At last! A boxing pay-per-view event which is worthy of our hard earned money – as well as our time – as Britain’s Tyson Fury takes on Deontay Wilder of the US, tonight (December 1).
The fight takes place at Los Angeles’ Staples Center – a new venue for both fighters – for the WBC World Heavyweight title.
Their tale to box office heavyweight heights began in 2013, when the pair clashed outside the ring following Wilder’s first round knockout victory over Audley Harrison, in Sheffield.
Five years later, and fans are seemingly getting a good deal – a far cry from what we’ve been used to in recent times when it comes to the ol’ fisticuffs.
Let’s get down to the bare bones of it all. The phrase ‘part-time fan’ is one which sits uneasily with me and yet it’s one which understandably plagues the sport.
If you don’t attend all your football team’s home and away games (regardless of the situation), you’re a part-timer. If you follow Conor McGregor but not MMA as a whole, you’re a part-time fan, and the same is often said with boxing.
If I hear one more person say ‘I love AJ’ but they can’t tell me anything about his boxing style or early career, I won’t lie, I get triggered!
A lot of ‘die-hard’ boxing fans will say it’s this type of culture which is hampering the sport, for instance, those purchasing pay-per-view events, despite ‘dull’ cards.
Twitter timelines are filled with opinions like: ‘as soon as people stop forking out for these fights, then promoters will have to put on better cards for a ‘real’ ppv’.
They have a point.
However, it just means promoters like Eddie Hearn are doing their jobs – and doing them well – but consequently, it’s alienating a large amount of fans and potential fans.
The Anthony Joshua-marketing train is steady in its tracks, and Matchroom won’t risk a derailment anytime soon while their cash cow (AJ) is in full milk-mode.
Boxing, along with the UFC, football, the NFL – you name it – are all businesses – and therefore the money comes first. But it’s about time a middle ground was met, surely?
However, there are exceptions to that and big fights will inevitably come – take Canelo v GGG for example.
These two fights have been – nearly – everything which is right with boxing. The fight, as well as the rematch, were wildly exciting and extremely close, with two highly accomplished fighters, both widely respected, at the heart of it all.
Away from the issues of scorecards and positive drug tests, both fighters had shared hard-earned success.
And yet, until Canelo agreed to fight Genady Golovkin, he’d never approached a million PPV purchases. I wonder what the trilogy will raise?
We’re all under no illusion how great promotion and pr stunts can work within sport, but in boxing, it’s fair to say it’s all become a bit WWE.
Now, I like WWE – there’s a reason the staged fights are so successful – but canned rivalries are not what I want from my boxing.
The build-ups of late have been embarrassing. Tony Bellew and David Haye trying to convince the British public (because who else was tuning in?) they were the greatest of enemies was hardly an original routine. For anyone watching the Usyk v Bellew fight, their camaraderie was evident following the Bomber’s defeat.
We’re boxing fans – we love the beef between opponents, but when it’s fake and staged, we hate it, see right through it, and it tarnishes the sport.
But yet, is this what the majority of us are tuning in for?
The ‘fight of the century’ between the UFC’s then first two-division champion, Conor McGregor, and possibly the greatest boxer of our generation, Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, was a spectacle in and outside of the ring.
McGregor – arguably the best trash talker in the world of sport – against a (then) 49-0 Mayweather – who loves nothing more than flaunting his cash on the ‘Gram – embarked on a highly-hyped, four-city press tour.
The result – 4.3 million PPV sales, blowing GGG v Canelo out of the water.
No promoter – nor fighter for that matter – forces us to tune in though. They don’t demand our bank details and force our hands – so perhaps, if we want change, it’s time for us to turn off now and again?
Yet tonight, in Fury’s case – the lineal champ – he’ll be looking to claim the one major title which has evaded his career so far, as well as coming back with a statement.
Should he defeat Wilder, many will regard it as his greatest victory since his shock win over Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf, when he outpointed the long-time Heavyweight Champion of the world.
Just days after his victory over the Ukrainian, in a very one-sided affair on foreign soil, Fury had been stripped of the IBF belt after the governing body refused to sanction Fury’s contractually-mandated rematch with Klitschko – a fight which would later fall through on two occasions.
Ill-health and problems with substance misuse forced Fury to vacate his remaining world titles (October 2016) and then made the decision to take a step back from the sport while he addressed personal problems.
But in January this year, two years on from his decision, Fury announced his comeback.
I’m not a big Fury fan but I have respect for what he’s achieved and more admiration for the Mancunian for being open and honest about his mental health, while staging a comeback at the highest of levels – not to mention his weight loss of over 10 stone.
A victory would add to the true underdog story so much of us love.
Yet, if Fury should win tonight, a rematch will take place, before and inevitably, the winner goes on to face AJ – late 2019/early 2020 seems the most likely with Joshua believed to be facing Whyte in April.
That fight will be PPV, and will be regarded as the true heavyweight contest of the world…unless there’s another belt to come out of the wood-work?
Joking, but it brings me on to my next point as to why boxing is thought to be losing it’s real fans – the number of belts.
As Michael Buffer gets our anticipation levels soaring through the screen, we so often hear him proclaim from centre stage: “WBA…WBO…IBF…”
Well we do when he’s announcing AJ – but is the number of belts really helping the sport? I know it’s been argued to death, but it’s still valid in 2018.
Simply, boxing has too many championships and too many champions.
We have the four main sanctioning bodies – IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO. Each award a title in every weight class. Basically, up to four fighters can potentially claim to be a world champion at any given weight.
You might as well be holding up a Gucci belt – oh wait:
— SHOWTIME Boxing (@ShowtimeBoxing) November 20, 2018
But to add to this, several sanctioning bodies have developed second tier belts which they call regular champions – different to their ‘super’ champions, who’ve held the belts for a lengthy period of time.
All this does is create a situation where two fighters can hold the same belt from the same sanctioning body.
And what is this all for? Well it does nothing but to line the pockets for that particular sanctioning organisation, and consequently hurts the sport.
Get rid of so many of these useless belts!
Unfortunately, there’s another area of the sport which continues to prove problematic – bad decisions.
Dodgy scorecards and outcomes have damaged competition for years, and it’s ruining it when more fans – particularly in the UK – are turning to other combat sports, like MMA.
Investing your time and money in a fight and then having the outcome on the scorecards not reflect the action in the ring, just fuels accusations of corruption.
I don’t need to remind you of the horrible decisions in these fights: Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley, Michael Conlan vs Vladimir Nikitin (2016 Olympics), and Matthew Macklin v Felix Strum in 2011 to name a few.
To be fair to some of the judges, many bout results can prove subjective and different people see or favour things differently, but not all.
When we have a close fight, as seen in Canelo and GGG’s rematch – there will always be one set of fans who feel they’ve been cheated or robbed.
As Peter Khan wrote for Forbes:
In the end, though, boxing as a whole suffers even when we’re treated to an epic battle like the one we watched on September 15 simply because there is a segment of fans and pundits alike that can’t accept the outcome and truthfully don’t fully understand how boxing is judged and how subjective it really is.
Ask the average boxing fan how they scored the fight and they will tell you who they thought won. Rarely will they tell you who they thought won, by what score and what criteria they used to score their rounds.
It’s when there’s a near unanimous opinion and the judges get it horribly wrong it’s a problem – but it’s something the sport needs to address through better training and an updated scoring system if it’s to be fair, impartial, accurate, and transparent to fans.
On his podcast, Joe Rogan stated:
I think the problem with judging is – it’s the same in both sports (MMA) – you should have someone who has experience in the sport. They have to have a deep understanding of what they’re actually watching and that’s not the case.
I know it’s not the case in boxing because I know a lot of the same judges from boxing also judge MMA – they don’t know what they’re talking about in MMA and I don’t think they know what they’re talking about in boxing either, and that’s a real travesty.
It’s a huge disservice to these professional athletes who literally, are risking everything, as they step in there. There’s a real good chance that they might not come out and it happens every so many fights, a guy dies. It’s just a fact in boxing.
It’s just a shame that judging is so poor and it’s been this way for so long.
Watch Chris Eubank defend the sport in the video below:
But it’s been argued the scorecards, and the judges, are just part and parcel of a deeper corruption within the sport.
Iconic trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas, recently told Joe Rogan about what he considered the fundamental problems within boxing:
Boxing has no real accountability, no structure across the board. Nothing unilateral because you have different states that have different commissions, and they’re supposed to be tied together but they all act differently.
There’s no national commissions, there’s no body, there’s no dictator that overlooks and polices the whole sport.
The alphabet organisations – they’re corrupt – they are – I mean, it’s not Teddy Atlas saying it.
Rogan acknowledged Atlas’ statement, saying ‘everybody’s saying it’.
Now, if you know where to go, in Europe, America, United States too, all through Europe where there’s a lot of big fights – there was just a big fight with Joshua in London they drew 90,000, which is good for the sport and it’s incredible.
But if you know what restaurant to go to the night before a big fight, you’ll walk in the restaurant – I won’t say something if I can’t stand behind it – and you’ll see at the restaurant – it’s a big table, not the last supper but it’s a big table – and you’ll see all the officials at that table, that are going to work the fight the next night.
And you’ll see the organisational heads, the heads of that sanctioning body and the guys in charge, the Presidents, Vice Presidents, supervisors, the judges, the referees, and guess who the host of the dinner is? The promoter! There’s something wrong with that! There’s something greatly wrong with that.
So the host of the dinner – and it’s a big bill obviously, a lot of people, it’s a good restaurant, they’re eating all the best stuff, drinking all the best wines, and everything else – and it’s been picked up by the promoter who wants a specific fighter to win that night.
As the saying goes – money talks – but is money one of the reasons as to why the heavyweight division is thought to be lacking real competition?
According to Forbes’ list of ‘The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes’, just three boxers feature inside the Top 100: Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and Anthony Joshua.
Why would a young professional of considerable size opt for a sport like boxing when organisations like the NFL and NBA seem to earn their stars a hell of a lot more money?
LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Matt Ryan, and Matthew Stafford feature inside the top 10 from those two sports, while the rest is made up of footballers (Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo), then McGregor and Tennis ace, Roger Federer.
Delve into the top 20 and those worthy enough emphasise my point. Apart from Canelo, it’s all NBA and NFL stars with a couple of racing drivers, a golfer and a tennis player (Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal).
Unless you make it to the top of division, you’re not going to make anywhere near as much as a NBA player – so are we losing guys to this route?
In 2006 world-renowned boxing promoter, Don King, addressed the issue of how the heavyweight division was in decline during a press tour to promote then-fighter Nikolai Valuev, he said:
I wish I knew where the next great American heavyweight will come from because right now the Russians are here.
But I promise you, if there is one out there playing basketball or [American] football, I will find him.
King believed the increasingly rewarding lifestyle – just 12 years ago – in other American sports had been fundamental to the decline of heavyweight boxing.
Regardless of the NBA and NFL, even a sport like baseball was said to be grabbing the attention of potential fighters over the prospect of the numerous lonely years a boxer will spend in the gym while they learn their trade.
King also argued, for boxing, there are precious few scholarships available for boxers within the lucrative university system of subsidised sport in the US.
Others have argued the problem is more to do with athletes not having boxing as an alternative when they’re younger.
Away from the world of social media and console gaming, boxing gyms are fading from the streets. Back in 2006, in Las Vegas alone, 10 or more have either closed or converted to mixed martial arts centres in the last six years.
As MMA and other combat sports continue to grow in popularity, it’s hard miss the emergence of new training centres.
American commentator Steve Farhood, previously said, as reported by the Independent:
I just don’t think that the amateur machinery is there to push them through. The programme is weak right now.
The pull of the NBA and NFL is strong and a lot of kids are turning to the various forms of martial arts.
All the Soviet kids have an excellent grounding, they can all box and they think like boxers. They have better fundamentals and I can’t believe I’m saying that.
Check out Steve in action for Showtime – what a series this was:
In regards to the current state of the heavyweight division, there’s one name which stands out from the handful of others – and by some margin too.
Anthony Joshua – with his £30m fortune, seven plus million Instagram followers and two million plus followers on Twitter – seems to be the only ‘big name’ in the division.
Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker, Luis ‘King Kong’ Ortiz, Alexander Povetkin, Kubrat Pulev, Dillian Whyte, Dominic Breazeale, and of course Tyson Fury – they just don’t have the same pull.
But why is that?
No other heavyweight makes Forbes’ list of The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes, their followings on Instagram stand around the million mark, and Twitter, well they don’t even reach one million. Fury is the closest with 966,000 (at the time of writing).
Take Wilder for example. He’s the WBC heavyweight champion, with a professional record of 40-0 (39 of which by KO), stands at 6’7″, weighing 220 pounds, American, yet his most recent fights drew average crowds of just 12,000, while Joshua fights in front of 70,000 if not more.
It would be too lengthy to discuss every other fighter compared to Joshua, as well as their individual traits, but if we take Wilder as the prime example, I feel there are a number of issues at the heart of his perceived unfavourableness.
His technique throughout most of his career has been an issue for a lot of the boxing community, deemed aesthetically unpleasing to watch. Thought to be too vulnerable and not disciplined in the ring, pundits and fans alike put him to one side.
Then there’s the opponent issue. Most have had anti-doping violations. Three have failed pre-fight drug tests and the delays have cost him possible momentum in regards to fights and earnings.
If we’d seen knockout wins against the likes of Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, Bermane Stiverne and Andrzej Wawrzyk, things may have been a little different for Wilder. In all fairness though, his KO record isn’t too shabby – with 39.
Now I’ve never met Wilder – (if you’re reading I’d love the opp for an interview, worth a punt…) – but he doesn’t come across as a proper character, especially when you compare it to the golden age of the heavyweight division – the 90s.
Maybe if he were a ‘showman’ in the dramatised sense, or was outspoken and controversial – like the Mike Tysons and Conor McGregors of this world – it would make him more interesting to watch and follow.
Mike Tyson highlighted this point when he spoke to BoxingScene in September about the current generation of boxers and how they lack personality, which in turn has contributed to the sport’s decline:
It’s just different because they are not the big personalities. Most of the (current) fighters are very straightforward guys. They are real nice guys and they are good individuals.
I was always in trouble. I was always here and there so that’s why I was always in the papers and that’s why it’s different. These are really straight gentlemen guys. I was really wild and a young kid getting into trouble.
But the current generation of fighters have to think of so much more nowadays. Regardless of what Tyson has and hasn’t done in his personal life, like all sports stars, the microscope is well and truly on them.
They can’t afford to offend and risk alienation of sections of fans, and more importantly, sponsors – which for someone like AJ – is where so much of their income is generated from.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and stars like McGregor are rare examples of how ‘showmanship’ can generate mass-hysteria (and money) beyond the realms of their true fans and wildest dreams.
Why do we love to hate so many, yet show adoration for a seemingly ‘bad bunch’?
I mentioned earlier the importance of promotion and how it can be a chain reaction to unfathomable success, so is it a case of Wilder being poorly promoted?
For all his success inside the ring, along with his fairly clean-cut image, there’s no reason why Wilder shouldn’t be more loved and better known.
After parting ways with GoldenBoy in 2015 Wilder has been under the wing of Lou DiBella and DiBella Entertainment, and yet we have no countdowns to his fights, no press circus etc.
Even the Twitter accounts of DiBella and the company fail to make regular acknowledgements of Wilder, but Eddie Hearn is always working with his fighters, or that’s how it comes across on social media and television screens.
If you take a scroll through Lou’s feed, in the last month alone, I’m yet to a see a personal message about Wilder – a handful of retweets from his account, and a handful more about various outlets talking about the fight, but look at Hearn’s – notice the difference?
The magnitude of this fight against Fury is pretty huge given the eventual outcome (rematch included) and will more than likely determine who fights Anthony Joshua – so maybe that’s why we’re getting a bit more compared to his fight back in January this year?
Wilder’s the ONLY American heavyweight champion and yet promoters and networks treat him as if he’s just another fighter.
Maybe they played it wrong, as early on in his career it seemed like they protected him a great deal from real challenges, almost as if they weren’t complete believers in his skill level?
Now he’s risen as high as he can without being regarded as the top draw at heavyweight, it’s like his team don’t know what to do with him from a promotional standpoint.
And lastly, is it that Wilder just simply lacks a definitive victory? He has an incredible record, but, like a lot of other boxers, he really hasn’t beaten anyone of note.
Up to now, his best wins came over Ortiz and twice against Stiverne.
In regards to Stiverne, the first victory was great as it brought him his world title, but the second one only took place because Ortiz failed the pre-fight drug test.
The two wins over Stiverne and the rescheduled bout against Ortiz aren’t really enough to make Wilder a star.
You can only be the best by fighting and beating the best around you – he needs to win a series of fights over the best in the division, predominantly now, Fury and Joshua.
Wladimir Klitschko suffered similar criticisms during his reign as World Heavyweight Champion – who he fought, his style of boxing etc – but again, you can only fight who’s in front of you – and he stepped up to arguably the current best – AJ.
UNILAD reached out to promoters, including Eddie Hearn and Matchroom, as well as Frank Warren, but both failed to give comment.
Tonight, Wilder is odds-on favourite to retain his title but Fury, after a two-year absence from the sport, is undeniably looking to cause an upset.
It’s an old-age cliche but styles make fights and this is what makes tonight’s bout extremely interesting, regardless of publicity, ticket sale, PPV figures etc.
Wilder is ridiculously powerful, and long. Tyson’s long too, but Wilder’s power could be a problem for the self proclaimed Gypsy King, yet his movement could cause problems for Wilder, I mean, is there a harder hitter in the game?
In terms of the undercard and value for money, it isn’t looking too bad either.
There’s the world title fight between Mark Barriga v Carlos Licona for a vacant strawweight belt, up-and-coming light heavyweight Anthony Yarde, and former two-division world titleholder Robert Guerrero to name a few.
Perhaps this Los Angeles mega-fight will be responsible for shaking up the division and the sport, while encouraging the next generation of fighters to get into the boxing gym?
Let’s just hope it’s a good fight, with decent performances from all boxers involved and of course, the judges: America’s Jack Reiss, the UK’s Phil Edwards, Mexico’s Alejandro Rochin and Canada’s Robert Tapper.
Wilder vs Fury will be shown live exclusively on BT Sport Box Office HD, for £19.95.