Just how close is the deal for the fight between heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder and former world champion Tyson Fury?
Very, if you listen to Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza, who is involved in the deal because his network would televise the proposed fight on Showtime PPV on either Nov. 10 or Nov. 17 from Las Vegas.
“It is very, very close. There isn’t anything signed yet between Tyson and Deontay or their respective promoters, but it’s very, very close,” Espinoza said in an interview on this week’s The Boxing Beat, the weekly ESPN+ boxing news and interview show. “Whether it’s 95 percent or 99 percent, it is very, very close. I think we’ll have paperwork imminently and the plan is for a Showtime Pay-Per-View [card] — pair it with a really interesting fight. We don’t know what it is yet, but something that will definitely communicate that the fans are getting their money’s worth.”
Shelly Finkel, Wilder’s co-manager, and Frank Warren, Fury’s promoter, have also said in recent days that the fight, in discussions for about a month, is close to being finalized.
Wilder turned to a possible fight with Fury when a proposed fall showdown for the undisputed world title with unified titlist Anthony Joshua fell apart when Joshua elected to instead face Alexander Povetkin on Sept. 22 rather than take one of the biggest fights the sport could offer against Wilder.
Even if the Wilder and Fury camps agree to a deal, Fury will first have to win the second fight of his comeback on Aug. 18, when he is scheduled to face former two-time world title challenger Francesco Pianeta (35-4-1, 21 KOs) in a 10-round bout at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the undercard of interim featherweight titleholder Carl Frampton’s first defense against Luke Jackson.
In preparation for the probable Wilder-Fury fight, Showtime on Tuesday announced it had acquired the United States rights to the Aug. 18 card, which it will stream live on the Showtime Boxing Facebook and Showtime Sports YouTube platforms beginning at 4 p.m. ET with a prime-time replay scheduled to air on Showtime Extreme at 10 p.m. ET.
Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs), 32, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who has made seven title defenses, and Fury have a history together. After Wilder knocked Artur Szpilka out cold in the ninth round to retain his title in January 2016, Fury, who watched from ringside at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, jumped into the ring and confronted Wilder nose-to-nose WWE style.
Espinoza expects some of that nuttiness to carry over into the promotion of the fight.
“You have two big personalities like Tyson and Deontay. It’ll be a fun promotion because if there’s one thing those guys can each do it’s talk,” Espinoza said. “They’re two of the most entertaining guys in the entire sport, so I think not only will the fight be interesting but it’ll be a really fun promotion.”
Fury (26-0, 19 KOs), 29, of England, won three major world title belts and the lineal title by outpointing Wladimir Klitschko in a massive upset in November 2015, but he was eventually stripped of his various belts and never made a defense. He failed two drug tests for cocaine, admitted to a drinking problem and mental health issues and did not fight again for 2½ years. He returned on June 9 and stopped low-level opponent Sefer Seferi in the fourth round of a farcical fight that was almost comical for its lack of engagement.
Espinoza, like most boxing fans, had hoped to see Joshua-Wilder finalized, but he said he will also be happy to see a Wilder-Fury bout, also a major fight, be made.
“That was a disappointing one,” he said of Joshua-Wilder falling apart. “I know fans are disappointed as well, but I was pretty optimistic. I thought we were on our way to getting there.”
Espinoza said he holds out hope for Joshua-Wilder in the future. He said it is the one fight he most wants to make.
“That is arguably the biggest heavyweight fight since [Lennox] Lewis-[Mike] Tyson [in 2002] and even at that point it was at the tail end of Tyson’s career,” Espinoza said. “You’d have to go back even farther when you had two physically dominant, popular, charismatic heavyweight champions in their prime fighting each other. That’s one that we’re not going to let go, and I don’t think it’s going to take that much work to put it back together. Yes, there’s going to be some maneuvering to do it, but it can happen.”