Assessing Britain’s Heavyweight Pay-Per-View Pile-Up

Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte all feature on Box Office this summer, but which of their three fights represents the best value for money?

WHEREAS we’re now regularly informed junk food is no good for us, but some are too addicted to change their ways (or without the money or ability to do so), the opposite happens in boxing.

In boxing, there is more of a tendency to promote processed junk as something it’s not and exploit the lack of education, or the beige palate, of those who should but probably don’t know better. Consequently, some believe a Happy Meal, sold to us at a premium, will make them happy and see to all five of their five-a-day. They will refrain from questioning its benefits because the adverts celebrate them and because, increasingly, Happy Meals are all that are on offer these days.

Take it or leave it, the seller tells us. If you don’t like it, don’t pay for it. But the problem is, we all need to eat, and anyone brave enough to take a stand and ignore pay-per-view events, these Happy Meals handed to us by boxing promoters and television networks, likely won’t see food for months. And nobody wants to starve.

Andy Ruiz

On the menu for UK fans in the next two months are three fights featuring British heavyweights against opposition known only to the hardcore fraternity. The Brits involved are Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte. So far, so normal. Their opponents, however, are Andy Ruiz Jnr, Tom Schwarz and Oscar Rivas. Not so normal.

Before any further probing, we can establish, based on the requirements of past pay-per-view events, that is, ones from the so-called golden age as opposed to ones from last year, that not one of these fights is, on its own merits, worthy of the pay-per-view platform. If, in the context of a PPV, the B-side is as important as the A-side, these all fall some way short of the gold or silver or even bronze standard. And most would agree.

But, of course, in 2019 there’s more to it than that. Nowadays, certain fighters are deemed pay-per-view attractions regardless of the opposition and this is a view, whether right or wrong, we have learned to accept.

In the case of Anthony Joshua, the WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion, it’s hard to dispute. The 2012 Olympic champion has been a bona fide pay-per-view star since beating Dillian Whyte in December 2015 and has the popularity and, more importantly, the numbers to support Sky’s decision to make him a regular fixture on the platform.

Tyson Fury, meanwhile, is getting there. The devil to Joshua’s angel, he appeals to a slightly different demographic but is no less valuable a commodity. He brings, too, some controversy and a cavalier spirit Joshua leaves at home and will no doubt be calling himself the ‘lineal heavyweight champion of the world’ until it becomes his last breath.

Finally, we have Dillian Whyte. Whyte, the only one of the three not to hold a world title, is perhaps the definitive B-side, someone whose appeal and value greatly depends on the name and profile of his opponent and whose recent impressive run of form has been constructed largely in the shadow of his foremost rival, Anthony Joshua.

Stick Whyte in with the appropriate A-side, and you have a pay-per-view main event. No question. Stick him in with a fellow B-side of equal pedigree and it can still also work. But Whyte has yet to reach a level of attention or achievement that would make the thought of him headlining a pay-per-view event against a heavyweight plucked blindly from a hat seem normal or logical. It could happen one day. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Anyway, that’s enough about their individual merits. Here are the three fights Joshua, Fury and Whyte are offering for our viewing pleasure in June and July, including a breakdown of why they should and shouldn’t get our attention (and money), as well as a star rating out of five. (As a guide, five stars would go to Floyd Mayweather vs. Ricky Hatton, and four would go to Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko…)

Unlike the fights in question, this breakdown, however useful or pointless, is at least free of charge.

Anthony Joshua

3) Tyson Fury vs. Tom Schwarz

When: June 15, 2019.

Where: Las Vegas, USA.

Price: £19.95 (BT Sport Box Office)

Why should you watch it?

Tyson Fury, 27-0-1 (19), might not be the most exciting heavyweight in the world, stylistically speaking, but the ‘Gypsy King’ is certainly the division’s most captivating character, which alone makes his fights – more so his press conferences and interviews – unmissable events.

Forget the big ones. Plenty of us watched the Sefer Seferi comeback fight despite knowing it was a mismatch, would tell us very little, and was barely even a fight. Why? Good question. In the end, we probably tuned in because it was Tyson Fury and because he assured us he was the true heavyweight champion of the world and because he was coming off a two-and-a-half-year layoff. We watched because Fury’s story remains compelling.

Oh, and Tom Schwarz will also be Fury’s first opponent since he produced a fabulous effort against Deontay Wilder in December. For that reason, he probably deserves the benefit of any doubt.

Why shouldn’t you watch it?

It’s not a mismatch of Sefer Seferi proportions but it is, on paper, a mismatch of undeniable and almost admirable cheek.

Essentially, Fury, the self-styled lineal heavyweight champion of the world, says he is beyond fighting for actual world titles, ones held by Joshua and Wilder, only to end up defending his belt against a German responsible for launching a million Google searches and spiking BoxRec’s traffic. It shows the power of the man, I suppose, as well as the beauty of having no sanction body to nominate a challenger. It also shows how powerless the sport has become to creating any sense of order.

Schwarz, a 24-year-old from Magdeburg, has youth and presumably ambition on his side and that makes him different to Seferi and Francesco Pianeta (another of Fury’s comeback foes). Lacking, however, are decent wins on his 24-fight record. That’s a concern. That’s a problem. It suggests Schwarz not only doesn’t have what it takes to test Fury but indicates he probably shouldn’t be anywhere near a headline pay-per-view slot in the first place. A headline slot in America, no less. A headline slot in America shown on pay-per-view in the UK in the early hours of the morning. That, for some, will be another reason not to purchase.

PPV power rating: *

Tyson Fury

2) Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz Jnr

When: June 1, 2019.

Where: New York, USA.

Price: £19.95 (Sky Sports Box Office)

Why should you watch it?

It’s Anthony Joshua.

Joshua, or ‘AJ’ as he’s known, holds three of the four world heavyweight titles, is one of the world’s most recognisable boxers, and every one of his fights since he turned pro in 2013 has been a happening. Say what you want about his magnetism away from the ring, or lack thereof, but Joshua, 22-0 (21), tends to deliver the goods every time he steps through the ropes, irrespective of the opponent. He fights the way we want our fighters to fight. He is, in every sense of the word, TV gold.

It’s also his American debut, if that means anything to you.

Why shouldn’t you watch it?

It’s Andy Ruiz Jnr.

Okay, that’s unfair. It’s unfair because Andy Ruiz Jnr never asked for this, nor was he originally supposed to challenge Joshua on June 1 in New York. That job was instead offered to Jarrell Miller, but Miller somehow got his dates wrong and confused a boxing match with a bodybuilding contest. He then proceeded to hit potions instead of punch bags, flunked more than one drug test, and Andy Ruiz Jnr of all people wound up being the answer to the question nobody wanted to ask.

As a stand-in opponent, he’s far from the worst. He isn’t even the worst of those originally on the shortlist (that was probably Manuel Charr, if pushed). Ruiz, in fact, is, on his day, a deceptively quick and capable 29-year-old, as proven in a close fight against Joseph Parker in 2016 (his only loss), as well as in recent wins over Alexander Dimitrenko, Kevin Johnson and Devin Vargas. Unlike Tom Schwarz, Ruiz, 32-1 (21), at least has form, something to grab on to. We know a bit about him. We know his plusses and minuses. We know what he looks like.

Still, that’s not enough to make Joshua vs. Ruiz an especially appealing fight. Rather, it’s more akin to the large kebab a couple share when discovering their favourite Indian restaurant has stopped taking bookings. It does a job. It fills a hole. It actually tastes quite nice. But it’s not the meal anybody had in mind so therefore dissatisfies.

Worse than that, because it takes place on American soil, Joshua vs. Ruiz Jnr is the meal you devour at four o’clock in the morning as opposed to at the more civilised time of, say, seven or eight in the evening. Sunday, alas, is full of regret.

PPV power rating: **

Anthony Joshua

1) Dillian Whyte vs. Oscar Rivas

When: July 20, 2019.

Where: London, England.

Price: £19.95 (Sky Sports Box Office)

Why should you watch it?

Because, on the face of it, Whyte vs. Rivas is the most competitive of any of the fights involving a British heavyweight in the next two months. That’s why.

Instead of a negative, the absence of a world title on the line is a good thing and has helped bring together two hungry contenders still chasing their opportunity, a sight preferable to that of world champions resting on their laurels and protecting what is already theirs. Because of this, Whyte vs. Rivas appeals and figures to be competitive. Because of this, it is worth your time.

What’s more, Whyte, 25-1 (19), is on a fine run of form, unbeaten in nine fights since losing to Anthony Joshua in 2015, and Oscar Rivas could possess just the right amount of Colombian crazy to set him off and incite something dramatic.

When Whyte is tested, chaos ensues. In two fights with Dereck Chisora, for example, something was ignited in Whyte, and the same happened when he fought Joseph Parker. It’s in those fights, meaningful fights in which Whyte has success yet also seems on the brink of unravelling, the Londoner really comes into his own and, yes, nearly justifies his position as a pay-per-view A-side.

We know very little about Oscar Rivas aside from the fact he was a good amateur (with wins over Andy Ruiz Jnr and Kubrat Pulev), is an undefeated pro (26-0, 18 inside), and that American contender Bryant Jennings couldn’t last the distance with him in January. That information won’t persuade many to back him, no, but it should mark the 31-year-old as a superior opponent to the likes of Chisora and Lucas Browne, and perhaps even Parker, when one day assessing the pantheon of Dillian Whyte’s pre-title shot existence period.

And another thing: this heavyweight fight is an example of a UK pay-per-view taking place during UK prime time. It lacks household names, admittedly, but don’t underestimate the importance of a main event being shown in households awake when the first bell rings.

Why shouldn’t you watch it?

We shouldn’t watch it because there was once a time when pay-per-view events were concerned only with superstars in world title fights. This, on the other hand, is neither a world title fight nor a fight involving superstars. It is, instead, indicative of how far the pay-per-view standards have slipped and how the very landscape – read: emphasis on pay-per-view to keep the sport’s blood pumping – has shifted in recent years.

Frankly, Whyte vs. Rivas would, at best, have been an undercard fight on a pay-per-view event in days gone by. That’s not to say it’s a bad one – it really isn’t – but the point should serve to highlight how desperate we’ve become and how manipulative boxing can be if you let her.

PPV power rating: **

Dillian Whyte and Oscar Rivas Press Conference to announce their Heavyweight fight at the O2 Arena in London on 20th July 2019. 29th April 2019 Picture By Mark Robinson.

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