With the news on Monday that Top Rank has signed lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury to a co-promotional contract that will see his future fights appear on ESPN platforms, many thought that would be the death knell for a rematch with titlist Deontay Wilder that was close to being finalized before the signing.
On Dec. 1, Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) and Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) fought to an exciting split draw in Los Angeles in a fight handled by Showtime PPV and Showtime, which has invested heavily in Wilder in recent years.
However, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told ESPN on Tuesday night that he does not believe Showtime has any contractual hold on Wilder or the rematch and that he wants to negotiate a deal with longtime adversary Al Haymon and Shelly Finkel, who represent Wilder, to bring the rematch, as well as additional Wilder bouts, to ESPN for big money. Arum said he would send Haymon and Finkel an offer on Wednesday to get the ball rolling.
"We want to speak to Wilder together with his manager and his adviser and we want to do this fight where it belongs, on a big platform, which is ESPN pay-per-view. Wilder himself said (in media interviews) there is no contractual impediment that would prevent it. None. He is not signed in any manner, shape or form to any network. We have been informed that it is not the case (that Showtime has an option on the rematch). Ultimately, that may not be the case but I really believe from what we learned that Wilder is telling the truth and he is not bound to any network for any fight.
"We're going to reach out and say contact us, please, and bring whomever you want to a meeting, your manager Finkel, your adviser Haymon, your trainer (Jay Deas, also a co-manager). Bring any and all of them to a meeting with us and let's sit down and put this together."
Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza declined to say specifically whether Showtime had a contractual right to the rematch but said he was confident its relationship with Wilder would continue.
"I'm not going to get into specifics about Showtime's contractual rights and entitlements but I will say we are very confident and very comfortable with our position with Deontay," Espinoza told ESPN. "We've worked with Deontay and supported Deontay for many, many years and many, many fights and we fully expect for that to continue for the foreseeable future."
Arum and Haymon have been bitter rivals for many years and Arum and Finkel have also had their issues, but they have done major fights together and he said there's no reason they shouldn't be able to put Wilder-Fury II together. Wilder is not signed to a promoter.
"The idea that we wouldn't do business with Finkel or Haymon is absurd," Arum said. "We want to do this fight and we want to do it sensibly and correctly. We're ready to put up all the money to do the fight. If it can't happen it can't happen, but it's Wilder's choice subject to advice from his manager and adviser. The one thing we want to make clear is there is no impediment to doing business with Wilder no matter who his manager is, no matter who his adviser is. We're happy to deal with them. Wilder is going to have to decide what he wants to do in consultation with Finkel and Haymon."
Before Top Rank made its co-promotional deal with Frank Warren to add England's Fury to its roster, the rematch, ordered by the WBC, was in the works for May 18. Arum said while he would be willing to put the rematch on next he would prefer to have Wilder, 32, and Fury, 30, each appear in interim bouts this spring or summer followed by the rematch in the fall.
"ESPN+ will pay significant money for them to fight other fighters and then to do the rematch on pay-per-view in the fall," Arum said. "That is all open for discussion. It's certainly not a deal breaker if they want to do the rematch next. Fury is happy either way. He is happy with the tremendous money he will earn for a fight on ESPN+ and I think Wilder will be equally happy with doing a fight on ESPN+ for the money I know we can offer. Wilder has to make that decision. We're not talking about peanuts. We're talking about Wilder probably making more against somebody else (in the interim bout) than he made when he fought Fury and then making even more in the rematch in the fall."
According to the California State Athletic Commission, Wilder's official contract purse was $4 million and Fury's was $3 million for the Dec. 1 fight. Both also made additional money from the profits of the pay-per-view, which generated around 325,000 buys.
"The amount Wilder would earn for a fight on ESPN+ before a rematch would be far in excess of $4 million," Arum said.
Arum said the reason for putting potential interim bouts on ESPN+ rather than the linear television network is because part of Top Rank's long-term deal with ESPN is to assist in "building up the app because it's something that ESPN is really behind and that's how we would do it. If they each fought on ESPN+ there would be tremendous programming on ESPN leading up to the ESPN+ shows featuring their fights."
Arum said he would also not rule out the two appearing on an ESPN+ doubleheader to serve as their interim bouts but that ideally he would have one fight in June, one in July and then do the rematch in October or November.
Whatever happens with the rematch, Arum said the signing was a big deal for his company, for Fury, for ESPN and for boxing.
"ESPN will give him a great platform. Everybody will know him," Arum said. "He will be the heavyweight most familiar to the public. If Wilder joins us and becomes part of this he will give Fury a run for his money in terms popularity. As a personality, Tyson Fury reminds me of George Foreman -- everything but the punching power."
When Foreman returned after a decade in retirement, he was a fun-loving everyman known for his big personality and eating cheeseburgers rather than the stoic standoffish figure he had been in his first incarnation. Arum promoted Foreman during his comeback and helped guide him to his second heavyweight title victory, a massive upset knockout of Michael Moorer in 1994.
"Fury is going to be one of the iconic figures in sports because he'll be so amusing and so much fun that people will tune in to hear him sound off," Arum said. "He has an unusual personality and he is very fan friendly and will attract huge audiences like George did."
Fury, who has overcome substance abuse and endeared himself to many with his public battle with mental health issues, has in the past angered many with anti-gay, anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments.
"That's the old Tyson Fury," Arum said. "The new Tyson Fury is fan friendly. He is the George Foreman of the Foreman comeback. He's not going to demean anyone or say anything about gays or lesbians. He is just an amusing fun character. What he did before, that's behind him. He had mental problems before. He's come out of that and become a mensch."