EDDIE HEARN has always done things his own way, likewise Frank Warren. The only things they have in common is their profession and their dislike for each other. But as boxing faces up to life behind closed doors, the two of them working together, as Warren proposed this week, might be just what the sport needs to not only survive, but thrive.
The plan, which has been approved by BT Sport with view to sharing all coverage with Sky Sports, is for the following fights to be made before Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury is ready for launch: Daniel Dubois-Dillian Whyte; Joe Joyce-Dereck Chisora; Anthony Yarde-Joshua Buatsi; Liam Williams-Demetrius Andrade; Chris Jenkins-Conor Benn; Ted Cheeseman-Hamzah Sheeraz; Kal Yafai-Charlie Edwards; JJ Metcalf-Anthony Fowler; Archie Sharp-Zelfa Barrett; Nathan Gorman-Dave Allen.
From my point of view, it’s not the fights that appeal the most, it’s the removal of barriers. That Eddie and Frank have not exchanged a single word before now is ludicrous and has not helped the sport one iota. If they can learn to communicate effectively the sport will benefit.
The timing, days after Hearn orchestrated a triumphant comeback in his back garden and days before Part II is set to begin, may not sit well with the Matchroom Boxing boss. He’ll be enjoying his moment in the sun, without question. He won’t enjoy being asked about Frank Warren all the time when he has three more Matchroom Fight Camp shows to promote. But he will think carefully about the proposition and its motives. Hearn knows only too well how quickly things can change in the sport of boxing.
Eddie went from the chancer who thought Audley Harrison could beat David Haye to the saviour of British boxing when he signed a multitude of talent and made the fights everyone wanted to see before slipping into the role of villain when it became clear his business plan involved revitalising the pay-per-view format. That whole process took place over seven years, give or take.
Booed out of the arena following Harrison’s limp loss to Haye in 2010, he was booed again after Anthony Joshua survived a hellacious fan-pleasing war with Wladimir Klitschko in 2017.
“I can’t say the booing bothered me on the night of Joshua-Klitschko but I do admit I was shocked,” Hearn told me last year. “Everyone was texting me going, ‘Why are they booing you?’
“It is because I’m charging extra money. I am the controller, if you like. I am the bad guy that runs boxing in Britain. But it could be worse, I could be the good guy that doesn’t.”
Five days after that interview, Joshua was stopped by Andy Ruiz Jnr in one of the biggest upsets in history and Hearn’s self-appointed position as controller suddenly didn’t fit. Within a month, Dillian Whyte was involved in that infamous case with UKAD before and after beating Oscar Rivas. Hearn’s grip was loosening.
Then he agreed to stage a fight in Saudi Arabia to significant outcry. There were questions raised about his strategy in America with DAZN. Though not quite on the ropes, Eddie was certainly in the midst of an unfamiliar fight. Joshua of course reversed the Ruiz result when he won the rematch in the Middle East but when Tyson Fury triumphed magnificently in his return with Deontay Wilder, he leapfrogged Joshua in the ranks.
Six months later, Hearn – by virtue of that glorious night last weekend – finds himself back on top. By going back to what made him such an appealing new face in the first place, one who was willing to push boundaries to ensure the right fights were made, Hearn is the darling of the British game once more.
His show was excellent, the teams at Matchroom and Sky Sports did a marvellous job behind the scenes and the decision to broadcast on Sky Sports Mix – free to watch even without a subscription – could turn out to be masterstroke.
But the long-term future will not reside in his garden. All the clouds aligned perfectly for him on Saturday night. His decision to wait until after both Top Rank and Queensberry had brought the sport back to the USA and the UK respectively will have provided education on the dos and don’ts of staging boxing behind closed doors. Not only is Hearn blessed with enough acres to stage a fight festival on his grounds, the weather was great, the novelty of outdoor action was immensely appealing and the bouts, particularly the main event between Ted Cheeseman and Sam Eggington, all delivered and then some. But in boxing, there’s always a fine line between success and failure.
If it had rained, for example, would it have been such a glorious spectacle? If Eggington had slipped on a wet canvas and injured his leg in the opening round, what would everyone be saying now? If Cheeseman had failed his Covid test, what would the bill have looked like? It’s certainly a lot to ask to repeat the magic time and again.
After such a promising start, the pressure is now on moving forward. Particularly as Hearn, like Warren, loses cash by the bank-load with every production in hope that the finale – the box office clash between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin on August 22 – generates enough interest for him to break even.
That is the problem facing every promoter now. Making money. Breaking even. Sustaining the sport and feeding the fighters in a world where the idea of crowds returning seems just as distant as it did back in March. The money on the gate must be made elsewhere. Though we’re all drunk on the ‘free’ boxing we enjoyed on Saturday night it’s simply not sustainable in the long term.
The entertainment business is in crisis. Theatres do not know when they can open their doors again. The Prime Minister last week withdrew plans to reintroduce crowds to sporting events. Musicians are already hosting ‘concerts’ in their living rooms. Some are charging their fans to watch. Money has to be made somehow. That can only come from making the biggest and best fights.
What Queensberry have realised, and what Hearn and Matchroom must already have considered, is that as separate entities they will struggle to deliver quality fights every time.
Hearn and Matchroom achieved something wonderful on Saturday night. Not only did he manage to use the current restrictions to his advantage to create one of the best events of the year so far, he made fans from critics and reinvented himself as a promoter willing to take a chance.
But more so than ever before, the need for the sport’s superpowers to work together is vital. Even Eddie Hearn can’t save the sport all by himself.