Waiting For The Heavyweights

There is little reason to doubt the credibility of the current flood of reports about what promoters have been saying they are doing in negotiations for upcoming fights. Many of these reports are simply videos of the promoters mouthing off about all this. Yet there is plenty of reason to doubt the credibility of what the promoters are actually saying. This is not some footnote, but strikes at the essence of this tactic of negotiating in the media.

For example, I could say that little green men from Mars have invaded Times Square, and a reporter can accurately repeat what I have said. This is what most boxing reporters do. But that same reporter would be bound by their obligation to report the truth to report that what I said was nonsense and not supported by the facts, and maybe only supported by a few emptied pitchers of beer. That is not, in most cases, what our promoters' stenographers are doing: verifying the promoters' claims.

You will most often hear the most about fight negotiations either when they are not going well or when they are far from being concluded. The substantive talk is behind closed doors, meaning the less noise, the closer they are to making the fight.

At least in the U.S., promoters cannot formally announce fights until contracts have been signed by all sides. Being the upright, law-abiding types that they always have been, these promoters instead plant stories with their favorite media outlets, sort of like a farmer planting seeds. In this case, the dwindling media plays the role of the dirt, providing a place for these stories to grow. That most of these reporters are no better than dirt bothers them not, just so long as they receive their compensation.

These planted stories, no matter how true or how preposterous they are, fill up the bandwidth of these boxing sites when there is little else to report. So while we wait for announcements about if or when there will be Ruiz-Joshua 2, Wilder-Ortiz 2, or Fury-Wilder 2, unverified rumors, trash talk, and soundbites cram the pages of these sites.

Much of this schedule-juggling seems contingent on whom Saul "Canelo" Alvarez will fight, reportedly on September 14, in Las Vegas. As with the heavyweights, there has been a steady stream of leaks about the negotiations for this fight and what Canelo and his team as well as Golden Boy Promotions want, along with his streaming service partner DAZN and his various potential opponents. If this ends up as a blockbuster event as a trilogy fight with Gennady Golovkin, the rival promoters and networks will work around it. But if the opponent is less appealing to the fans, these rivals can more easily maneuver more closely to that September 14 date, or, if there is enough cowboy in them, go directly against it.

In the meantime, there are countless throwaway articles and interviews about whether or not the now once-beaten Anthony Joshua should take the immediate rematch with his conqueror Andy Ruiz Jr., with the competing promoters of Joshua's Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing all singing in chorus that he should not. Hearn has said the rematch indeed will be on, and in November or December either back at Madison Square Garden or at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. 

In the U.K. this is bound for pay-per-view on Sky Sports Box Office, and in the U.S. on the pay-per-view buster DAZN. However, if the fight is in the U.K., while the time it starts is best for Sky, it will only air live in the afternoon or early evening in the U.S., which is far from ideal for the nocturnal world of boxing. And if it is in the U.S., the fight will start somewhere around 4 AM Sunday morning in the U.K., again limiting how many fans buy the Sky pay-per-view. Since American boxing fans are not accustomed to having main event fights take place in the afternoon, as almost all other major sports do for their major events, that easy solution to the time difference will not be used.

Deontay Wilder said a while back that his next fight will be in September against Luis "King Kong" Ortiz. BoxRec even lists it as taking place September 28 in Los Angeles, although no venue is listed and, of course, nothing official has been announced. Presumably this will be yet another pay-per-view in the U.S., and one brilliantly timed to coincide with the final weekend of the Major League Baseball season and the conclusion of those pennant races, and the opening weeks of the NFL and college football seasons, almost all of which will be on non-premium TV in the U.S. So if Wilder's handlers at PBC, once the troubadours of the glory of putting fights on "free" TV, try to get lots of fans to ante up $75 or so to see this rematch, it could be one more bomb in a year of bombs for the antiquated pay-per-view model.

Tyson Fury, at a recent schmoozing fan event in the U.K., claimed that his rematch with Wilder is set for February 22. A widely circulated video of that confirms this. But soon after, Fury's co-promoter Bob Arum told media mouthpieces that nothing was set as of now.

Fury has stated many times that he plans to fight once more in the fall before taking the Wilder rematch next year. Various dates and opponents have been publicly floated, including, oddly enough, facing Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller in New York. That is likely a smokescreen, since it seems unlikely that even the pushovers at the New York State Athletic Commission would license Miller just a few months after denying him one after his failed drug tests before he was scheduled to fight Joshua.

Another opponent for Fury leaked or planted in the media is Trevor Bryan. This undefeated but unknown heavyweight holds the WBA "regular" heavyweight belt, which is about equivalent in value to the WBC vibranium belt. But such a fight would have several selling points. Besides being an easy win and another showcase for Fury, it would give him another belt to show off and use as a negotiating chip in securing bigger fights. Less obvious is that since Bryan is promoted by Don King, a Fury-Bryan fight would feature, perhaps for the final time, the octogenarian promoters King and Arum working together. That alone would garner major media attention, perhaps enough to cinch this deal, assuming of course that King, largely inactive these days, is up for it.

As Ruiz's TKO of Joshua harshly reminded the boxing world, all these interim fights before the matchups the most people want to see carry enormous risks. Joshua may be the bookies' favorite to win a rematch with Ruiz if indeed it takes place before the end of this year, but no future fights for either man can be seriously considered until after the rematch. Wilder may feel confident in defeating Ortiz in their proposed rematch more easily than he did when they first fought last year, but again if it is on the level, who knows? Fury appears to have the safest path to a proposed rematch with Wilder, but he also has the most unpredictable personal history of the top heavyweights.

There is one highly ranked heavyweight, though, who does have a fight coming up. That is Dillian Whyte, who most rankings outside the alphabet sanctioning bodies have at number five, only behind some combination of Fury, Wilder, Ruiz, and Joshua, and ahead of Wilder's presumed next opponent, Ortiz. Whyte has also been the top contender for Wilder's WBC belt for over 600 days. In what was supposed to be a WBC title eliminator in December 2016, he defeated Dereck Chisora. Then in October 2017, Whyte won something known as the vacant WBC silver title by defeating Robert Helenius. Yet when Wilder finally faced a mandatory challenger in May of this year, it was not Whyte but the much easier opponent Dominic Breazeale, whom Wilder finished inside one round.

While he waits for this elusive title shot against Wilder, Whyte will face unbeaten Oscar Rivas July 20 in London. This fight, promoted by Matchroom Boxing, will be on Sky Sports Box Office in the U.K., but as of this writing has no U.S. outlet for TV or streaming. The Pacquiao-Thurman pay-per-view is on the same day, but will begin several hours after the Whyte-Rivas fight has finished. It is an opportunity for some network to showcase a top heavyweight fight involving a top five fighter, but thus far American viewers who want to see it live are being forced into the arms of the malware-soaked pirate sites. [Note: This article was posted on Thursday, July 11, 2019. On Friday, July 12, DAZN announced that they would stream the July 20 Whyte-Rivas fight in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Brazil.]

While the boxing world awaits the conclusion of its bickering over its marginal slice of the sporting world's pie, other more mainstream sports are advancing. The finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup that saw the American team once again triumph reportedly had 20 million viewers in the U.S. on all of Fox's platforms. The 2019 MLB All-Star Game, also on Fox in the U.S., averaged around seven million viewers live. And ratings have been building on ESPN as the Wimbledon tennis tournament advances to the final rounds.

So we sit through some decent and some indecent fights, at decent and indecent prices. And we wait, like a side lover fixated on a phone which never or rarely rings.

Boxing can be beautiful at times, but it treats the paying public as patsies. The onset of streaming video, both legal and illegal, has given the fans a way to resist, or just ignore boxing's business toxicity.

Billie Holiday wrote about such a bad lover in her classic "Fine and Mellow". The opening lyrics (as sung in the live 1957 version on "The Sound of Jazz" on CBS) could just as easily describe boxing, which is our "man":

My man don't love me,

He treats me oh so mean.

My man, he don't love me,

He treats me awful mean.

He's the lowest man

That I've ever see.

Later she sings:

Treat me right baby,

And I'll stay home everyday.

Just treat me right baby,

And I'll stay home night and day.

But you’re so mean to me baby,

I know you’re gonna drive me away.

One can debate whether boxing is meaner inside or outside the ring. But if you think it loves you back because you love it, just keep listening to Billie Holiday to straighten you out.

(Photo of Ruiz vs. Joshua by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA. Photo of Wilder vs. Fury by Esther Lin/Showtime. Photo of Dillian Whyte by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.) 

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