IT was announced last week by Sky Sports that WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and WBC boss Tyson Fury have reached a financial agreement on a two-fight deal. According to Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, the first bout “could happen” in the summer of 2021.
A lot can happen in 12 months. There appears to be at least five substantial hurdles to clear before we get to the biggest fight in British boxing history. Firstly, the boxing world is yet to prove it can operate effectively in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic let alone stage a contest of this magnitude. Secondly, Joshua is still scheduled to take on Kubrat Pulev in his next bout. Thirdly, Fury has unfinished business with Deontay Wilder and, four, WBC mandatory Dillian Whyte is pressing hard for his long-awaited shot after starting legal action against the sanctioning body. We’ll get to the fifth hurdle shortly. It’s a big one.
“It’s absolute bulls**t,” said a furious Frank Warren, Fury’s UK promoter, when Boxing News approached him moments after the story broke.
The Hall of Famer later clarified his position in another phone call with BN. Though he acknowledged that talks were indeed taking place, he did not feel that making an announcement was necessary, or indeed helpful, because no contracts had been drawn, let alone signed.
“We all know it’s a 50/50 split for the first fight with the rematch being 60/40 for the winner. There’s nothing new here,” Warren said. “It’s all about Hearn [trying to get attention].”
Bob Arum, the head of Top Rank and responsible for Fury’s international dealings, agreed with Warren.
“This is bizarre,” Arum told Seconds Out. “Four to six weeks ago we reached this agreement and nothing new has been decided. There was no news made… Eddie Hearn was looking to get some press, none of the rest of us thought it was worth making a statement [at this stage].”
But it was Fury who managed to snare the attention when he confirmed the agreement via video message on his social media channels. And it wasn’t just his own name that was hogging it.
Three times he thanked Daniel Kinahan for getting the deal over the line. Kinahan is an Irishman, based in the United Arab Emirates, who two years ago was identified in the High Court in Dublin as a senior figure in an organised crime gang involved in international drug-trafficking operations and firearm offences. It has been reported that he is wanted for questioning over his involvement in several offences, including conspiracy to murder and drug crimes. To say he’s notorious in certain circles would be an understatement. Certain circles, but not all. Last month, Kinahan was described as an “International boxing powerbroker” by KHK Sports in Bahrain when his role as a special advisor with them was announced.
In boxing circles, Kinahan’s involvement in the sport has been known for several years. He has brokered huge deals, sometimes under the auspices of the MTK Global management group he founded in 2012, sometimes as an independent advisor, yet he has done so largely anonymously. In 2017, MTK was taken over by Sandra Vaughan who insists Kinahan has “no ties” the company but accepts he acts as an advisor to several of their fighters.
Through all of this, we’ve heard his name mentioned in glowing terms by the fighters and trainers he represents. The comeback of Tyson Fury can be traced back to Kinahan – a huge boxing fan – after he persuaded the fighter to return during his hiatus. Nobody in the sport has gone on record with anything other than positivity for a man with no criminal record.
But never before has he been given a platform quite like this.
By uttering Kinahan’s name and highlighting his pivotal involvement in what would be the biggest fight in British boxing history, Tyson Fury unknowingly triggered a media frenzy. Boxing News understands Kinahan is now keen to make public his substantial work behind the scenes in boxing.
And this fifth hurdle, the outing of Daniel Kinahan, might turn out to be the most difficult of the lot to clear.
“I was taken aback by Tyson Fury and his video and dropping in that name you mentioned,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told Parliament on Thursday in response to remarks from another party leader, Labour’s Alan Kelly, about Kinahan’s involvement in the Fury-Joshua deal.
“While I cannot comment on any particular garda [Irish police] operation,” Varadkar added, “I can certainly assure you that there has been contact between [Ireland’s] Department of Foreign Affairs and the authorities in the United Arab Emirates about that matter.”
The day after Fury’s video went viral, BT Sport – the heavyweight’s broadcast partner in the UK – released a statement designed to distance themselves from the fight and the kind of attention it was attracting.
“BT Sport is not currently involved in the Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua negotiations,” it read.
“Our broadcast agreement for the fights of Tyson Fury is exclusively with Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions. We have had no dealings with MTK or any of their representatives for this fight.
“BT reviews all sports rights and broadcast deals with the appropriate levels of responsibility and scrutiny before deciding on a course of action.”
Sky Sports have since taken a similar approach. Curious, perhaps, when one considers that broadcasters like BT and Sky would ordinarily be eager to be associated with an event that all but guarantees a record-breaking audience.
In recent weeks, Arum has spoken of his respect for – and reliance on – Kinahan. He has brokered fights and secured the signatures of big name fighters for Top Rank. The 88-year-old has stated several times he cares little about the criminal accusations aimed at Kinahan. Warren has previously denied that he knew anything of those accusations but last week made it clear in a statement that it was Eddie Hearn – and not him – who had been in discussions with the Irishman about the Fury-Joshua contest.
When asked about this by Boxing News, Hearn said: “Tyson Fury is promoted by Bob Arum and Frank Warren. Probably because I don’t get on with Warren, I have been instructed by those parties, and Tyson Fury himself, to deal with his advisor Daniel Kinahan on this fight.” He would not say anything else on the matter.
However, Hearn did object to the claims of Warren and Arum regarding his decision to go public with the announcement of Fury-Joshua.
“The ‘new news’ is that I confirmed in writing [on behalf of Joshua] and they confirmed verbally [Team Fury] that they are willing to accept a two-fight deal with an agreed split for fight one and an agreed split for fight two,” Hearn told BN.
“It was agreed that we should move forward and finalise all remaining details of the fight. That had never been done before prior to this week. So when they say there’s no ‘new news’ – it’s only been talked about by the media – there has never before been a discussion between both parties confirming that and now there has been.
“What those guys [Warren and Arum] are right about is there is still a lot of work to do. There are still hurdles to overcome. We need to finalise the details of the UK and the US broadcaster. Who are they going to fight in-between and when are they going to fight in-between? What happens with Dillian Whyte’s mandatory position? The main one is, where will the two fights take place? ”
On Tuesday morning (June 16) any rumours that the first fight would happen in Bahrain disappeared. Following the media outcry, KHK announced they had “discontinued its engagement with Daniel Kinahan and he is no longer an advisor.” Boxing News understands that Macau, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and another country in the Middle East are under consideration.
“Always, the most difficult part of any deal is to make sure the financial element is agreed,” Hearn continued. “That’s done. Now we have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and move forward. But we will now start talking to various sites and look at the venues. This summer, we will tie up the broadcaster situation. But most importantly we will focus on Kubrat Pulev for Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder for Tyson Fury – if that fight takes place. That is the main focus.
“I thought it was important to let people know, especially when the future of our sport is a little bit uncertain. It’s important that the fans have something to look forward to. It’s important for them to know we’re making progress and there has been an agreement put in place from both sides to move forward and that the financial terms have been agreed – both fighters are happy with the split.”
It’s believed that both fighters were told that the story would be released to the media before the story appeared on the Sky Sports website. Joshua is not thought to have had any direct dealings with Kinahan.
“I had to have a conversation with Anthony Joshua to say that I’m going to confirm now, in writing,” said Hearn. “It doesn’t mean we’re signing a contract but when I confirm these kind of things, it’s only with one thing in mind – and that’s to sign a contract.
“Are we happy to fight Fury twice? Are we happy to fight for ‘x’ in the first fight and ‘x’ in the second fight, win, lose, etc? Yes we are. So that’s what we confirmed to them.”
The problem, of course, is that they can agree all manner of things but the world of heavyweight boxing – which last year saw Andy Ruiz Jnr emerge from obscurity to knock out “AJ” before order was restored in the rematch – is a minefield of promoters, politics, sanctioning bodies and broadcasters. Then there’s egos to soothe, other contenders to appease, a pandemic to emerge from and, suddenly, the emergence of Daniel Kinahan to justify. Given the recent change of heart from KHK, and the obvious concerns of BT Sport and Sky Sports regarding his involvement, the coast isn’t exactly clear.
“It adds a huge element to the Joshua-Pulev fight,” Hearn said. “But I don’t like it. I never like going into a fight where you’re thinking about another fight. Look what happened with AJ-Andy Ruiz. It’s exactly the same thing. Everyone was talking about Joshua-Wilder. Joshua took his eye off the ball a little bit and he got beat but I don’t think he’ll make the same mistake again.
“But it’s a dangerous fight for Tyson Fury as well. Whilst everyone is rightfully excited about the prospect of this fight [Fury-Joshua], and I’m very confident all the fans will see it in 2021, let’s just keep our feet on the ground and not get too excited until the intermediate gentlemen are dealt with.”