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Tyson Fury signs with Top Rank/ESPN, complicating a Deontay Wilder rematch

Mac Engel: Deontay Wilder ready for Tyson Fury rematch, then he wants Anthony Joshua
Tyson Fury punches Deontay Wilder during their fight to a draw in December at Staples Center.
(Harry How / TNS)

Tyson Fury on Monday veered sharply away from a rematch to fight Deontay Wilder in the spring.

The unbeaten lineal heavyweight champion signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank and its broadcast partner ESPN, the companies announced.

“Fury has aligned himself with the biggest megaphone in sports … so, game on,” Top Rank President Todd duBoef said.

Fury (27-0-1, 19 knockouts) and World Boxing Council champion Wilder fought to a draw Dec. 1 at Staples Center, energizing the long-lagging heavyweight division.

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In the weeks leading up to that bout, Fury offered chilling accounts of the depths to which he sank into alcohol and drug abuse following his 2015 title victory over Wladimir Klitschko. He made his comeback story nearly complete by lifting himself from a flat-on-his-back 12th-round knockdown by Wilder.

Both sides seemed intent on a quick rematch, and all signs seemed to point to a spring showdown, according to Wilder’s manager, Shelly Finkel, Stephen Espinoza of Showtime and WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman. But Wilder is aligned with Showtime, and now Fury’s fights will appear on ESPN’s platforms.

If the Wilder fight doesn’t happen, Fury may next fight in May or June. Top Rank has deals with unbeaten heavyweight Oscar Rivas and former title challenger Kubrat Pulev (26-1, 13 KOs) of Bulgaria, who is expected to headline a March 23 ESPN card.

“We envision this [rematch] can reach 1 to 2 million homes. The only way to do that is to allow the general sports fan to really get to know these guys,” promoter Bob Arum told The Times on Monday. “If that takes each of them fighting another opponent first, then rolling them into a September fight, the money on the table then would be more than they can conceive of.”

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DuBoef said Top Rank’s agreement with Fury discusses future fights with Wilder and three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, “but there’s a lot more to the Tyson Fury business than just those two fights. We see him as a gem in the rough, just barely been exposed yet in the U.S.”

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While a Fury-Wilder rematch may be delayed, duBoef wanted to make clear that it is not dead. “Our involvement makes [Fury-Wilder] a much bigger partnership,” he said.

Since the marquee heavyweights are all splintered into separate broadcast deals — Joshua with the streaming service DAZN — the momentum the division was enjoying could be compromised. But duBoef insists things have only changed for the better.

“They were splintered before,” duBoef said, adding that Wilder and Joshua “should look at the power of ESPN to make all of these events that much bigger.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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