Note: Tyson Fury signed a co-promotional deal this week with Top Rank. It remains to be seen whether this move will affect a potential rematch with Deontay Wilder.
It was announced this week that two major heavyweight players would be headlining a boxing card at Madison Square Garden on June 1, in a fight for most versions of the heavyweight championship of the world.
The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison
The combatants are Anthony Joshua of the UK (22-0, 21 KOs), who holds the WBA super, IBF, and WBO titles and who is of Nigerian heritage but was raised mostly in the UK, and challenger Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller of the US (23-0-1, 20 KOs), and who is of Belizean heritage among having other roots, and proudly and loudly lets everyone know that he is from Brooklyn.
Yet not everyone is thrilled about this fight, and they are taking to their phones, tablets, computers, and perhaps bathroom walls to express their opinions.
There seem to be two main camps of people grousing about the Anthony Joshua–Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller fight.
The first includes mainly fans from the UK. This fight will be on Sky Sports Box Office there, probably for the usual twenty British pounds, which is around twenty-five or twenty-six US dollars. Since the fight is in New York, and the main event will start somewhere around 11 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, it will start in the UK at about 4 a.m. British Summer Time on Sunday, June 2, and on pay-per-view no less. This makes it a royal pain in the butt to watch it live there, and more so with Joshua not facing the two fighters so many want him to, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, who will supposedly announce their rematch shortly.
These fans do have a point, although all of Joshua’s previous twenty-two fights have been in the UK—and even his 2012 Olympic fights, in which he won a gold medal, took place in London. Many have been urging Joshua, for various reasons, to expand his base of popularity and fight in America. Now that he is finally doing so, this fight will be far more accessible to the US audience since his UK fights began at about 6 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday evenings, not the most convenient time to drop everything and watch a fight. So you can’t have it both ways.
The second camp, made up mostly of Americans but also including some British fans, bemoans Joshua’s choice of opponent, and specifically, again, that it is neither Wilder nor Fury. Yet this must be put in perspective of the reality of boxing’s oft-self-destructive governance and business models.
It is not the alphabet soup sanctioning bodies that are preventing Joshua from fighting either of these two undefeated opponents. Even the WBC, whose belt Wilder holds, said it would allow a Joshua–Wilder unification fight. So would the multitude of alphabets whose belts Joshua holds, since such a fight would obviously bring in massive revenue, and these groups would each get their three-percent-sanctioning-fee cut from the largest pile of money possible in today’s boxing environment. And even for non-unification fights, these outfits regularly juggle their rankings and bend and ignore their own rules to facilitate moneymaking fights and those the promoters and networks want, no matter how preposterous their justifications sound. These groups are indeed a nuisance, but most often not deal-breakers.
What is preventing Joshua from fighting either Wilder or Fury is the same thing that is preventing any number of best-fighting-the-best fights in most weight classes.
We are not seeing any time soon Terence Crawford fighting Errol Spence Jr. at welterweight, or Vasyl Lomachenko fighting Mikey Garcia at lightweight, or Regis Prograis fighting Jose Ramirez at super lightweight, or Gervonta Davis fighting Miguel Berchelt at super featherweight, or Leo Santa Cruz fighting Oscar Valdez at featherweight, or Oleksandr Gvozdyk fighting Dmitry Bivol at light heavyweight, and so on. We may not even see Canelo Alvarez–Gennady Golovkin III unless Golovkin signs with the DAZN streaming service, to which Canelo and his Golden Boy stablemates are currently contracted.
Therein lies the fatal flaw. All of these talented, top-level warriors—who would probably take on a grown alligator if it were simply left up to them—are tied to exclusive deals with rival promoters and networks, both linear TV and streaming. Sure, once in a long while have these entities cooperated on megafights, such as Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson in 2002 and Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao in 2015, but that’s about it. The World Boxing Super Series was supposed to start to change that in selected weight classes. But many key promoters kept their fighters out of it, the American TV networks and others around the world essentially kept it off the air, and now there have been reports of financial and organizational problems that have at best delayed this season’s round of semifinal fights, and perhaps scuttled the whole project. In America, only DAZN is contracted to show their fights.
And the impact of the troubled World Boxing Super Series? The virtually unanimous choice for 2018 fighter of the year was Olexandr Usyk, who won its cruiserweight tournament and in doing so captured all the four major belts in that division, the only fighter currently who has that distinction.
The heavyweights, of course, can command the most money and media attention in boxing, so there will be no World Boxing Super Series tournament for them. But Joshua is contracted to Sky Sports in the UK and to DAZN in the US; Wilder, as an Al Haymon fighter, is tied to Showtime and perhaps Fox in the US; and Fury is tied to promoter Frank Warren and to BT Sport in the UK and now ESPN in the US because of his co-promotional deal signed this week with Top Rank.
DAZN views itself as a pay-per-view-buster, with one relatively-low monthly fee to watch everything including marquee fights such as Canelo against Danny Jacobs on May 4, and Joshua–Miller. Showtime is sticking with the outmoded pay-per-view model for Wilder’s top fights, and is being joined in the pay-per-view racket by Fox and ESPN this year. For Lewis–Tyson and Mayweather–Pacquiao, HBO’s and Showtime’s pay-per-view arms worked together by divvying up responsibilities and airings. How DAZN and Showtime or Fox pay-per-view would work together seems incomprehensible, especially since Showtime streams fights as well.
If Joshua’s handlers relent and allow him to fight Wilder or even Fury on American pay-per-view, there could be a rebellion among DAZN subscribers, who have been promised an end to this dreaded price-gouging just to see fights. And the reported billion-dollar-plus investment by DAZN in boxing could be jeopardized, along with the positions of those DAZN has brought in to run their boxing operations.
Beyond that, Joshua has already done a far better job in cleaning out the heavyweight division than anyone else. Depending on whose ratings you prefer, he has already defeated three or four fighters currently in the top ten: Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker, and Dominic Breazeale. Several of his other opponents were also highly ranked at the time he fought them, including of course Wladimir Klitschko.
Wilder has beaten exactly one fighter currently in the consensus top ten: the aging Luis “King Kong” Ortiz. His December fight with Fury ended in an absurd split draw, with almost everyone one aside from two of the judges having Fury the points victor by a wide margin.
Even just considering the WBC’s own top fifteen at heavyweight, Joshua has already defeated six of them. Wilder has defeated just one. Fury, for his part, with his win over Klitschko and performance against Wilder, has a far better resume than Wilder (although it’s not as strong as Joshua’s).
So why Miller and not someone else?
Since Ortiz lost to Wilder last year, his value as a draw and a fighter has dropped. He is also already booked for a fight, facing Christian Hammer on March 2.
Another top-ten fighter, Kubrat Pulev, was actually slated to face Joshua in 2017 but pulled out because of an injury. But he is far from a major draw, and few fans are clamoring for him to face Joshua. They may indeed fight someday, as he is ranked number one by the IBF and Joshua may have to face him to keep his IBF belt—and thus remain on the road to becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. But that day is not today, and the thirty-seven-year-old Pulev will still have to wait in line.
There was also lots of talk about Joshua having a rematch with Dillian Whyte on the date he was originally scheduled to fight, April 13, at Wembley Stadium. But a nasty public back-and-forth between Whyte and Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, showed the latter had little interest in staging another fight for Joshua in which few fans outside the UK had much interest.
Just like that famous line in The Godfather, which was apparently coined by real-life mob accountant Otto Berman: “Nothing personal, it’s just business.” And boxing, historically an offshoot of such enterprises, does its matchmaking similarly.
One of the refrains in the constant complaining, moaning, and groaning about Joshua is that he has never fought as a pro in America. With Wilder apparently unavailable for some time, a suitable American opponent is required.
Why this is suddenly being done now has in part to do with DAZN. Launched in September, it has not revealed any viewing numbers to the public. Nor has its streaming rival, ESPN+, for their boxing, although ESPN did boast about adding over a half million subscribers when they started showing the cultish UFC’s brawls. So boxing on streaming services in America, despite large sums spent on signing top fighters, has yet to take off.
Another clue about this was seen February 9, when big underdog Andrew Cancio arose from a first-round knockdown to dominate and eventually stop then-WBA super featherweight champ Alberto Machado. On Twitter, the usual boxing types were all aglow at this stunning upset. But neither fighter made Twitter’s top-ten list of trending topics in the US, which almost always happens for title fights. So few were watching outside of a small devoted band of hardcores.
Miller is, of course, known for his wild boasts and sometimes humorous, sometimes nasty, and sometimes totally-uncalled-for trash talk. His 300-plus-pound frame is an appropriate symbol of his slogan of “hard work, dedication, and cheeseburgers.” But he also has a reasonably impressive resume.
He is ranked in the top ten of the ratings of ESPN and The Ring, each beholden to rival promoters (Top Rank and Golden Boy, respectively), and also BoxRec. He is number three in the WBO and number two in the WBA, with the fairly inactive Trevor Bryan being the number-one contender there and Manuel Charr holding their “regular” title (please, don’t ask). The WBC and IBF do not rank Miller at all, likely because, before his fight with Joshua was announced, he seemed on course for a WBA title shot of some sort (and thus not a candidate for them to suck out sanctioning fees). In the ring he has yet to face an A-level heavyweight, but a string of wins against former title challengers Johann Duhaupas, Mariusz Wach, and Gerald Washington shows he is ready to try to step up.
Joshua, of course, has already been made a big favorite by the bookies to win this fight. How this fight unfolds, with the often-slow-moving Miller trying to bull his way through the quicker Joshua, remains to be seen. But the buildup could be epic, with the colorful and charismatic Miller taking the spotlight, even if in the ring he ends up staring up at the lights at the end of the night.
As for Wilder and Fury, while their promoters’ parrots are assuring us every day that their rematch will be announced soon, the delay in finalizing it is at least curious.
Their first fight, we were told, was easy-peasy and a snap to make. Then the WBC set a deadline of February 5 for an agreement on the rematch, lest it go to a purse bid, meaning any promoter with the highest sealed bid would get to promote the fight. Rival promoter Eddie Hearn was publicly drooling over trying to grab this one, and no doubt some other money men from assorted parts of the globe would also have liked to swoop in on this. But February 5 came and went, so the WBC extended the deadline to February 12 because they said they were told the deal was oh-so-close, very close, bigly close, closer-than-close. And the media parrots gleefully repeated this. When February 12 also came and went, the WBC simply extended the deadline again, but this time indefinitely. And, of course, we were again told how close this deal was.
Meanwhile, what has Tyson Fury been up to in the lead-up to a fight that was presumably penciled in for April or May? Fury is now in the midst of a tour of almost twenty cities in the UK, where he speaks before fans about things like mental health and leads them in singing songs like “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie.” In the videos he has posted on his social media, he seems perfectly content to be doing this rather than training for a heavyweight title fight. The tour is scheduled to end March 30. Fury has also said, to BT Sport, that he would prefer a fight in his hometown of Manchester before the Wilder rematch, which will probably be in the US
The leaked date for Wilder-Fury II cited by most is May 18, which seems a stretch at this point, especially if Fury doesn’t go into serious training until April at the earliest. If they do it for May 18, they will be rushing it, only to try to upstage Joshua–Miller, which will be June 1.
Another curious factor as we hurry up and wait for Wilder–Fury II is the February 12 WBC announcement ordering an “interim” heavyweight title fight between Dominic Breazeale and Dillian Whyte, two arguably top-ten heavyweights whose only losses were to Anthony Joshua. Now, if an announcement for Wilder–Fury II were imminent, why rush to order an “interim” title fight? That’s usually what they do when the champion is inactive for whatever reason.
One of the reasons the WBC gave in their statement for their interim heavyweight title fight, besides to “address the rights of Breazeale as mandatory challenger”—as if they cared—was “In order to provide activity to the heavyweight division.”
If Wilder–Fury II is right around the corner, why the need “to provide activity to the heavyweight division?”
Perhaps the delay in announcing Wilder–Fury II is due to legitimate factors, but with the June 1 Joshua–Miller fight already set, its delay raises questions which few dare to voice.
Maybe by the time you read this, Wilder–Fury II will be set, and these delays will become minor footnotes. And maybe something is up. This is boxing, and usually where there’s smoke, there are uncontrollable wildfires.
But we do know that Anthony Joshua’s American debut is set for June 1 in Madison Square Garden against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. Between now and then we will be hearing plenty about that fight. Eddie Hearn has said the rest of the card will feature British and Irish fighters facing Americans and fighters from other countries. With Joshua’s Nigerian roots, and the possibility of fighters like Irish star Katie Taylor appearing there, Madison Square Garden could look like a dis-United Nations filled with the flags of the UK, Belize, Ireland, Nigeria, and elsewhere, along with an always-loud cheering squad from Brooklyn, baby.
This fight and, more important, this entire event, is just what is needed both to spread Joshua’s popularity across the Atlantic, and also to boost DAZN’s subscriber base.
In the end, after we examine the ratings and the business aspects and the promotional chicanery behind the making of this fight and the unmaking of others, it should be clear that we are likely headed for one fun-filled ride with this one. And that should make it all worthwhile.