Ever since Tyson Fury fought Derek Chisora on Dec. 3 in, let’s be honest, an utterly meaningless bout for the heavyweight title, we’ve expected the joyful news that Fury would next meet Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight title.
It’s not happening, though, which is typical of boxing. The sport’s downfall in the past few decades has been its inability to regularly deliver the biggest fights its fans want to see.
The blame for this one goes squarely on the broad shoulders of Fury, the 6-foot-9 WBC heavyweight champion. Usyk holds the WBA, WBO and IBF belts, as well as a pair of victories over Fury rival Anthony Joshua. And in an attempt to make the fight for the undisputed belt, he agreed to every demand, no matter how absurd, that Fury made.
How much more serious could Usyk have shown himself to be when he accepted the smaller half of a 70-30 revenue split? That’s practically unheard of. Go back to 1971 when Muhammad Ali, who in his career was 100 times more popular and well known than Fury will ever be, agreed to a 50-50 split to fight Joe Frazier in New York on March 8, 1971.
That remains perhaps the most iconic bout in boxing history, but it wouldn’t have happened had Ali made grotesque financial demands.
Fury versus Usyk was pegged for April 29, but that timeframe didn’t work for its potential financiers in Saudi Arabia, who are building a new state-of-the-art arena. Late fall was the timeframe that worked best for the Saudis.
So with the Saudis unable to fund the bout, the only choice for its location would have been in England, Fury’s homeland. The bout, of course, would have been a massive hit in that boxing-mad country, though the middle of the afternoon start time in the United States would have guaranteed pay-per-view sales here would not be nearly as lucrative as they would have been had the fight been in Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles or Arlington, Texas.
Because of his affiliation with reported mobster Daniel Kinahan, Fury is not allowed to enter the U.S. at this time. Thus, England was the only reasonable location for the fight when the Saudis were out.
Usyk agreed to that, giving Fury a distinct home-field advantage.
And when Fury requested 70-30 on the purse split, Usyk agreed to that, as well. He wanted the fight.
Money, of course, is important in this scenario and the fighters need to extract as big of a cut as they can. This is a deadly sport and one never knows when the next fight is the last. So fighters need to get paid.
At the same time, though, it’s also a sport. And bringing the best together is the essence of sports at the highest level. It’s what we’re seeing now in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s why soccer’s World Cup is so hotly anticipated. It’s why the NFL’s Super Bowl allows its owners to write blank checks. It’s how Cleveland’s DeShaun Watson received a guaranteed $230 million after a career in which he’d never won a Super Bowl and was 1-2 in the playoffs.
No big star in a mega-fight the likes of a potential Fury-Usyk bout has ever demanded such ridiculous numbers as the 70-30 revenue split Fury wanted. If the net revenues going to the fighters turned out to be $150 million — and it’s likely to be much, much higher than that — Fury would have made $105 million compared to $45 million for Usyk at a 70-30 split. That’s life-altering money for both. Of course, it would have been life-altering for both at a 55-45 split in favor of Fury, which would have given Fury $82.5 million and Usyk $67.5.
Remember, $150 million in net revenue was probably low, and with the likelihood of a rematch, both fighters would have made much, much more.
But the bout the fans so badly wanted to see, the bout that would have made both ridiculous amounts of money and the bout that boxing so badly needs fell apart after a difference of opinion over the percentage splits in a rematch.
Fury may fight Joe Joyce next, but who will really care about that? Fury’s diehard fans in England will care, but do you really believe that that fight will capture the imagination of fight fans in the U.S. and in other parts of the world? It won’t, without question.
One of the reasons boxing struggles now is the pay scale is out of whack. It was fine to pay Floyd Mayweather a $100 million guarantee and give him massive upside, because he brought in the money. The same is/was true of Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, Canelo Alvarez, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Oscar De La Hoya and others, because they did the same.
But there are fighters now who are requesting seven- and eight-figure purses who can’t sell a ticket or a pay-per-view.
As a result of that, fights like the potential undisputed welterweight championship between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence goes kaput, and it looks like Fury-Usyk is headed that way, as well.
Boxing is the only major sport that allows business issues to dismantle its biggest fights.
It’s often difficult to know where to point the finger.
This one, though, is easy.
If the undisputed heavyweight championship bout doesn’t happen this year, the blame is 100 percent on the shoulders of one Tyson Luke Fury.
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