FOLLOWINGthe success of the Wilder-Fury pay-per-view on both sides of the Atlantic, and Anthony Joshua’s four consecutive stadium fights, it looked like heavyweight boxing was about to explode in 2019 with a Wilder-Fury rematch followed by an undisputed fight between the winner and Anthony Joshua to end the year. Somehow, however, despite massive money being offered and public interest, it has all been put on pause … for now. But why, and for how long?
As had previously been rumored, on 19th March WBC belt holder Deontay Wilder announced that the undefeated heavyweight would not be accepting a massive offer from streaming service DAZN. The deal was rumoured to be worth an amazing $120million for four fights, including two undisputed title fights that would be legacy defining against Great Britain’s WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO unified champion, Anthony Joshua.
After his previous comments about being a 'free agent' and saying 'goodbye' to Showtime the news was a massive disappointed to casual and hardcore boxing fans alike, who were left scratching their heads as to what possible reason could any professional athlete have for turning down such a massive offer?
Adding to the confusion was the news that Wilder would be fighting his mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale next, on regular Showtime and not pay-per-view as had been rumored earlier: a situation which makes little logical sense when considering that the offer made by DAZN executive chairman John Skipper, and not Anthony Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, would have included Wilder making his debut on the streaming service in the exact same match-up but for a career high payday of $20million.
The disappointment of Wilder’s puzzling announcement was then followed by rumors that Tyson Fury would be facing untested and unknown German prospect Tom Schwarz next, instead of a legitimate top fifteen appointment such as former WBO heavyweight king Joseph Parker, or even a well-known former title contender like Bryant Jennings. The Tom Schwarz bout being the first fight of Fury’s recent new $100million deal with Bob Aaron’s Top Rank and ESPN.
Despite Schwarz being undefeated (24/0) and holding the WBO Inter-Continental title; a championship belt Fury and other Frank Warren fighters have previously used as a stepping stone to the WBO world title in the past; the Fury- Schwarz fight has almost been universally panned by fans and pundits alike as the weakest of the three big heavyweight contests scheduled for this spring. The other two fights being Wilder-Breazeale in May and Joshua-Miller in June; the challengers in both these championship contests being legitimate top fifteen ranked fighters, and not just ranked by one or two sanctioning bodies because of holding a secondary title and boxing politics outside the ring.
Another surprising turn of events yet to be resolved are the broadcast rights to Dillian Whyte’s fights in the United States. While originally expected to be streamed by DAZN because of working relationship between Sky UK and DAZN USA; Whyte instead opted to sell the broadcast rights to his highly anticipated rematch with Derrick Chisora to DAZN rival Showtime. Then, after winning by a knockout against Chisora, it was strongly expected that Whyte would attempt to avenge his only professional defeat by re-matching Joshua at Wembley Stadium in April. Again, Whyte surprised everyone by turning the fight down, and has been reported to be currently in negotiations with DAZN’s main streaming rival ESPN about selling his US broadcast rights to the Disney owned network.
Add to this head of boxing at Sky Sports, Adam Smith, going on the record in several YouTube interviews that Sky Sports are not happy with Hearn giving prominence to their Matchroom USA DAZN cards at the expense of the Saturday Fight Nights broadcast live by Sky Sports during primetime in the UK. “If Hearn doesn't priorities us, we won’t be happy”, Smith told SecondsOut.
While boxing fans will be disappointed with all the delays and late night/early morning live fights broadcast from the United States, is worth remembering that only a few years ago Sky Sports was the only channel covering boxing in the UK and sport looked like a ghost of the mainstream entertainment it had been just a decade earlier. Because of the competition in the US between the networks and steaming services, we are now regularly enjoying as many as four cards in one weekend.
Hungry for more boxing content ESPN have recently agreed a deal with MTK Global to stream all of their IFL TV cards live on their new streaming service ESPN+. Another winner in this Boxing gold rush for content has been the Ultimate Boxxer, which will now be airing its shows live on BT sport, Boxnation and YouTube. "British boxing has never been in such a healthy position”, said Ultimate Boxxer founder Ben Shalom at the BT Sport press conference.
Boxing is also back on UK free to air TV following the recent deal between ITV and Al Haymon’s PBC stable aligned with Fox Sports and Showtime. The sport booming both sides of the Atlantic and sooner or later the competing factions in the sport, which can be roughly broken down into: Sky Sports/DAZN, BT Sports/ESPN, and ITV/Fox Sports/Showtime, will want to regain some of the massive capital they have spent by working together, compromising and making the big super fights. HBO and Showtime worked together to make Lewis-Tyson and Mayweather-Pacquiao happen. Ultimately this isn’t that different...fingers crossed.