LAS VEGAS — It’s still to be determined whether they’re hockey fans, but there is little question that the local residents are diehard Golden Knights fans. Each of the NHL team’s 110 home games has been filled beyond capacity with screaming, frenzied fans.
Locals are also excited about the impending debut of the NFL’s Raiders, who will play at a $2 billion palace on the south end of the Strip. More than a year before they ever played a game here, Raiders’ license plates were a common sight in every corner of the Las Vegas Valley.
That type of mania is what promoters Bob Arum and Todd duBoef of Top Rank envisioned when, roughly a year ago, they signed lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury to a co-promotional deal with Hall of Famer Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions.
Fury was popular throughout Europe, and was an iconic figure in his native England. About three months after fighting to a memorable draw with Deontay Wilder on Dec. 1, 2018, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, duBoef negotiated a deal reportedly in the nine figures to persuade Fury to campaign full-time in the U.S.
DuBoef believed that with exposure to the American market, fans would fall for the charismatic 6-foot-9 giant like no heavyweight since Mike Tyson some 30-plus years earlier.
DuBoef first became aware of Fury when a reporter urged him to listen to an interview Fury had done on Joe Rogan’s podcast. On that episode, Fury talked about his mental health issues and revealed he’d nearly taken his own life.
When he isn’t mired in the throes of depression, Fury is also a quick-witted guy who can be the life of the party. After the Tom Schwarz fight, he grabbed the microphone and sang to his wife, Paris, who had entered the ring. At the post-fight news conference following his draw with Wilder, he led the media in a rollicking rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” And before a scheduled rematch with Wladimir Klitschko that never occurred, Fury made a dramatic entrance after everyone else was seated and was wearing a Batman costume.
He’s got great one-liners and puts on a show in addition to the bout the people ostensibly came to see.
Las Vegas has long been known as the Boxing Capital of the World, though that designation has had less and less meaning in recent years as promoters have taken big fights elsewhere more frequently. But duBoef understood Americans’ love for heavyweights and felt with a proper introduction, they’d fall in love with Fury, too.
The plan from the onset was to build Fury for an American audience and hope that by the time a major fight developed, Las Vegans specifically and Americans in general would be captivated by him. The big fight is at hand, but it remains to be seen whether Fury has resonated with the American fan base as duBoef had hoped.
Fury supports ‘hometown team’ Golden Knights
On Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Fury and Wilder will meet in a rematch for the lineal and WBC championships in a joint Fox-ESPN+ pay-per-view. Estimates of PPV sales have been as high as two million, and nearly everyone connected with the promotion believes it will do at least a million.
Neither of Fury’s two Vegas fights has been a hit the way the Golden Knights instantly were when they became the NHL’s 31st franchise in 2017. Fury knocked out Schwarz in the second round on June 15, but according to Nevada Athletic Commission records, there were only 5,489 sold tickets for the bout. On Sept. 14, he overcame two nasty cuts around his right eye to defeat Otto Wallin at T-Mobile Arena. Only 3,577 paid for seats to that show.
Fury has done his part to make it work. He’s trained in Las Vegas for each of his fights since signing with Top Rank and has been seen all over town. He’s traveled the country promoting the rematch with Wilder, and on Feb. 15, a week before his date with destiny with Wilder, he appeared in a bit prior to the Golden Knights’ 1-0 victory over the New York Islanders.
The Golden Knights have a siren they use before the start of each period to fire the local fans up. They use a celebrity before the start of the game, and Fury was chosen on Saturday. There was a warm welcome as he was introduced to the crowd, but it was nothing like what happened three seconds after the puck dropped to start the game.
New York Islanders tough guy Ross Johnston challenged the Knights’ Ryan Reaves to a fight as they lined up next to each other before the opening face-off. Reaves said he told Johnston he’d fight him once he hit someone, but Johnston noted that Fury was in the house to watch them, so Reaves agreed.
An ear-splitting roar went up as Reaves skated to the penalty box while, high above the ice, Fury was shadow boxing and critiquing their form as he watched.
“I love Vegas; I love everything about Vegas,” Fury told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Adam Hill prior to the start of the game. “I’m just here supporting my hometown team.”
Fury explains why British fighters come to America
Fury is here because he believes he’s the best heavyweight in the world and wants to fight the best to prove it. But more than that, he knows there are always lingering doubts about U.K. fighters and that they need to conquer the U.S. to prove themselves.
He noted a long string of British fighters, most recently former champions Lennox Lewis and Ricky Hatton, left the comforts of home, where boxing is hugely popular and on average draws far bigger crowds than in the U.S., to prove themselves in America.
To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere.
“If any of the British are good at anything, in order to be seen as having made it, you have to go to America and make it here,” Fury told Yahoo Sports. “It seems to be just a small pond back home, but if you want to do it properly, you’ve got to do it in America. All of them have to, everybody. That’s why I’m here.”
The fight the first time was memorable. One judge called it a draw, another had it for Fury and the third had it for Wilder. On top of that, Wilder dropped Fury viciously in the 12th round, but Fury somehow managed to get up.
The rematch brings everything a boxing fan would want: Wilder is one of the game’s best sluggers and is going against one of its slickest boxers. They’re both unbeaten and they’re fighting for recognition as the top heavyweight in the world.
Fox, ESPN, the Premier Boxing Champions, Top Rank and the two fighters have done an incredible promotional blitz. They were on television during college football playoff games and were interviewed at the Super Bowl. They did news conferences live on network television and did hundreds of interviews.
Only time will tell, though, if Fury has taken over the city like the man he was named after did in the mid-1980s in one of the most remarkable runs in boxing history.
“The people know when they watch Tyson Fury, they’re going to get a proper good fight, but they’re going to get more than just a good fight,” Fury said. “They’re going to get a show. They’re going to be entertained. I’ll do things no one else does, so you have to watch to make sure you don’t miss something that everyone is talking about the next day.”
More Wilder-Fury 2 coverage from Yahoo Sports: