Jun 18, 2019
- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
Dan RafaelESPN Senior Writer
Opening Bell: Wilder-Fury II a monster
LAS VEGAS — The new biggest fight in boxing is the rematch between heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury, and it’s going to be massive.
It was always going to be a big fight, but now it’s even bigger and will only grow over the coming months. I suspect by the time it happens in the first quarter of 2020 it will be the kind of fight all mainstream sports fans not only will know about but will also be interested in watching, meaning blockbuster pay-per-view numbers and the kind of fight that will have folks around the country gathering for PPV watch parties.
England’s Fury, making his Las Vegas debut in the first fight of his megadeal with Top Rank and ESPN, put on quite a show Saturday night in the ESPN+ main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where he entered to “Living in America” decked out in red, white and blue a la Apollo Creed in “Rocky IV” (including the top hat!). Then he sang to his wife (as usual) after destroying massive underdog Tom Schwarz.
It took Fury only two rounds, as he put on a fine display of boxing, Matrix-like defense and power punching that was responsible for apparently breaking Schwarz’s nose, knocking him down in the second round and stopping him with an avalanche of clean shots.
Although the Gypsy King was not facing a top opponent in Schwarz (24-1, 16 KOs), 24, of Germany, the fight accomplished what it was meant to do. It kept 6-foot-9, 263-pound Fury (28-0-1, 20 KOs), 30, of England, busy and brought him huge amounts of promotion and attention, which is exactly what Top Rank and ESPN promised when the deal was consummated earlier this year.
The grand plan is to make Fury an instantly recognizable athlete, and so far, so good. The companies did their part, and so did Fury, thanks to a prodigious personality and boxing talent.
Fury will be back in action Sept. 21 or Oct. 5, probably at Madison Square Garden in New York — opponent to be determined — on the next stop en route to the rematch with Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs), who will also first have one more fight in the fall. He faces a dangerous rematch with Luis “King Kong” Ortiz, whom Wilder went life and death with in March 2018 before scoring a sensational 10th-round knockout.
By the time Top Rank and ESPN get done spreading the word out about Fury’s fall fight and Wilder’s team at Premier Boxing Champions and whichever one of its network partners handles that fight — Showtime/CBS or Fox — does the same, the rematch is going to be huge. And when ESPN and Wilder’s PBC network come together for a joint pay-per-view in which they both bring all of their significant resources to bear, there’s a good chance the fight will become a mainstream mega-event that won’t just be hype if the fight is close to as good as the first one was on Dec. 1 in Los Angeles.
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Friday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+: Steven Ward vs. Liam Conroy in a 12-round light heavyweight bout Saturday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+: Kieran Smith vs. Ivan Montero in a 10-round junior middleweight battle
“I think it’s the biggest fight in world boxing, bar none,” Fury said at his postfight news conference Saturday night. “Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury, the rematch, is the biggest fight we’re going to see in years. Don’t see anyone else coming up or who can be as big. You’ve got two undefeated heavyweights. Lineal champion, WBC champion fightin’ in their prime. Doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
Wilder-Fury, which was on Showtime PPV, was ruled a split draw — though many thought Fury deserved the decision despite getting knocked down twice, in the ninth round and a huge one in the 12th round. The rematch was nearly finalized, but then Fury and promoter Frank Warren changed direction and signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank.
Boxing fans were disappointed the rematch was put on hold, but behind the scenes the camps eventually worked out a deal for the sequel to take place after each man had two interim fights, Wilder’s one-round blitz of Dominic Breazeale on May 18, Fury-Schwarz and the upcoming fall bouts.
Undoubtedly, the rematch will be made bigger thanks to those interim fights and the involvement of Top Rank and ESPN, but there’s always a danger — as we found out two weeks ago. That’s when the previous biggest fight in boxing, Anthony Joshua-Wilder for the undisputed title, went down the toilet because of stupid boxing politics, naked greed and Andy Ruiz Jr., who destroyed the fight with his massive upset knockout of Joshua on June 1.
Hopefully, Wilder-Fury II doesn’t meet the same demise, but there’s always danger, especially in the heavyweight division, when the big fight is put off. Wilder and Fury are now dancing that dangerous dance, but in this case the risk seems worth the reward for them, given just how enormous the rematch could be compared with what the returns likely would have been had they fought again immediately without either man gaining more public exposure, especially Fury.
At the postfight news conference Saturday, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, at his promoter best, said of Wilder-Fury II that he “can’t see why that fight won’t equal or surpass numbers that were done by the [Floyd] Mayweather-[Manny] Pacquiao fight.”
In 2015, Mayweather-Pacquiao, one of the most anticipated fights ever, set every record possible, including for PPVs sold (4.6 million) and revenue generated (more than $600 million). Wilder-Fury II won’t come close to those numbers, but I think it could exceed 2 million pay-per-views.
“They’re two little guys, Mayweather, Pacquiao. Great fighters. It was built up for a lot of years, but still, they’re not heavyweights,” Arum said. “The reason the Fury-Wilder fight didn’t do real numbers [about 325,000 pay-per-views] is because, let’s be honest, other than some hard-core boxing fans, the public in America didn’t know this guy [Fury]. They really didn’t know him. Now they know him, and after the fight in October they will know him even more.
“Wilder, hopefully, will have a great fight with Ortiz and beat Ortiz, and the rematch [with Fury] I think is capable of doing over 4 million pay-per-view homes.”
Perhaps wishful thinking on Arum’s behalf, but his point is well taken. The decision to bypass the immediate rematch to build the fight in fairly short order into something much bigger is a calculated risk, but in this case seemingly one worth it — as long as Fury’s fall opponent and Ortiz don’t do their best impression of Ruiz.
The World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semifinals provided action, knockouts and a dose of controversy Saturday in Riga, Latvia, where hometown fighter Mairis Briedis and Yunier Dorticos advanced to the final with knockout victories.
First up on the card, Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs), 33, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, more than lived up to his “KO Doctor” nickname as he scored a massive one-punch knockout of Chicago native and Floyd Mayweather-promoted Andrew Tabiti (17-1, 13 KOs). Dorticos landed a picture-perfect right hand on the button to lay Tabiti out cold, prompting referee Eddie Claudio to wave off the fight at 2 minutes, 33 seconds.
Not only did Dorticos score a contender for knockout of the year but he also won a vacant world title, which Oleksandr Usyk formally had vacated the previous day, which allowed Dorticos-Tabiti to be for a full title rather than an interim belt.
Dorticos had been cut over his right eye by an accidental head-butt in the sixth round before Tabiti was docked one point for excessive holding later in the round.
In Saturday’s action-packed and controversial main event, Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs), 34, scored three knockdowns en route to a third-round knockout of Krzysztof Glowacki (31-2, 19 KOs), 32, of Poland, to take his world title. The fight turned wild in the second round when Glowacki nailed Briedis with a big left hand behind the head, which is illegal. Briedis retaliated with an elbow that caught Glowacki square on the jaw and knocked him down. Referee Robert Byrd missed Glowacki’s blatant rabbit punch but docked one point from Briedis for the elbow.
Briedis scored a legitimate knockdown later in the round and then another one, but it came waaaaaaaaaay after the bell. The timekeeper was ringing the bell nonstop, but Byrd appeared oblivious even though the fighters, their corners, the broadcasters and the crowd all knew the round was over. During what was at least an extra 10-15 seconds before Byrd realized it was over, Briedis, who admitted after the fight that he had heard the bell, dropped Glowacki hard with a right hand.
Glowacki had not recovered by the time the third round began, and Briedis dropped him with another clean head shot, prompting Byrd to stop it at 27 seconds. Byrd’s egregious error allowing the fight to continue after the bell ended the second round resulted in Glowacki’s team filing a protest, but it is unlikely anything will come of it.
The next step: In the first-season WBSS cruiserweight tournament, Briedis and Dorticos both were eliminated in the semifinals. Briedis lost his belt by majority decision to eventual tournament winner Usyk in a unification fight, and Dorticos was stopped by Murat Gassiev in the 12th round of their exceptional unification fight. Briedis and Dorticos were invited back to participate in the second season, and both made it to the final this time and will meet this fall to unify their belts on a date and at a location to be determined.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Leeds, England Featherweight Josh Warrington (29-0, 6 KOs) W12 Kid Galahad (26-1, 15 KOs), retains a world title, scores: 116-112, 116-113 Warrington, 115-113 Galahad.
Warrington, 28, of England — fighting in his hometown against countryman and mandatory challenger Galahad, 29 — retained his belt for the second time in a fight that could have gone either way. Many thought Galahad, an awkward and technical boxer, deserved the win, but Warrington, the more aggressive fighter, got the benefit of the doubt in a forgettable, tactical fight that featured more holding and posing than punching. Given the lack of action or big moments from either man, it was a hard fight to score.
Saturday at Kiev, Ukraine Flyweight Artem Dalakian (19-0, 14 KOs) TKO10 Sarawut Thawornkham (20-2, 15 KOs), retains a world title.
Dalakian, 31, of Ukraine, retained his 112-pound world title for the third time, each of which has come in his home country after he won a vacant belt against Brian Viloria in 2018 in Inglewood, California. Thawornkham, 27, a southpaw from Thailand, gave a spirited effort but was no match for Dalakian, who systematically broke him down, hurt him with an uppercut in the eighth round and was punishing him in the 10th round when the referee waved off the fight at 2:08.
Thawornkham had previously faced nothing but nondescript opposition and was a joke of a world title challenger based on a horrendous résumé that somehow got him a mandatory shot at Dalakian. Thawornkham was fighting outside of his home country for just the second time, both fights resulting in losses. His other was a first-round knockout loss in his 2014 professional debut in Japan.