Why Saudi Arabia is a terrific solution for Joshua vs Wilder, but a potential problem for AJ vs Fury
Yes, fight fans are getting a great fight and a truly historic event on February 22nd, which will feature the consensus number one and two heavyweights in the world, to determine both the lineal championship as well as the highly regarded WBC championship.
Both men are currently undefeated and have a rivalry spanning well over a year now. The fans of boxing sincerely thank both fighters for staging this long-awaited rematch, which truly is a 50/50 endeavor...both in terms of money and odds.
As Anthony Joshua and promoter Eddie Hearn have already confirmed, AJ is committed to kicking off his 2020 boxing year with an IBF title defense against mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev, with a site and date that has yet to be determined. Unfortunately from what Hearn has stated, the fight won't take place until late May or early June.
So what happens next?
Although Wilder and Fury have a deal already in place for a potential third fight between them, the "rubber match" or trilogy fight is solely contingent on the outcome of their meeting on February 22nd, with several different affecting factors in play...such as entertainment value, PPV numbers, public demand, and competitive outcome.
If Joshua and Hearn have their druthers, a truly colossal event will take place later this year to determine absolute supremacy within the heavyweight division, which will feature AJ versus the eventual winner of the February 22nd match-up between Wilder and Fury, assuming that Joshua gets past a sporting 12 to 1 underdog like Kubrat Pulev.
Here's where the potential calamity begins.
Hearn has recently gone on record to state that regardless of who wins Wilder vs. Fury 2, the proposed match-up for all the marbles in the heavyweight division will more than likely take place in Saudi Arabia.
This scenario can be viewed as either a solution or a problem, depending on who wins in less than a month.
If Deontay Wilder reigns supreme and retains his WBC title, while also picking up the lineal Ring Championship, a massive heavyweight unification in Saudi Arabia solves every previous negotiation issue both parties experienced leading up to this point. Because both fighters are virtual unknowns in their visiting territory respectively, a neutral site actually makes the most sense in this scenario.
The historic event would be staged on neutral ground, and there would be enough money from the proposed Saudi site fee to compensate both fighters handsomely in a sensible and requested 50/50 split. Both fighters would be happy, and so would the die-hard and mainstream fans of boxing.
But if Tyson Fury should win in 3 weeks, does anyone besides Eddie Hearn believe a fight which features the two most popular British heavyweight champions in the history of the sport, competing for absolute heavyweight supremacy, should take place anywhere outside of the British Isles?
For all intents and purposes, a fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury would be the biggest British sporting event since 1966, when England won the World Cup. To stage this event in Saudi Arabia would be downright sacrilegious to most invested sports fans...even to observers from across the pond.
Like every great (slick) fight promoter, Eddie Hearn insists the decision would be entirely up to the fighters.
"I'm not going to bulls**t you and tell you something that is unlikely to happen, I'm going to tell you the truth," claimed the managing director of Matchroom Sport to iFL TV. "When we make this fight, do you think I'm going to just go, 'Tyson, Anthony...the deal is done, we're going to Saudi'? No."
"I'll go to both teams and say, 'these are the options'. Anyone with the smallest brain in their head is going to know that an athlete, especially a fighter, is going to be most interested in the option with the most money on the table. Being the biggest, defining fight of their career, what do you think they're going to do?"
"And it's not even about AJ, what do you think Tyson Fury is going to say?"
"He's fought his last three fights in the US. Why? Why isn't anyone saying to him, 'well, you're deserting the UK fans'. He hasn't boxed in England for a couple of years. He doesn't want to box in England...he just wants to box where the money is. Why is that so difficult for people to understand?"
So if both fighters are guaranteed that much money from an inflated Saudi site fee, does that mean that all parties involved in the presentation of such an undertaking won't be asking the "forever tortured" fans of boxing to foot the bill for this one?
And that, in a nutshell, is why boxing, despite the millions upon millions of pounds, dollars or "riyal" it generates, will continue to be largely viewed as a fringe commodity within the giant mainstream sports entertainment industry.
It's the only major sport in existence that consistently asks its fans to pay for each and every event.
Geez...fans of WWE can even watch Monday Night Raw and Smackdown every week without having to fork over 20 quid.
The fighters don't care, and neither do the promoters...as long as they make their money.
Why not stage the NFL's Superbowl in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, then? Or all seven games of the MLB's "World" Series in Abu Dhabi, UAE?
Because the owners who make up the NFL, NBA, or MLB understand that fan interest and participation determines everything. Big numbers are solely responsible for commercial endorsement. Without strong, solid and consistent numbers on network television, or at the live gate, it becomes virtually impossible to generate mainstream commercial endorsement to feature these events on free TV year after year.
Once upon a time, boxing was regularly visible on every major network in America. What happened?
Promoters of boxing events became lazy and greedy.
It used to be the industry norm for the best fighters in the world to compete four or five times per year. They had to if they wanted to remain relevant within the industry and make money. Fighters and promoters worked their tails off to attract mainstream and casual fans to their events, depending almost completely on the live gates for their purses.
This is back when boxing was the second most popular pastime in America, just slightly less popular than baseball.
But as the saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind".
Rather than continuing to stage these popular events in mainstream and fan accessible venues, promoters started to stage these events in "out of the way" casino ballrooms and theaters, depending exclusively on the big guaranteed casino site fees, rather than rolling the dice on the live gate of a more accessible venue.
Then closed-circuit and PPV became the norm, instead of staging the biggest boxing events on free, network television. Mainstream networks couldn't match the kinds of proceeds generated from fan-driven PPVs, closed-circuit and subscriber-based network events. Fights became less frequent on mainstream television in America, and it became expected for the die-hard fans of the sport to pay for each and every major boxing event.
And just like that...over decades and decades of this greedy business practice, boxing went from being one of the biggest mainstream American sports to becoming a mere fringe pastime in the USA...and that's where we are currently.
No mainstream or casual sports fans even recognize who the best fighters in boxing currently are in America.
Don't fans miss the days when everyone would talk about the "big fight" coming up on Saturday night, while hovering around the water cooler or break room of their respective office or workplace?
Now die-hard fans of boxing are confined to conversations of their favorite fighters exclusively on internet chat rooms, like a bunch of outcasts or social deviants.
Promoters and fighters currently have no choice but to ask the forever tortured and loyal fans of boxing to pay for each and every fight. Forget about mainstream commercial endorsement...that requires popularity and millions of regular viewers.
Is that what Eddie Hearn wants for boxing in the UK? To follow the same disastrous route of the American fight promoter? To remove boxing from the consciousness of the mainstream sports fan in England, where the sport is still alive and well?
In Hearn's own words: "Anyone with the smallest brain in their head" can see that the result is catastrophic when promoters and fighters consistently remove boxing from mainstream awareness.
If Tyson Fury is indeed victorious on February 22nd, fans should hope that all parties involved do the right thing and treat the great supporters of boxing to a mainstream accessible event in Wembley Stadium.
Consider the long-term consequences for once...the health of the sport could depend on it.
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