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Misplaced Fury – Why Tyson Is Right To Sign With ESPN

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There are times when writing about this beautiful sport becomes a thankless endeavour. The responsibility to convey the objective truth, not just expected but vociferously demanded, in a sport not black or white but grey, has become arduous especially since the term ‘fake news’ entered our consciousness. Yet there are times where one deviates from the truth, a fleeting moment of weakness when the mask slips and our biased preferences are revealed in their naked glory.

Tyson Fury, the lineal (depending on whom you ask) heavyweight champion of the world caused a seismic uproar amongst a large contingent of the boxing world last week. The seething rage emanated from the news that the ‘Gypsy King’ and his rival, WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder, will not dance again under the bright lights at least immediately. The gravity (and timing) of the news caused the anger to reverberate longer than usual given their sequel was needle close to finalisation, the heavily anticipated Part II following last December’s globally acclaimed blockbuster.

The chief reason, now accepted by many as an undisputed truth, as to why the rematch will not be happening yet is due to Fury’s decision to align himself with Top Rank and ESPN, a deal which has locked him exclusively to America’s biggest sports platform. Mere seconds after that announcement, Fury was derided with an assortment of abuse – “ducker” “coward” “pussy” “Wilder is the king of the division” “run Tyson run” “Fury is afraid of getting knocked out” “Fury is a drug cheat”.

It presents a remarkable shift in perception just a mere 3 months after the ‘Gypsy King’ was the toast of the town, but that shift is also emblematic of elements of hypocrisy and fickleness present in the modern-day observer. It is this shift in tenor which has prompted me to temporarily hang up my own coat of ethics and objectivity and slip on my cloak of subjectivity. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair for Fury to be given vitriolic attacks given no other media platform (at least from what I’ve seen) has taken the time to explain any reasonings behind his move. I don’t think it’s fair for Fury to be castigated especially as favourable allowances have been made for other fighters in similar predicaments. And I don’t think it’s fair for Fury to be crucified given his circumstances. So please allow me, in my moment of mask-slipping weakness, to present you some point-based logical yet subjective explanations as to why Tyson Fury made the right decision at this moment in time. 

Let’s start with the ESPN deal. To reiterate, the widespread notion is that Fury’s penning of his Top Rank/ESPN contract is the chief reason as to why the rematch evaporated, a sentiment fuelled by Uncle Bob Arum’s propensity to marinate fights. It is true that Arum overindulges in marination but I’d like to ask you, the reader, some questions regarding this overall notion – was Tyson Fury logically supposed to reject the opportunity of aligning himself with a major player in America, fighting on America’s biggest sports network and decline a deal entailing life changing money? What sense would it have made for Fury to continue as a free agent and allow himself to be dictated by the demands of both Wilder and Anthony Joshua? Wilder is backed by omnipresent superpower Al Haymon and the PBC brand, which has multimillion dollar deals with SHOWTIME and FOX. Joshua is financially supported by Sky Sports and DAZN, both entities who lavish cash in abundance. Both men are lauded for investing in their future, synonym for ‘making smart business moves’ yet it’s baffling that when Fury does the same, he is portrayed as the pugilist Lucifer. Again, curiously I must ask – was Fury supposed to decline the ESPN deal, be the one making concessions and allow himself to be towed left to right? The ESPN deal may just be the shrewdest move Fury has made yet. Instead of potentially oscillating between SHOWTIME and DAZN just to appease Wilder and Joshua, Fury now has the backing of an American powerhouse who can not only compete financially (and houses generational stars such as Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko) but will expose Fury to a much wider audience. Fury is no longer coming to America and playing second fiddle, he’s in America now having understood his standing and worth in the division. Only a fool wouldn’t cash in such an opportunity. 

And speaking of Crawford, when ‘Bud’ penned a new multifight extension with Top Rank back in September 2018, he did it knowing full well he would be pretty much blocked from engaging in intriguing contests with Errol Spence Jr, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman amongst many, all of whom are on the other side of the street with PBC. Very little criticism was levied towards Crawford for this move yet when Fury does something similar, he’s vilified and deemed to be ducking Wilder. Again, curiously I must ask – why is Tyson Fury being held to a high standard, perhaps one higher than Crawford’s?

Now I want to cast your minds back to August 2018. In a moment of blunt honesty, Fury expressed that in an ideal world, he could do with having one more fight but reiterated it’s not an ideal world. The exact truth behind his statement, only Fury himself knows but given the tenor of what he said and the content, to me it indicated unhappiness of being immediately pushed into a Wilder showdown a mere 7 months following a 2-year exile. Fury’s hands were no doubt tied by Frank Warren and the suits, who desperately craved a mammoth offering in order to kickstart the new PPV platform with BT Sport. The public and Wilder also craved a big fight, having watched the Joshua superfight dissipate into thin air and so Fury danced to everybody’s song but his in order to make the Wilder fight in December. All he wanted was another fight in a not ideal world. Fast forward to the present and the ‘Gypsy King’ lives in the ideal world he originally wanted. He went into the Wilder fight on Wilder’s timing and with nothing to lose. Now, he has everything to lose having seen his stock increase exponentially. Isn’t it then equitable for the sequel to take place on Fury’s timing, in the optimum condition and after the extra fight he originally wanted? Wouldn’t it be fair then after having bent over backwards to fulfil everything BT Sport, Warren and Wilder wanted, Fury is afforded the flexibility to engage in the rematch when he himself considers the time is right to do so, without being forcefully pushed into it?

Following last week’s announcement, Frank Warren stated he was not to blame for the demise of Wilder v Fury 2 as he wanted the rematch immediately but rather, plumped the responsibility onto the shoulders of Top Rank/ESPN. That statement to me infers Fury wanted an established American promoter to guide his Stateside aspirations, one who understands the magnitude and potential worth of a Wilder rematch better than anyone in the UK does. That’s logical given Fury wasn’t thrilled about being shunted in a big fight as discussed above. Arum is one of the sport’s shrewdest operators in navigating a fighter’s career in America properly. Now, instead of rushing into a big fight on the back end of two lowly tune ups, both Arum and Fury can set things up properly in a way that benefits them more than before. Arum knows full well, having overseen the Mayweather V Pacquiao superfight happen half a decade too late, people will pay to watch a fight irrespective of when it occurs. The demand for a Wilder V Fury 2 was hot. By the end of the year, it’ll be molten and people, no matter whom they accuse of ducking, will pay. And hey, credit to Arum for being blunt about his true intentions as opposed to replicating what Joshua and Wilder did to the fans last year – sending them on a merry-go-round of mythical proportions before slinging blame at each other over failed negotiations.

ESPN’s backing will also even the odds for Fury considerably regarding judging. Still aggrieved as to what he perceived to be judicial injustice, why would it make sense for Fury to traverse across the Atlantic, walk into a rematch without the backing of an American giant but return emptyhanded again, in a manner akin to what Gennady Golovkin believes happened to him twice against Canelo Alvarez? Now Fury has people looking after his best interests, people who possess considerable clout and whose influence can help the ‘Gypsy King’ go into the rematch as potentially a home fighter rather than a sacrificial lamb.  

There are also many who are now calling Fury a ‘drug cheat’. Yet these 2 words were conspicuously absent during the build up to the first Wilder fight, a fight where Fury was supposed to get knocked out violently. All of a sudden, those 2 words are now being hissed at Fury again following the collapse of the rematch. Coincidence? I think not. 

And to those calling Fury a coward – please remember it was he who marched into Klitschko’s jungle and left with belts resplendent, that too after same ring mat controversy and suspiciously close scorecards. Yes, the fight itself was the least violent heavyweight title fight of all time but you still have to beat the man and Fury did just that. He did what many considered the impossible at a time when Joshua was unknown and Shelly Finkel told BoxingScene, “Wilder is a baby winning the title…this kid is a great prospect.” 

This is the same guy who came back from a 2-year layoff, fought two guys not even in the top 50 and went straight into a Wilder fight, in Wilder’s home country, on Wilder’s timing after Wilder and Joshua had failed spectacularly to make their own superfight come into fruition. Yes, it took Fury to get back into the ring to make a major fight happen amongst the heavyweight trinity, perhaps a damning indictment of both Wilder and Joshua’s failure to fight. 

The ‘Gypsy King’ is equipping himself well for a rematch, understandable given his grief at the scores (115-111 for Wilder? Really?). So before you judge, think. The rematch won’t happen yet, maybe not even this year but I guarantee you it will and when it happens, it’ll happen on Fury’s timing, not anybody else’s.

And with that, I hang back up my subjective cloak which has been hung up for good, hopefully never to be worn again. I felt it was necessary to present some viewpoints as to why the Tyson/Top Rank marriage was incorrectly subject to misplaced fury, and as a counter to the growing voices crucifying it.

Objectively speaking, nobody is to blame for depriving the fans of this anticipated rematch because it’s boxing … which also happens to be an extremely lucrative business. We fans need to vilify somebody for failure yet truthfully and objectively, who can we blame now? Arum for wanting to squeeze a couple million more dollars? Fury for signing a deal which will set him for life? Or Wilder who wants the rematch?

It’s boxing and it’s a business. What’s new?

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About Hamza Ahmed

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