LAS VEGAS — Two days before Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury were to meet in a heavyweight boxing match, Fury’s promoter, Bob Arum, said the event had sold out the MGM Grand Garden Arena, generating roughly $16 million in gate revenue.
For the ticket sales, organizers can thank the competition. Wilder, a 6-foot-7 power puncher from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Fury, a 6-foot-9 technician from Manchester, England, are the world’s top two heavyweights, meeting in a rematch of a dramatic 2018 showdown. Fury won rounds early in that match, but Wilder scored a stunning 12th-round knockdown to clinch a draw, retain his World Boxing Council championship, and make a rematch between the undefeated heavyweights an anticipated fight.
But if the rematch Saturday becomes a bigger commercial success, organizers can thank cooperation.
Arum promotes Fury, and Wilder is managed by the boxing power broker Al Haymon. Those rivals have not done much business in the past, but Arum says they saw an opportunity for a rare boxing match that could capture mainstream attention.
The fight also brings together ESPN, which works with Arum’s Top Rank Boxing, and Fox Sports, a broadcast partner of Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. Both outlets will sell the pay-per-view card on TV and online platforms, and both lent their marketing muscle to the rematch. ESPN first promoted the fight during the College Football Championship game, which attracted 25.6 million viewers in January. Fox ran two commercials for it during the Super Bowl, where viewership peaked at 99.9 million.
“It’s a creative, unprecedented collaboration with us and Fox,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN’s vice president of programming. “We’re showing that two entities that historically compete like crazy for rights fees and advertising dollars have come together for this.”
When Wilder and Fury first fought, the men landed a combined 155 punches over 12 rounds, low even by heavyweight standards. But the statistics do not reflect the tension that ran through the entire fight between Fury’s cautious boxing and Wilder’s numbing punching power. Wilder’s 12th-round power outburst — a right hand-left hook combination that floored Fury — was the type of plot twist that Andre Ward, an analyst for ESPN, said made the rematch compelling to both hardcore and casual fans.
The stakes drive the fight’s drama even higher. Both men will risk undefeated records again, in a bout with no clear favorite. Ward sees the fight as a throwback to legends like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, who met as undefeated champions in 1971.
“They possess the same spirit as the heavyweight champs who laid the bricks on the path they’re walking on right now,” said Ward, a former light-heavyweight champ who retired undefeated.
“They are going to put it on the line. Reputation. Pay scale,” he said. “If you lose, you’re not going to make what you made the previous fight.”
The current professional boxing landscape lacks a megastar who can reliably deliver more than a million pay-per-view buys the way Floyd Mayweather did before he retired in 2017. But between traditional TV and upstart streaming services, the sport is available on more platforms than ever.
ESPN has said boxing helped its ESPN+ streaming service attract 7.6 million subscribers in its first two years, although a bundling with Disney’s new streaming service certainly is a major factor. Streaming service DAZN has the broadcast rights to Anthony Joshua, who holds the two other major heavyweight titles, under an eight-year, $1 billion deal. In October 2018, DAZN committed a further $365 million to an 11-fight deal with the middleweight Canelo Alvarez.
Fox is the broadcast platform for Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series. Last weekend’s P.B.C. card on Fox drew 1.8 million viewers, according to Bill Wanger, the executive vice president of programming at Fox Sports. It is a modest number compared to an N.F.L. broadcast but Wanger said it was impressive for a boxing match without a mainstream superstar, and proof the sport had a reliable audience.
The first Wilder-Fury pairing attracted a reported 325,000 pay-per-view buys, and while organizers won’t make a sales projection for the rematch, they said they were confident Saturday’s rematch would be a success, partly because of the protagonists involved.
Wilder, 34, is a dominant American heavyweight with an Olympic medal (bronze in Beijing in 2008) and stunning punching power. He has recorded knockouts in 41 of 42 pro bouts, and his recent one-punch wins over Dominic Breazeale and Luis Ortiz became viral highlights that still circulate on social media.
Fury, meanwhile, is a brash trash-talker, unbeaten in 30 pro bouts. He has a built-in fan base in England, where boxing remains a major sport, and rising from that final-round knockdown in the first Wilder fight burnished his reputation as a resourceful, resilient champion.
Arum said that he and other boxing executives have accepted that on big fights like Wilder-Fury, promoters and managers can make more money as partners than they can as rivals.
This rematch isn’t the first time competing promoters and broadcasters have collaborated on a major fight. Haymon and Mayweather worked with Arum on Mayweather’s 2015 showdown with Manny Pacquiao, which sold on both Showtime and HBO pay-per-view. Arum said that promoters and broadcasters sniped at each other in the lead-up to that fight to protect their turf, but that for this fight the partners are cooperating.
“We’re not fools, Haymon and myself,” Arum said. “We saw what ESPN and Fox were doing. There hasn’t been one argument.”
The post Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury Are Fighting, but Also Bringing Rivals Together appeared first on New York Times.