ignore Wilder. According to promoter Frank Warren, he smoothed both egos, getting Wilder and Fury to settle on a 50/50 purse split, which neither would have gotten from Matchroom Boxing, who negotiates on Joshua’s behalf. Still by most accounts, their payday will not equal what Wilder would have received in even a 70/30 split against Joshua.
Putting the raw numbers aside, Wilder says fighting Fury for a smaller purse came down to respect, as much as financial gain. Wilder spoke out at Fury’s Belfast weigh-in, telling the press that Joshua and Hearn disrespected him, “How low can you think of a person to degrade a man of my stature and what I’ve done for this sport? No matter what you think of me, $15 million and no percentage? When you gave a guy lower than me, that has done nothing for the sport a percentage, but you want to give the baddest man on the planet no percentage? It don’t get no clearer than that they don’t want the fight.”
Considering that Wilder’s career-high payday is $2.1 million, against Luis Ortiz, a $15 million check looks like an enticing figure. in comparison, Anthony Joshua reportedly earned $22 million in adding the WBO title belt to his collection against Joseph Parker. However it is disingenuous to only offer Wilder a flat fee with no percentage of the gate or pay-per-view sales. Wilder even found support from the last undisputed champion Lennox Lewis, “My thoughts on the Anthony Joshua and Wilder situation are that, when I was champ, I wanted to face the best to show the world who’s the best. Period. I’ve heard them both speak on it but I’ve also seen that AJ has changed his tune. This isn’t a two-year-down-the-line thing! When I wanted to fight (Mike) Tyson before retiring, the only thing keeping that fight away was the networks. I told my team and HBO to make it happen. End of story.”
Even with all the contractual frustration, Wilder continues to seek a clash with Joshua in the first quarter of 2019, should both men win their upcoming title defenses. That requires Joshua to beat a still-dangerous Alexander Povetkin, on September 22, in London’s Wembley Stadium, and for Wilder to get past a tricky Fury. A victory over Fury, no matter the PPV numbers or manner in which Wilder does it, puts Wilder in a better bargaining position, since Fury remains a respected figure for his boxing ability in England.
Joshua’s promoter nearly took the Tyson Fury option away from Wilder as well. Eddie Hearn was negotiating with Fury until Frank Warren stepped in and enticed the free agent with the Wilder option, knowing negotiations for the Joshua-Wilder fight had hit a dead end. Fury made the right choice, given the offer Hearn laid out. Fury told Belfast’s IFL TV of the tougher road Hearn had put before him, “He offered me a three-fight deal. One of them was to fight an American guy, Travis Kauffman, then to fight Dillian Whyte and then finaly take on Tony Bellew, followed by a fight with Joshua.”
I have my doubts about Fury traveling to the city of magic shows and conjuring a victory. Wilder’s one-punch power could easily undo nine rounds of great work, as it did with Luis Ortiz, and Fury was not kind to his body (ballooning to 300 pounds, thanks to drink and drugs) during his nearly three-year ring absence. Sure, Wilder is often off-balance and leaves his hands down a lot but that may actually work for him, given Fury does his best work against orthodox boxers. Fury’s sleight of hand inside the ring looked intact against two painfully slow, low-level foes – but can it work against an athletic force such as Wilder?
Fury has found a shortcut through Las Vegas to get back to the top instead of spending two years building up to an Anthony Joshua showdown. The “Gypsy King” looks to hit a jackpot in Las Vegas and frankly it is not beyond his capabilities. An incredible trick considering it has only been two months, beating two weak foes, since Fury came out of a retirement. Yet Fury has convinced Showtime that his persona is a worthwhile gamble. Even his title-winning performance was more sorcery than the wielding of a sharp blade against Wladimir Klitschko. Can Fury pull another rabbit out of the hat against Wilder? While I doubt the PPV lives up to its purchase price, I do know one of these boxers will emerge with a golden ticket to fight Anthony Joshua.