Heavyweight boxing is big business again and even a coronavirus-induced recession is not dampening the hopes of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder to generate even bigger sums.
The three heavyweight boxers featured in the recent Forbes Highest Paid Athletes list with Fury at No. 11 ($57 million earnings), Joshua at No. 19 ($47m) and Deontay Wilder at No. 20 ($6.5m).
After the revelation earlier this month that Fury and Joshua have agreed financial terms for two fights from next year, the two Britons can be reasonably expected to improve their ranking in the Forbes list if the biggest fight in boxing becomes a reality.
Just as the rivalry and fights between Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis made them among sport’s biggest earners in the 1990s and early 2000s, so Fury, Joshua and Wilder have the opportunity to amass great wealth through a series of fights against each other.
Fury’s co-promoter Frank Warren told ESPN that Fury and Joshua will climb to No. 1 and 2 if the Britons, who hold all four major world titles between them, meet each other in two fights, as planned.
“There have been boxers in the last 10 years who have been on that list, like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, but for two British boxers to appear in the top 20 I think it’s a first,” Warren told ESPN.
“It shows the strength of the British heavyweight division and shows the earnings capacity of those guys to get into that list, and they have generated from around the world to get those figures.
“TV income makes up the bulk of it, whether you have social distancing like we have now or not, and if Tyson and Joshua fight each other they may even end up at No. 1 and No. 2 next year in the list.
“These guys could get between $60-70m each from one fight against each other, double that if there’s a rematch, in one year.”
But there is business to be taken care of before Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), 31, from Manchester, and Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), 30, from Watford, can share a 50-50 purse in a fight to decide the first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Lewis 20 years ago.
Both need to win their next fights, details of which have yet to be confirmed due to delays caused by coronavirus. WBC champion Fury is due to face American Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs), 34, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in their third meeting while WBA-IBF-WBO champion Joshua is lined up to face 39-year-old mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs), of Bulgaria.
Fury may also have to come through a mandatory defence against Britain’s Dillian Whyte (27-1, 18 KOs), 32, early next year, while Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), 33, is due a shot at Joshua as WBO mandatory challenger. It is unlikely the belts will get in the way with so much potential money to be made and titles may have to be given up, or deals made, to facilitate making Fury-Joshua in what would likely be boxing’s richest fight since the $400m megafight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio five years ago.
Brits bring in the bucks
Fury has followed Mayweather and Mexican Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (down to No. 30 in Forbes 2020 list) as boxing’s biggest earner in recent years, thanks to an income largely generated by his promotional contract with US-based promoter Top Rank, that sees his fights shown on ESPN platforms in the US. Fury signed the deal in February 2019, which was reportedly worth £80m ($103m) over five fights.
Fury, who returned in 2018 after a two-year and seven-month exile, had two warm-up fights in the second half of 2019 before a stunning seventh-round stoppage win over Wilder in February this year.
Gate receipts from the Fury-Wilder rematch, which followed a controversial draw in December 2018, set a new Las Vegas heavyweight boxing record of $16.9m, and pay-per-view buys estimated at a reported $800,000-850,000, which was over double what the first fight attracted.
“Tyson is world champion, the man to beat, and there have been some great deals for him put together by the whole team — us, Top Rank and MTK Global — and that’s why he’s at No 1 [among boxers],” Warren told ESPN.
“There are other markets too, besides the UK. Tyson Fury’s money has come from the UK and US, where as Joshua has done the Middle East.
“Tyson has come back from being overweight and not boxing for three years to where he is, where as Joshua has been there continuously for a few years, so it’s a big jump from no where for Tyson with the comeback. Tyson has generated more money in the US than Joshua, much more.”
Fury is expected to make an estimated $50m from the trilogy fight with Wilder and if the Joshua fight follows that, it will be the last in his contract with Top Rank.
Fury has pivoted from his previous stance that next year might be his last in boxing.
He said on Instagram recently: “I’m coming to the end of my contract with Top Rank. I have two more fights left with those guys. I want to renew it. I don’t want to just walk away after two more fights.
“I know that we can break history with the biggest fight contract in the history of boxing, bigger than Floyd Mayweather, bigger than Canelo Alvarez, bigger than Mike Tyson, bigger than everybody.
“After I wipe out the two dossers in Wilder and Joshua, then the world is my oyster. I want to see that big contract come from ESPN, or whoever is out there, battling to get The Gypsy King on their station.”
Joshua, whose fights are shown on DAZN in the US and on Sky Sports in the UK, reportedly earned $60m for his rematch against American Andy Ruiz Jr last December, which was made up largely by the site fee for the fight to be held in Saudi Arabia.
Fury also took part in a WWE event in Saudi Arabia last October, and released a best-selling autobiography a month later, but he lags behind Joshua when it comes to endorsements.
Joshua’s impressive portfolio of brands includes Under Armour, Jaguar Land Rover, Beats, Sky Sports and Hugo Boss, and according to Forbes endorsements were worth $11m to Joshua (more than the $7m Fury earned).
Social media can reveal how marketable an athlete is, and Joshua’s social media following is better than Fury’s. Joshua has double the amount of Twitter followers at 3m, and 11.3m followers on Instagram (compared to 3.8m followers for Fury).
Both Wilder and Fury have been criticized for controversial comments in the past, and this may have impacted on their appeal to sponsors. According to Forbes, of Wilder’s $46.5m earnings, $500,000 was made up of endorsements. However humbling defeat was to Fury in February, Wilder’s biggest payday of his career (roughly $25m) will have softened the blow.
Breaking into the top 10
No British boxer has finished in the Forbes top ten list since Lewis (No. 4 in 2002 with $28m, No.8 in 1999 with $23m and No.8 in 2000 with $29m) when he was the highest paid athlete in the UK.
Lewis beat Tyson and Holyfield, but both Americans made more money. In 1990, Tyson topped the Forbes list ($28.6m), Holyfield ($60.5m) was No. 1 a year later, and Tyson returned to sport’s top earner in 1996 ($75m).
There was no love lost between them at the time, but Tyson, Lewis and Holyfield helped each other make millions with five money-spinning fights between them.
Can Fury, Joshua and Wilder generate similar amounts to elevate themselves among sport’s very top earners?
For Fury and Joshua to become the first British boxers to break into the Forbes Highest Paid Athletes top ten they need to fight before June 1 2020, the date Forbes measures incomes up to. Coronavirus restrictions on crowds also need to be lifted if the fight is going to generate the sort of gate revenue the pair have been used to, unless promoters secure a massive site fee in the Middle East, as was the case for Joshua-Ruiz II.
Long way off Mayweather
Despite the pipeline of lucrative fights between each other for Fury, Joshua and Wilder — as well as against the likes Whyte and Usyk — do not expect them to come close to overhauling boxing’s money magnet Floyd Mayweather Jr., now retired after accumulating $915m in 10 years (2010-end of 2019).
Mayweather Jr. needed just one night’s work to go top of the list in 2017. ‘Money’ Mayweather came out of retirement to face UFC fighter Conor McGregor, an event manufactured on social media that produced the second-biggest numbers in the history of the sport, with 4.3m pay-per-view buys and a $55m gate. The earnings helped Mayweather top the Forbes annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes for the fourth time in seven years at $285m.
Mayweather’s 2015 fight with Pacquiao, who is still boxing, is the richest fight of all time and American had an income of £300 million in 2015, according to Forbes. Pacquiao’s career-highest payday also saw him jump to second place in the Forbes list world’s highest-paid athletes at $160m and the Filipino generated $435m in the last decade.
The impact of coronavirus on boxing, with delayed fights and reduced gates, may impact their incomes, but the interest and demand is there for Fury, Joshua and Wilder to cash in, just not as big as Mayweather ever did.