Tyson Fury returned to the UK last month a hero. Serving up a performances for the ages against Deontay Wilder on that unforgettable February night in Las Vegas, the newly-crowned WBC heavyweight champion reclaimed his spot at the summit of heavyweight boxing alongside Anthony Joshua, completing a turnaround not many thought was possible.
Fury, historically a divisive figure in boxing, conquered his personal demons with his popularity in this country amongst the sport’s fans at an all-time high. The USA, where his last four fights have taken place, also appears to have found a new fan favourite in ‘The Gypsy King’.
Fury’s unconventional background, his comeback story and his unique talent have struck a chord with US audiences. Measuring the success of Fury’s American dream isn’t easy, but according to Spencer Nolan, Managing Director UK & Ireland at Nielsen Sports, a leader in sports analytics, the Briton is a genuine marketable force on the other side of the pond, with US fight fans right behind the Fury story.
“His first fight against Deontay Wilder was a great encounter with a narrative around him being unlucky to draw having come back after being knocked down twice having only just come back from beating his ‘demons’,” Nolan told Standard Sport. “His eccentric and engaging personality, allied with his earlier stint in the WWE, has helped to generate enthusiasm from the US public.”
Since joining forces with ESPN in a deal reportedly worth £80m in February last year, there has been a mission to promote Fury to American audiences on a larger scale.
Part of that plan saw Fury make his way to the ring draped in the red, white and blue to the strains of Living in America on his US debut against Tom Schwarz last June. Fury stayed State-side to beat Otto Wallin later that year before stepping into the world of professional wrestling - fitting right in among the WWE superstars with a string of appearances that culminated in a win over Braun Strowman at WWE Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia.
Fury is box office with his win over Wilder reportedly watched by 800,000-850,000 paying customers in North America. Fury vs Wilder 2 brought in numbers heavyweight fights haven’t seen since the days of Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, but still fell short of the numbers that were provided by pay-per-view king Floyd Mayweather and more recently, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, with the latter regularly commanding over 1million.
While Fury has come a long way in a short space of time, Nolan notes he still has a lot to prove in commanding such PPV buys on his own.
“Fury was, until his last two fights in the US, relatively unknown in the States. So, whilst he has come a long way in the last year to bring himself into the public consciousness - with the right match-ups and marketing he can reach higher levels of PPV buys and sponsorship deals. It’s still unclear if he would ever be able to match the marketability of Mayweather.
“The recent Wilder fight generated 850k buys in the US at an $80 price point, which equates to $68m. However, their first fight generated 325k buys whilst ‘Canelo’ regularly gets over 1m, so clearly there is still some work to be done to reach those levels in the States.”
An inevitable meeting with Joshua to unify the heavyweight division will undoubtedly go down as the biggest fight in the history of British boxing but State-side, the fight could still struggle to match the numbers that were routinely racked up by Mayweather and more recently Canelo. Joshua, after all, fell short on his big US debut, humiliated by Andy Ruiz Jr at Madison Square Garden before getting his revenge in December.
“This fight would be well received,” Nolan continued. “However, a combination of no American fighter and the event taking place outside the US may limit its upside potential State-side. Having said that, Joshua’s popularity in the UK alone leads to significant PPV buys there, with an estimated 1.5m buys in two of his last three fights and a significant 2.5m in his fight against Wladimir Klitschko.”
Fury has been honest over his future in the sport and insists he has three fights left in him before retirement – the first of those to be a contractually-stipulated trilogy fight with Wilder later this year.
Whatever decisions he makes, the US story seems set to continue.