Not only is Tyson Fury bearing the brunt of selling Saturday’s fight against Deontay Wilder to American ticket buyers and paying TV subscribers around the world, but he is in the vanguard of a digital revolution which can revive big-time boxing.
The Gypsy King’s flair for flamboyant showmanship is being maximised by his Hall of Fame US promoter Bob Arum to bring the hard old game into a new cyber-space era.
With Wilder only partially and reluctantly emerging this fight week from 20 months of virtual silence after his rematch beating with the Mancunian giant, Fury has been marketing their trilogy fight like Barnum without Bailey.
Top Rank’s Bob Arum spoke exclusively to Sportsmail on Tyson Fury and the future of boxing
The Gypsy King’s performance personality and gift for salesmanship has captured America
Into the bargain, he is also spearheading Arum’s campaign to over-turn the monopoly held by combat sports rivals like the UFC.
Fury’s soaring popularity in America convinces Arum that they will fill at least 16,000 of the 20,000 seats in T-Mobile Arena this weekend, even without his UK fans being allowed to travel here.
But it is the long-term focus on the digital airwaves which Arum believes will bring new generations of fans to boxing. A Damascene conversion for so venerable a gentleman.
It is more than half a century since – a few weeks before England won their only World Cup – Arum promoted his first fight. Not bad for starters since the star of the show was Muhammad Ali.
Some 40 years since he embarked on his feudal rivalry with Don King for global domination over prize-fighting by winning the rights to many of the wars involving Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.
Two decades since his rancorous split with Oscar De La Hoya. A mere 14 years since he and Floyd Mayweather parted.
Along the way Arum has fought and mostly won showdowns with such US government agencies as the FBI.
The Gypsy King destroyed his American rival 20 months ago and wants to emulate that feat
Now, at 89 going on 69, he is embarking on what may be his biggest battle of all. For the future of boxing, which is under two-pronged attack. One from cage-fighting, The second by the latest craze for internet celebrities with no ring pedigree to glove up not only against each other but also such ring legends as Money Mayweather.
And the money is what this is all about.
Arum says: ‘We can’t ignore how our world is changing. If Floyd made a hundred million bucks from fighting one of those Paul brothers (namely Logan) we have to adapt.’
Thankfully, that does not involve betraying the noble and ancient traditions of the ring. Rather, challenging the methods of boxing’s rivals at their own game. By invading their platform on the IT airwaves.
‘The celebrity boxing phenomenon is selling itself on Instagram and YouTube. There is space for boxing out there, too, for us to sell the genuine article to the young people who are attracted by their product. Here at Top Rank we’ve started,’ he says.
Arum’s company is already beaming out from its gleaming headquarters into cyber space. The boss says: ‘We are reaching younger and younger fans by targeting them on social media. All our young boxers are being encouraged to market themselves and our sport by putting up posts about themselves as well as their boxing.
‘We are looking to good boxers who have big personalities who can come across as dynamic on social media.
‘We are supplying them short, sharp clips not only of their fights and training but also from their lives. They are getting a strong reaction.’
Arum is moving on with plans for Fury to fight Anthony Joshua conqueror Oleksandr Usyk
They include young sensation Teofimo Lopez, who has a huge following, and former world No 1 Vasiliy Lomachenko whose current comeback from surprise defeat is attracting much attention among the ex-European communities on the east coast of America.
But the standard bearer for boxing’s media transformation this side of the Atlantic is Fury.
The Gypsy King’s performance personality and gift for salesmanship – as well as his back story of mental health recovery – has captured the US imagination.
A giant picture of Fury decorates the entry and entire frontage of the Top Rank gym in Vegas and Arum says: ‘With his character as well as his fights here and the house he has bought in Vegas, Tyson has been taken to by Americans as one of us.
‘He is very active on Instagram and attracts massive interest. He’s the one driving change for how we sell boxing.’
Arum opened up on proposed fight with Joshua, who is represented by Eddie Hearn (above)
In age Fury, 32, and Arum are 57 years apart but in entrepreneurship they form a vibrant partnership.
The legendary promoter, who will turn 90 in December, says: ‘We talk all the time. Tyson is great fun but we also bounce ideas around. Its stimulating.’
The WBC world heavyweight champion says: ‘We enjoy ourselves but if there’s anything Bob doesn’t know about promoting it’s not worth knowing. And he’s given me more, much more than he promised me when we first hooked up. It’s a good relationship.’
Of the Covid infection which spread like wild-fire through Fury’s training camp and caused the late postponement of his July 24 third fight with Wilder, Arum admits: ‘At first I was irritated. But when he said he suspected the virus was brought in by occasional sparring partners, not by any irresponsibility on his part, that seemed possible.
‘Also he’s cut the numbers in his camp to the minimum now. And it turns out it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Interest has doubled as we’re out of the pandemic.
Fury’s trilogy bout with Wilder has been a long time in the making due to twists and turns
‘Sponsorship for the fight is bigger. Pay-per-view TV sales will be higher. Hardly any ticket holders for July 24th have applied for refunds. And out of a sell-out gate worth $18million we’ve already sold $15million worth of seats.’
Which brings him to Anthony Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, with Arum saying: ‘What the hell was he thinking when he suggested we were delaying the fight because of poor ticket sales. Is he mad? Could be. Or is it just that he can’t help opening his mouth, as usual. Like he did when Tyson’s fight against Joshua was called off.
‘Let’s put it on record that the real reason that fight the world wanted was cancelled was because Eddie failed to get the contract with the Saudi Arabians he kept promising, week in week out. He tried to blame us for losing that super fight. The truth is that he took too long going back and forward to the Saudis without nailing it down.
‘Eddie and Joshua were well aware of the litigation ongoing about Wilder’s claims to his right for a third fight with Tyson. The mediator in New York told me that if we produced a contract for the Joshua fight he would settle for ordering millions in significant compensation for Wilder.
Arum is concentrated also on what becomes of the sport itself and attracting some new fans
‘But Eddie kept sending draft contracts which we couldn’t sign because he had no deal with the Saudis. He could have had one for $85million just for the clean site fee. But he kept asking for $155million, presumably because had promised Joshua $75million just for himself, and in return they expected the full package.
‘All the world TV and rights fees and sponsorships as well as the gate. That sure didn’t work for us. Nor would it for any other promoter.
‘So when judgement day came with the mediator he asked did we have the contract with the Saudis. We had to say no. That Eddie hadn’t delivered. So he ruled that Tyson had to fight Deontay.
‘It’s always the same with Eddie. He can’t stop himself blurting things out. He thinks it’s all about him. It’s not. It’s about closing the deal. With him it’s about his ego.
‘In the end he complained that me and Frank Warren (Fury’s UK promoter) didn’t help him. But it was Eddie who insisted on doing the Saudi negotiation himself because he’d put on Joshua-Ruiz II over there. But we let him. So we can’t say it’s entirely his fault.’
Arum is moving on with plans for Fury to fight Joshua conqueror Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight championship after he beats Wilder.
He is concentrated also on what becomes of the sport itself. He has locked horns with UFC boss Dana White and seems to be ahead on points in that one. Next: Winning the star wars against YouTube celebrities.
As this wise man says: ‘It’s the future of boxing we should all be working on. Not looking back to whatever we’ve done in the past.’
If Fury beats Wilder he could face Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight championship