When unheralded fighter Andy Ruiz Jr. stunned the boxing world June 1 with a knockout of then-undefeated world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua on upstart sports streaming service DAZN, it ended speculation about a potentially lucrative fight between Joshua and undefeated heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder that arguably would have put the division back on the pay-per-view boxing map.
While a Joshua-Wilder fight is currently on hold, industry observers say the heavyweight category — once the marquee division in boxing — is generating a lot of buzz that could bode well for potentially attractive fights later this year and into 2020, ones featuring Wilder, Ruiz, Joshua and former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
“Instead of one mega-fight you may have three or four mid-range mega-fights,” sports consultant Lee Berke said. “You now have four fighters in the division that will be of great interest going forward.”
How a Loss Is a Gain
The loss initially felt like a devastating body blow to DAZN, which was streaming its first live Joshua bout as part of a multi-fight deal with the U.K.-born boxer. DAZN had made inroads into boxing by signing marquee pay-per-view attractions such as Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin to multi-fight agreements.
But it became clear in the fight’s aftermath that Joshua’s unexpected loss only fueled interest in a contracted rematch projected for later this year, DAZN executive vice president of North America Joseph Markowski said. No details on the fight have been announced, though.
Markowski pointed to the fight’s strong appeal on social media, where highlights posted to YouTube drew more than 11 million views within a 48-hour period.
“I didn’t have a particularly good mood after that night, but by the time Monday rolled around I was in a much better headspace about it,” he said. “The swell of social-media interest, as well as the knowledge that we would broadcast the rematch, turned around my blues. For us win, lose or draw, there will always be interest surrounding Anthony Joshua.”
Berke said Joshua’s loss — and the emergence of Ruiz as a likable and legitimate champion — helps to not only build the awareness of the DAZN brand but also the appeal of the heavyweight division. “This was supposed to be a tune-up fight for Joshua and was anything but,” Berke said. “Now DAZN controls the rights to both these guys, and that only helps DAZN and boxing.”
Showtime president of sports & event programming Stephen Espinoza added that Ruiz’s Mexican-American heritage could bring Hispanic boxing fans to the heavyweight division, which, unlike the lower weight classes, has lacked a marquee Hispanic fighter.
“The emergence of Andy Ruiz is a huge positive for the sport,” he said. “He has a great personality and is an underdog story, and it opens up the Mexican-American market in a way that hasn’t been the case before [around the heavyweight division].”
Ruiz’s victory came weeks after Wilder’s impressive first round knockout of Dominic Breazeale on Showtime’s May 18 boxing telecast to further solidify his claim as arguably the best heavyweight in the world. Espinoza said Wilder has a signed deal to fight Luis Ortiz in a rematch of their competitive March 2018 fight, although no fight date or distribution outlet has been announced. Showtime distributed the first Wilder-Ortiz fight.
When Wilder Meets Fury (Again)
Espinoza added that Wilder is also looking to meet Fury in early 2020 in a rematch of their December 2018 Showtime-distributed PPV fight, which ended in a draw.
Fury, who on June 15 knocked out contender Tom Schwartz in two rounds in a match carried by ESPN+, is also expected to take another fight this fall before potentially meeting Wilder in a mega pay-per-view fight. ESPN vice president of acquisitions and programming Matt Kenny said the network is working with boxing promoter Top Rank to determine Fury’s next moves, but would not disclose specifics.
“The big picture is that there continues to be an interest in the heavyweight division, and that’s fueling interest in boxing overall,” Kenny said. “The narrative is different, but the interest is still there.”