Last week, at a press conference in Las Vegas, the WWE announced two mega match-ups with Brock Lesnar set to defend his championship against former foe Cain Velasquez, while Braun Strowman will square off against current boxing heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury in Saudi Arabia for the Crown Jewel pay-per-view at the end of this month.
Usually, sports stars that make in-ring cameos are reserved for Wrestlemania, the biggest show on the WWE calendar, but the propaganda campaign that the Saudi government pays for is more profitable so with roughly a month of build up, these bouts will be presented on a Thursday afternoon when much of the domestic audience won’t be able to watch it live for what is basically a glorified house show. As trivial as this might sound, I must note that these type of big matches being used for the overseas events instead of the United States, where the majority of WWE shows are held could be a major misstep, simply because the time slot doesn’t allow for the most exposure to the biggest markets. Would Mr. T’s appearances in the 80s have been as effective if his in-ring bouts aired on a Thursday afternoon? In some respects, it seems like management is cashing in now instead of using this celebrity association to propel the product in the future.
Still, one of the current heavyweight champions in boxing signed for a WWE match is a story and opens the door for some intriguing scenarios if this bout goes well. I penned an article about the upside of Cain Velasquez’s involvement last week, but the Fury equation is a very different situation. First, Cain and Brock have a history to build up that sets up for a natural rematch between the two so the angle was already in place before Velasquez showed up, which allows for a much easier path to get to the match. Arguably the more important aspect is, Cain is well-known for his time as UFC heavyweight champion, despite the injuries that derailed much of the momentum he generated throughout his UFC career. Also, Cain began training for professional wrestling early last year and did well in a pair of recent matches for AAA in Mexico.
On the flip side, Tyson Fury has none of that going for him ahead of this contest with Strowman. A fan since his youth, Fury’s eccentric and charismatic persona suggest that he would fit very well with the world of sports entertainment, but there are a few hurdles to clear for Crown Jewel. Undefeated in 30 fights, Fury has 29 victories and just one draw, a razor-close bout against fellow champion Deontay Wilder last December, on his boxing record. The British heavyweight made his name when he defeated the legendary Wladimir Klitschko for a collection of belts via unanimous decision in 2015. It was the first blemish on Klitschko’s record in nearly a decade as he reigned as the most dominate heavyweight in the sport for much of the previous ten years.
The victory should’ve marked the beginning of a run for Tyson, but months after he claimed the title, a Klitschko rematch was cancelled when Fury tested positive for cocaine. Subsequently, he vacated the belt and his future in the sport was in doubt. Along with the drug test, erratic behavior had many concerned for his safety as well. Tyson took nearly three years away from the ring to seek professional help for mental health issues and drug problems.
Remarkably, Tyson reemerged inside the ropes clean and in better shape with a win in June of last year. He followed that up with another win a few months later before the previously mentioned draw against Wilder late last year. In 2019, he has two victories, including a bout last month that saw him suffer a nasty cut near his eye, a laceration that many thought would cause the fight to be stopped, but Fury pushed forward to get the unanimous decision. Despite the cynical nature of boxing negotiations, the anticipated rematch with Wilder is expected to be inked for early next year.
That entire situation is one of the problems for WWE, Tyson Fury simply isn’t a well-known commodity in the United States because of his extended hiatus from the sport after the title win and his limited exposure in America. Secondly, other than Braun’s “get these hands” catchphrase, there’s really no logic behind an angle with Fury. Perhaps, the biggest problem is that Tyson has no experience at all in sports entertainment, and his punches that missed by more than a mile during the recent confrontation on Raw are proof of it. Granted, it’s understandable that Fury wanted to be cautious as to not injury the security, but it might be an indication that the match at Crown Jewel could be a train wreck.
At a time when the company is trying to refresh its presentation, is it a wise move to book this match when it will probably garner coverage from other media outlets? If the contest is a total botch, is the potential negative press from it going to help the image of the product? Furthermore, is it really that important to book sports celebrities for the Saudi government?
Don’t get me wrong, I hope Tyson Fury does well in the squared circle, and in many respects, he is a tremendous success story, but this particular performance has too many red flags that could led to a disaster if the match is too sloppy. Keep in mind, Fury is not only still a regular competitor in boxing, he also has a mega payday ahead of him for the Wilder rematch. Obviously, he will make millions for this Saudi contest, but he’s still risking legitimate money if he gets injured against Braun Strowman. Hopefully, he can get the chance to practice the sequences of the match prior to the pay-per-view, but with just a week until the show, how much can he realistically train for pro wrestling?
Reportedly, Fury will make an estimated $15 million for the Saudi match, but the return bout against Wilder will earn him even more than that so it’s a tough situation when he and Braun have to at least have something that can be considered a match, but not anything that might jeopardize the boxing payday. All things considered, much like this entire pay-per-view, this match-up is more about what the Saudi government wants than anything that will have an effect on WWE. The deal that brings the heavyweight champion to the country is basically because there’s an initiative to get more boxing there, as another heavyweight title bout with Andy Ruiz vs. Anthony Joshua will take place in Saudi Arabia in December. As much as Fury’s involvement could be used to push Braun, make no mistake about it, Tyson Fury’s angle is nowhere near the same level as Mike Tyson’s storyline two decades ago.
Depending on how this contest goes, it’s very possible that Fury’s persona would translate well to the squared circle for more than a one-off match after he retires from boxing, but at just 31, he will probably continue to pursue his original sport for at least a few more years. In truth, it appears that WWE brass more or less shoehorned Tyson Fury into the pay-per-view to maintain status quo of the mega paydays from these stadium shows. As mentioned, there’s no direct angle or history for Fury in WWE, and there’s no logical reason to risk the millions of dollars on the table for the Wilder rematch other than the major Saudi money for this event.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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