Top Rank President Todd duBoef believes it would be pretty easy to co-promote a fight between heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
“It has a sexy little synergy to it,” duBoef told MMA Fighting.
The boxing executive said the key to turning the matchup from the realm of Twitter sparring into reality is the desire of the combatants, and not necessarily the promoters.
“How much does Fury want it? How much does Ngannou want it?” DuBoef said. “We know that [Floyd] Mayweather and [Conor] McGregor really wanted it, and they were the driving force behind getting that done. At the end of the day, it may be the athletes that drive their respective partners to push that done.”
Another round of boxing vs. MMA headlines emerged recently when Fury challenged Ngannou to a boxing match in four-ounce MMA gloves. Ngannou, in response, joked of an MMA fight in boxing gloves. Fury guaranteed to Ngannou, “you would be knocked out and also paid your highest purse to be so.”
DuBoef said MMA fighters have repeatedly approached Top Rank over the years, eager to take advantage of the massive purses advertised for big fights. But he wasn’t thinking about a crossover fight before a reporter recently asked him about it. To date, he hasn’t spoken to Fury about whether the tweet was serious instead of a laugh, and he doesn’t matchmake based on social media beefs.
“If I did, I’d be chasing down the rabbit hole every hour on a different beat,” he said.
But he added there’s no denying a fight between the two biggest, baddest men in their respective sports would be must-see TV. The only problem, from a bird’s-eye view, is bringing together the parties who’ve signed them to promotional contracts.
To date, co-promotion hasn’t been the stock and trade of the UFC. The Mayweather vs. McGregor bout of 2017 remains the sole offering where the proceeds were split with other business interests. Top Rank, Fury’s boxing promoter, hasn’t been immune to criticism over collaboration, though it has repeatedly partnered with competitors to make big fights and has delivered several mega-events by sharing official paperwork.
A bigger obstacle would appear to be the years-long war of words between UFC President Dana White and Top Rank chief Bob Arum. White repeatedly has taken unprovoked shots at the legendary boxing promoter and his business decisions, making the prospect of a partnership far-fetched.
But according to duBoef, Arum’s son-in-law, that enmity is not strong enough to kill a big business opportunity.
“I think you guys are pulling a little bit into the personalities of two people, Bob and Dana, and I have a lot of history with a lot of people at the UFC,” he said. “So does Bob. I’ve known Dana for 20-plus, and [UFC COO] Lawrence Epstein and I grew up together as babies, so I wouldn’t play into that. All that is just a lot of good fodder for tabloids.”
But just how would it work? Ngannou is also in the middle of an apparent cold war with his promoter and fulfills the final fight of his current contract for a title unifier with interim champ Ciryl Gane at UFC 270. If he won and chose to leave the UFC, a champion’s clause could delay his exit. A loss to Gane, meanwhile, would deflate his future value, as it could Fury with a setback in his next outing, which is expected to be against Dillian Whyte.
Ngannou has made boxing a priority of his next contract. But his CAA management firm, a direct competitor of UFC parent Endeavor, has clashed over the details of a potential new deal and reportedly hasn’t spoken to UFC executives in six months. So far, McGregor, the UFC’s biggest box office player, has been the only marquee name given permission to cross over, and the price was a lopsided split in favor of the UFC — with 50 percent of the Irish star’s purse going to the MMA promoter — as the B-side of the fight with Floyd Mayweather.
Another unattractive outcome for the UFC would be Ngannou unifying the UFC heavyweight title only to be embarrassed against Fury. There would be downsides for the UFC’s brand as the combat sports leader in a venue where it’s already been proven its fighters are at a deficit.
“I don’t know if they would want to do it,” duBoef said.
“It’s in our workflow to work with others,” he added later. “Some, we’re very difficult, and sometimes the athletes make it difficult, but it’s part of our business model, which isn’t so, just from what I see — there isn’t that kind of business model that’s done in the UFC’s world. They kind of have a great little ecosystem, and they make incredible matches and they have a very successful business. That question is for them, not for us, because we frequently do it.”
If the UFC did, however, the boxing executive indicated it would be easy to work out the business details. He wouldn’t put a figure on the split, such as 50-50, instead calling for the “fair market value between those two entities.”
The rest, he said, would be between Fury, Ngannou, and their respective promoters.
“When [Don] King made a deal for [Felix] Trinidad, or [Al] Haymon makes a deal for [Deontay] Wilder, I don’t know what his arrangement is with Wilder, and it’s none of my business,” he said. “I give full transparency to our athlete, let him know what the gross revenue streams are and take out the expenses, and when that revenue drops down to the promotion, it’s a division of that between the two sides. That’s it. That’s the simple calculation. After that, it’s between the relationship between the promotional entity and the athlete. That’s how I look at it, and that’s how we typically do it.”
According to duBoef, this hypothetical fight would best be served by taking place in the promoters’ home city of Las Vegas.
“I think it does fantastic in Vegas,” he said. “And the reason why I say that is because, looking from a perspective of pay-per-view, I think there would be a very, very big appetite on U.S. pay-per-view for that fight, and what we’ve seen with Fury coming from the U.K., the U.K. audience is used to staying up late and paying for the pay-per-view.”
Ngannou and Fury need to stay at the top, first and foremost, so any potential talks are hypothetical at this point.
“Maybe when both of those those things happen, we have a conversation, or maybe before,” duBoef said. “But I’m just responding to somebody saying, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ Honestly, I think it’s a very compelling product for the consumer, and I think it could work very easily. That’s what I think, if you ask my opinion.
“To have the biggest, baddest man of MMA and the biggest, baddest man of boxing meet in the ring is a no-brainer. There’s not much hype you have to do there.”