YOU can almost picture the eureka moment. Standing in his office and wondering how boxing can survive in the middle of a financial black hole triggered by the most prolific pandemic in living memory, Eddie Hearn puts his hands on his hips and peers out of the huge window at the surrounding rural grounds. “How do we get out of this mess,” he wonders to himself. Then it happens. The sun breaks through the clouds and lights up the green, green grass of home. The promoter suddenly realises that the answer to all of his problems is right there on his doorstep. He smiles triumphantly. He’s going to stage boxing matches in the back garden.
“They thought I couldn’t sell out Wembley Stadium,” he chuckles while rubbing his palms together. “Then they dared to say I couldn’t put two novices in the Staples Center and make it a pay-per-view boxing match,” he continues, dancing a little jig before stopping to admire his reflection in the mirror. “Ha! 1.3 million buys? Yes please!
“And what about the stick I got for staging a fight in Saudi Arabia? ‘You can’t do that, Hearn!’ Can’t do what? Stage one of the richest contests in boxing history in the Middle East? Oh go on then!”
Okay, it may not have happened quite like that. Hearn has been floating the idea of promoting fights at Matchroom HQ for several years, after all. But even by his standards, plans to open up their Brentwood grounds and deliver what in essence is a month-long fight festival while the rest of the world emerges from lockdown seems an audacious one.
He hopes to stage four events in as many weeks, culminating in the heavyweight headline act of Dillian Whyte versus Alexander Povetkin in August. Whether that should be on pay-per-view is another matter (the cynics will enjoy rehashing the old joke, ‘if those two were fighting in my garden, I’d shut the curtains’) but it does give Hearn the chance to recoup some financial losses at the end of it all. Each card, consisting of five contests, will be broadcast live on DAZN and Sky Sports in the UK. The fighters, their teams and the officials would stay at a nearby hotel – once they have passed the obligatory Covid-19 testing – before battle commences.
It all makes sense. And may not be quite as daring as it first appears. Granted, staging even a one-dayer in British summertime can be a logistical nightmare – just ask my wife, who for weeks before our August wedding four years ago was losing her mind about the potential for chaos – but in the current climate, where coronavirus lingers menacingly, maintaining a purpose-built venue would appear less problematic than trying to renovate an existing one.
However, the notion of a promoter having complete control has been deemed bothersome. Hearn is as motivated by power as he is money, and the detractors fear that by hosting events in his backyard and lording over the comings and goings of fights involving his fighters, Hearn – clearly an admirer of UFC’s all-conquering boss, Dana White – will enjoy an unhealthy level of influence. It’s certainly a valid concern, particularly when one considers that any media coverage will be severly diluted due to the limited numbers who will be granted access because of social distancing rules.
But a promoter securing the best possible location for his fighters is nothing new. It’s part of the job. This will not be the first makeshift boxing arena, far from it. A promoter’s role is not just in the selling and promoting, it’s in the planning of the event from top to bottom. The local governing body – in this case the British Boxing Board of Control – will be integral in that planning and they’ll watch very carefully indeed. They won’t put their head and reputation on the block until it is safe to do so.
Hearn’s plans, still speculative don’t forget, may not be as grand or as lucrative as his past ventures but the current mission statement, to get the sport back on TV screens as safely and as quickly as possible, deserves significant respect.