Feb 21, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

🎉 Happy Friday! You made it.

Today's word count: 1,377 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: 🥊 The rematch of the century

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The weekend's biggest sporting event is Wilder-Fury II, which despite its name is not an action movie sequel starring Jean-Claude Van Damme but, rather, a boxing match starring arguably the two best heavyweights in the world.

  • "Wilder" is Deontay Wilder (42-0-1), a 34-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who has what ESPN's Max Kellerman calls "the single most devastating knockout punch in the history of boxing."
  • "Fury" is Tyson Fury (29-0-1), a 31-year-old from Manchester, England, who stands 6-foot-9-inches and is one of the most charismatic people in the sport.

The backdrop: In their first meeting in December 2018, Wilder and Fury put on a memorable show at Staples Center, with Fury surviving a brutal right hand in the 12th round to earn a split-decision draw.

Fight preview: Wilder will be vying to break Muhammad Ali's record of 10 consecutive heavyweight title defenses, the odds are about even and the experts are split. If there was ever a time to spend $8o on a boxing match, this is it.

  • Where: MGM Grand (Las Vegas)
  • When: Saturday, 9pm ET
  • Odds: Wilder -125 (bet $125 to win $100); Fury +105 (bet $100 to win $105)
  • Cost: $79.99
  • Where to buy: ESPN+ (PPV), Fox (PPV), Fox Sports Go (PPV), BT Sport Box Office (U.K. only, PPV)

By the numbers: Wilder has the highest knockout percentage of any heavyweight champion at 95.3% (41-43), and Fury is the only fighter he's never knocked out.

The big picture: With global streaming service DAZN disrupting boxing's pay-per-view model by making fights free for paid subscribers ($19.99/month), a lot is riding on how many people buy Wilder-Fury II, which is being co-produced by ESPN (Fury) and Fox (Wilder).

"If a fight this appetizing fails to generate an impressive number of buys, that could signal the beginning of the end of the 60-year relationship between boxing and pay-per-view."
— Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker

🇺🇸 "The Bronze Bomber" ... ESPN's Mark Kriegel writes about Wilder's late introduction to boxing and the return of the great American heavyweight...

  • "A 19-year-old former high school basketball player tries to walk on at the local community college when he learns his daughter will be born with spina bifida. She'll need multiple surgeries, just for starters. He drops out of school and gets a job at Red Lobster. Then IHOP. Then he walks into a local boxing gym, which itself is not easy to find in west-central Alabama.
  • "He has no expectation of fame or fortune — just quick cash as an opponent. He also has a 4 a.m. route delivering kegs for a local beer distributor. Doesn't matter. Still not enough money. It's not working out with his daughter's mother, either. He is heartbroken. He is ashamed of himself."
  • "But along the way, the fighter finds something. It wasn't just a right hand — more like a superpower. Less than three years after he walked into the gym, at 22, he medals at the Beijing Olympics. At 29, he wins the WBC heavyweight title. ... Meanwhile, he sees to it that his daughter has everything she ever needs. ... And he keeps knocking people out — in a manner never quite seen before."

Go deeper:

2. 🏀 E. Illinois completes epic 27-point comeback
Screenshot: ESPN

With 11:29 to play last night, Eastern Illinois trailed Murray State 50-23. By the time the horn sounded, they'd completed a remarkable comeback to win 63-60 — on a buzzer-beater, no less.

  • Why it matters: Eastern Illinois is the seventh Division I team to win a game after trailing by at least 27 points in the second half, but the Panthers had less time to make up the deficit than the other six teams on the list.
  • By the numbers: After scoring 23 points in the game's first 28 minutes, Eastern Illinois launched a 23-5 rally in the last four minutes, shooting 8-for-8 from the field down the stretch. Murray State had a 99.9% chance for most of the second half, and its win probability was as high as 96.5% with 1:56 left.

More college hoops:

  • Luka Garza (24 points) led No. 20 Iowa past No. 25 Ohio State, 85-76, and has now scored 20+ points in 12 straight games — the longest streak for an Iowa player in 49 seasons and the most by a Big Ten player this century.
  • Arizona State upset No. 14 Oregon, 77-72, marking the first time the Sun Devils have won six straight games in the Pac-12 since 1981.
3. 🗞 Print's lonely fall
Expand chart
Data: eMarketer and Zenith Media; Chart: Axios Visuals

Been thinking a lot about this chart, which my colleague Sara Fischer published in her weekly Axios Media Trends newsletter. Anybody else miss reading the sports page over breakfast? Nothing beats the feeling of a newspaper.

The big picture: While some traditional ad businesses, like TV and radio, have plateaued in the digital era, print ad revenue has plummeted.

  • Since 2005, newspapers have lost more than $35 billion in ad revenue, according to a report from PEN America.
  • Since 2004, newspapers have lost nearly half (47%) of newsroom staff, and nearly 1,800 newspapers — about 20% of the estimated national total — have closed.
  • Overall, newspaper guru Ken Doctor estimates that there have been about 20 newspaper bankruptcies since the Great Recession.
4. ⚾️ Time machine: Spring trainings past

In honor of Spring Training (games start today), I invite you to join me on a journey back in time.

Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

1927 ... "The Babe Selects His Weapon" was the original caption of this photo showing Babe Ruth choosing a bat during Yankees spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

1939 ... This is called a "Ziel" device, which was apparently used to test — and improve — a pitcher's accuracy and command.

Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

1958 ... Original caption: "Chicago Cubs manager Bob Scheffing watches Ernie Banks (left) and Tony Taylor exercise at spring training in Arizona."

Photo: Sporting News via Getty Images

1959 ... Dodgers players line up to receive their pay from the paymaster, which came in the form of dollar bills. The average MLB salary that season: $16,997.

5. 🏥 Coronavirus outbreak: The last 48 hours
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry.
  • The big picture: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.
  • U.S. cases: 328 American evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship are in quarantine at U.S. military bases after arriving from Japan, including 14 people who tested positive — making the total number of confirmed cases in the U.S. 29.
  • Sports: The Boston Marathon is slated to be run on April 20, but its organizers are "carefully monitoring" the outbreak, and the Xi'an Open women's tennis tournament scheduled for next month in China has been canceled.
6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images
  • 🎾 1 of 20 titles: Roger Federer (knee surgery) will miss the French Open. Of his 20 major titles, only one has come on the clay at Roland Garros, where Rafael Nadal dominates — so if Fed had to miss a Grand Slam, he picked the right one.
  • 🎟 $256 cheaper: To take a family of four to an XFL game, the average cost is $284, per sports business intelligence firm Team Marketing Report. By contrast, the average cost to take four people to an NFL game last season was $540. Go deeper on The Athletic (subscription).
  • 🏀 20 games played: Kyrie Irving will undergo shoulder surgery and is out for the season, ending his first campaign with the Nets after just 20 games played.
7. Feb. 21, 2018: 🥇 Diggins, Randall win gold

Jessica Diggins (L) and Kikkan Randall. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Two years ago today, Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall became the first Americans to win gold in cross country skiing (team sprint).

🎥 Watch: The announcers went bananas as Diggins pulled off a heroic come-from-behind win in the final seconds. "Here comes Diggins!! Here comes Diggins!!" Best moment of the 2018 Winter Games, in my opinion.

8. The Ocho: ⛷ Skiing in Switzerland

The world's best women downhill skiers will compete at the Alpine Ski World Cup this weekend in Crans-Montana, Switzerland — a small town in the Swiss Alps where longtime James Bond star Roger Moore lived until his death in 2017.

Photo: Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

Zoom out...

Photo: Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

Zoom out...

Photo: Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images
9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Trae Young scored 50 points in the Hawks' win over the Heat last night, becoming the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to cross that threshold.

  • Question: Can you name the only three players who were younger?
  • Hint: Two are still active and the third last played for the Bucks in 2018.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🏆 "The Golden Age of Brazen Cheating"

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

"Breaking the rules isn't a new phenomenon in sports," writes The Ringer's Michael Baumann, "but the level at which it's happening — both in cadence and severity — is alarming and reflective of society."

  • "If there was ever a time when the spirit of a law dictated behavior, that time has gone. Now it's no longer about the letter of the law, but about what a given actor believes the authorities are willing to enforce."

More links:

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Watching 'Miracle' tonight" Baker

Trivia answer: LeBron James (3x), Devin Booker, Brandon Jennings

In yesterday's trivia question, I mistakenly said the letters "P" and "S" are next to each other in the alphabet. If you don't hear from me next week, it's because I have re-enrolled in kindergarten.