Big nights in boxing usually have a few things in common: Las Vegas, near-midnight start times for the main event, and arenas that hold fewer than 20,000 fans. But Vegas-based promoter Top Rank is taking a different approach with heavyweight champion Tyson Fury on Saturday, staging a blockbuster fight in the heart of London with nearly 100,000 fans in attendance, an undercard start time of 2 p.m. ET, and Fury and Dillian Whyte expected to come on around 5 p.m. (Update: Fury won with a sixth round K.O.)
“It used to be that the U.S. was the economic-centric hub for the sport, and I think we’re seeing the playing field on a global basis is kind of equal now,” Todd duBoef, Top Rank president, said in a phone interview. “The Brits were used to staying up until 3 in the morning and watching Lennox Lewis or Ricky Hatton. We’re now activating a lot of those international markets and not letting only the U.S. revenues drive it, but letting the U.S. revenues supplement it.”
Featuring Fury at Wembley is not rocket science. The 6’9” Brit, nicknamed The Gypsy King, has not fought in England in nearly four years; his past four fights were in Vegas, with a bout at Los Angeles’ Staples Center before that. Fury’s global profile has skyrocketed, as he’s run his record to 31-0, plus a 2017 draw against Deontay Wilder. U.K. fans are itching to see the hometown champion in the ring.
Top Rank and Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions are co-promoters of the fight, and it sold 90,000 tickets in several hours. They petitioned to expand capacity and got approval for an additional 4,000 seats at Wembley. Attendance will rank among the highest in the history of modern-day boxing, behind only the 130,000-plus that saw Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez defeat American Greg Haugen at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca in 1993. Tickets for the Fury-Whyte matchup run from roughly $70 to $2,600, and the total gate is expected to approach $15 million.
Fury-Whyte is the first of three Top Rank title fights around the globe in front of large audiences over the next seven weeks. Lightweight champ George Kambosos will defend his titles against Devin Haney in front of 50,000 fans at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, on June 4, while Naoya Inoue is taking on Nonito Donaire at 36,500-capacity Saitama Super Arena in Japan three days later. “There is a pent-up demand for people to go to events post-COVID,” duBoef said.
Fury is in line for a massive payday. The record purse bid of $41 million is split 80-20 in Fury’s favor, with 10% of the total reserved for the winner. If Fury wins—he is a 1/6 favorite—he will earn at least $33.6 million. The champ will also share in the upside on the pay-per-view, which is available in the U.S. for $69.99 and U.K. for £24.95, or $32.50. A blowout PPV tally could add a few million dollars to Fury’s take-home pay. Whyte is guaranteed $7.4 million and will make $11.5 million if he wins. Whyte will not receive a cut of any PPV proceeds.
Fury and Canelo Alvarez are the two biggest stars in the sport, which for a decade relied on Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to drive big U.S. PPV sales. None of the seven most recognizable boxers in the U.S. are active, according to a recent Harris Poll. Fury is No. 8 at 37%, followed closely by Roy Jones Jr. and Jake Paul.
Despite the lack of awareness for the current crop of pugilists, boxing is experiencing something of a resurgence, although one that has purists cringing. It has brought new fans to the sport, thanks to YouTube stars Jake and Logan Paul entering the ring. The most popular sports among the Gen Z demographic were football, basketball and soccer, with boxing ranked fourth, a notch ahead of baseball, according to analytics firm Two Circles.
DuBoef credits Top Rank’s partnership with ESPN, which kicked off in 2017, after years of big matches sitting behind the HBO and Showtime paywalls. He sees the benefit of fans rolling straight from an NBA game or Alabama football right into boxing.
“I think this is a lot about the world getting flatter, as our media world comes together,” duBoef said. “And what we are seeing is first and foremost is that boxing is a massive global sport.”
(The first paragraph of this story was updated to add the result.)