In a wide-ranging in depth interview Eddie Hearn lays out his plan to conquer the boxing world to Matt Christie
THE first time Boxing News met Eddie Hearn he told us that Audley Harrison was going to win the world heavyweight title. Eleven years after that infamous prophecy, the promoter wants to discuss his latest venture: Hearn – older, wiser and even more confident – is preparing to take over the world of boxing.
It’s another audacious plan and this one, it must be said, is worth listening to. Since he hauled Harrison out of the wilderness and into a three-round drubbing at the fists of David Haye, Hearn has seen his stock rise to astronomic levels. “I am never doing this again,” Eddie muttered to himself as he was booed out of the Manchester Arena in the winter of 2010 following Haye’s victory. But getting the floundering Harrison into position just to challenge for a title would be the catalyst for Hearn’s own rebirth.
Today, Eddie Hearn is not only one of the most influential boxing promoters on the planet, he’s a worldwide brand. He can boast millions of social media followers, a best-selling book, a chart-topping podcast and memes from the No Context Hearn twitter handle go viral in seconds. Consequently, Hearn is arguably as recognisable as any of the fighters he represents, Anthony Joshua and Canelo Alvarez included.
“It feels weird,” Hearn tells Boxing News when asked about his celebrity status. “I can’t say it wasn’t intentional. But I never set out to be a meme, I never set out to be a social media star or a brand ambassador or a podcast presenter or an author. But I kind of just roll with things. I wanted to create my own identity because I feel that in any major global sport, particularly fight sports, you have that central figure, the orchestrator, the conductor that sits at the top and plans and strategises and creates this world and this global schedule.
“Intentionally, I will step back at times because I want the fighters to have the limelight. I will get criticised because I’m in the limelight more than my fighters, and I don’t like that but, sometimes, that’s how things progress. I have to use what I have to the benefit of my fighters – if I’ve got a million followers on Instagram and a million followers on Twitter and I’ve got a fighter who has 5,000 then I have to use my own platform.”
That platform, he says, will be the key to world domination. This year has seen the launch of Matchroom Media that will allow the organisation to ramp up the exposure for Hearn, his boxers and the sport. If successful, it gives the brand what every brand desires: Independence. And in a boxing world with so many moving parts, independence represents a huge advantage over any of his promotional rivals.
Hearn isn’t looking to wipe out those rivals but, with a straight face, he insists he could do exactly that.
“We could go out tomorrow and acquire all the other companies in boxing, we could raise the finances to buy everybody – but that’s boring,” Hearn says. “I would like to see a natural progression; it’s not about putting people out of business, it’s just about taking over and taking over globally. If we limit ourselves to just the UK and the USA, which are key markets admittedly, we’re missing a trick. Australia is a sleeping giant, Germany used to have terrestrial broadcasts and get millions of viewers, Scandanavia – sleeping giant, Mexico, which is the home of boxing as far as I’m concerned. Canada. Poland. Kazakhstan.
“Realistically, I could create offices in so many different places. I could open an office in Australia and sign 12 fighters today. Normally you go into these territories with a broadcaster and we’re in a position now with DAZN to do that. It’s a fantastic product. You look at the territories, you can see where the subscribers are coming from. Then you react to those new acquisitions. The key to success is not just to be reactive, but super-reactive.”
Reactive to the needs of his fighters, too. Hearn stresses that he will do whatever it takes to keep his stars happy, make the fights they want and the sport needs, even if that means sharing them with rival promoters and networks in the short-term.
“I don’t feel like we necessarily need to sign fighters and lock them into long deals. We can have floating fighters, like Canelo Alvarez [who in January signed a two-fight deal with Matchroom]. He comes in and fights Callum Smith, Avni Yildirim and Billy Joe Saunders. Then he wants Caleb Plant. But Caleb Plant is with PBC so if we can’t make that fight on our platforms we will go collectively with Canelo and make the fight on Fox. You can’t let your ego get out of control and stop fighters from going here or there. This is the platform and this is what we’ve got to do.”
In June, Matchroom Boxing’s current five-year deal with Sky Sports expires and could, if Hearn decides not to renew, end a lengthy exclusive contract with the broadcaster. The Matchroom Boxing empire is growing internationally and in every territory bar the UK the promoter works with DAZN. It’s a conflict of interests that Hearn, while still at the negotiating table with his current employer, is acutely aware of.
“It’s a very difficult decision that’s incoming,” Hearn says. “We’ve got six months to go on our contract with Sky. We’re in deep discussions about extending that. We are also having conversations with DAZN. And we go back to, ‘You are not just aligning with some British boxing, you are aligning with a stable, with Matchroom, with Eddie Hearn and the huge noise and cavalry that comes with it.’ It’s a very tough decision for us because Sky, as they have been in many of our sports, have been a huge part of our success. Without Sky, we wouldn’t be where we are. But I need a partner that sees my vision and I need a partner that is prepared to invest in that vision. That vision isn’t just being limited to ‘six shows here and four shows there’. It is the launch of Matchroom Media; we want to do the production, we want to create 24/7 [documentaries] for every show, we want to create our own talk show once a week, we want to create all of our own social media content. When you create a narrative, it has to be a ‘cradle to grave’ mindset. We create the event, the narrative and see the whole journey through.
“Sky’s production is excellent. It’s not like we want to take over the production because we don’t think Sky is excellent but we need to control that narrative. That’s not because we only want certain people to contribute and they have to say certain things, not at all, it’s just that I need to create that whole process from start to finish. I want more investment in content. I want to bring back Ringside. I want to spend almost as much money on content and shoulder programming and telling the whole story. I’m not saying Sky don’t want to do that, but it’s a different kind of deal. This deal is not just about the money, it’s about the vision that I have for the sport. We all know that Sky have the best platform for pay-per-view, we all know they have an incredible brand, they have great cross promotion across other sports, we couldn’t be happier with them and that’s the truth. Now we have to see what’s right for the business, for our fighters and it has to align and match up.
“But it’s true, that one boxing platform would be a lot easier if we were on that one platform globally. At the moment we’re saying, ‘Watch Sky Sports in the UK’ and people will message me and ask if they can watch it on DAZN. All I will say is we’ve got a very difficult decision on our hands but we are very happy where we are.”
Perhaps Hearn’s greatest success has been his ability to draw the masses to the sport with the biggest fights and the Sky Sports machine has been a huge driver in that. But Hearn insists that lesser fights – even trade fights with the right story – can be crossover successes if marketed differently.
“We need to align content with different platforms,” Hearn explains. “So if DAZN are growing their subscription base in a certain territory, that content has to sit on different platforms in that territory. That’s difficult with Sky Sports because they will want that content to sit [exclusively] on Sky Sports, and there is an argument for that. But I would like to see certain content – say for Josh Kelly-Conor Benn if we get that far – sitting on the BBC. So, for example, the BBC or ITV or Netflix show the 24/7-style programmes. Then the tentacles reach out and grow, draw in new audiences. If you just show the promotional shows on Sky or DAZN, okay you might get 100,000 viewers but those viewers are already ‘in’. What you have to do is use the content on other platforms to attract people who are not already subscribed and would already watch the fight regardless. It won’t just help the growth of the fight, it will help the growth of the sport.”
It’s the Monday morning before Hearn will promote the first British boxing show of the year on Sky. The snow is falling outside the stable-converted offices which sit alongside the sprawling Matchroom HQ in Brentwood and the weather is threatening to play havoc with the undercard of Josh Warrington’s first bout since 2019. Flights that will transport opponents to London are being cancelled and Hearn’s phone, which is never far from his fingertips, lights up with alerts and calls countless times during our conversation.
Hearn insists he reads “everything”, whether that’s messages, tweets or articles, and he takes the good with the bad. During the last decade, Eddie has seen his reputation among the hardcore soar and then plummet after a series of pay-per-view events left plenty of fans feeling like they were being exploited alongside concerns expressed on these pages that the model marginalises the sport. Hearn understands the criticism more than one might expect.
“How do we get to a level where those fights that attract 250-300,000 pay-per-view buys are not pay-per-view fights? That’s always the argument. Is Usyk-Chisora or Whyte-Povetkin really worthy of pay-per-view? The answer is it does 300,000 buys, so yeah. But how big would the sport be if those fights were not on pay-per-view? The only way that’s possible is to have bigger rights fees from the broadcasters and that’s very difficult in the world we live in today. It’s not a great time to go to a broadcaster and say, ‘We want an increase on our rights fees so we can do less pay-per-views.’ But really, a pay-per-view should be a fight that attracts 5 or 600,000 buys, minimum.
“In America, it’s gone backwards. Now, they sell 100 or 200,000 pay-per-views and it’s deemed a success. But how can you build a fighter by doing just 100,000 buys? Pay-per-view used to be for fights that did a lot more than that but because boxing has got so expensive, broadcasters have no choice but to do pay-per-view.
“We all know that big fights do big numbers. But it’s not like any old boxing does great numbers. A broadcaster won’t look at the numbers and then agree to double their rights fees because what they’re paying, for the audience value, is about right.
“It’s a really difficult mix. In an ideal world, we would give you more big fights as part of your subscription. I don’t want an argument with fight fans every single time I do a pay-per-view or always have to justify it to you when you write about it. But that’s where we get to. Yet every time we do a pay-per-view, the numbers suggest I was right – but I am well aware how much bigger those numbers would be if it wasn’t on pay-per-view.”
Pay-per-view, or at least the widespread use of it, is just one thorn in the sport’s side. There are others, like the policies of the sanctioning bodies. The World Boxing Association continue to recognise multiple champions per division and, last month, staged a bout containing Trevor Bryan and Bermane Stiverne as a world heavyweight title fight. The WBC are giving away titles. The IBF are ordering ludicrous mandatories. It’s a preposterous situation that anyone with designs on ‘taking over’ the sport must address.
“That’s where you create something that is bigger than the sanctioning bodies,” Hearn responds. “I’m the only person capable of doing that. There is no one else. I am the only one that has the balls, the energy, the vision to do it. No disrespect to the others but Bob Arum ain’t gonna f**king go and take over the world. Frank Warren ain’t gonna go and take over the world. Al Haymon ain’t gonna go and take over the world. This is the chance, now.”
So what is the magic solution?
“That’s a good question. One of the best moments I had was the other week when Josh Warrington vacated the IBF featherweight title. All Josh wants to do is fight a big fight. When we relinquished, there were no more legal letters, no more purse bids. Now he can do what he wants. He has no mandatory, it means he can fight the fighters he wants to fight.
“But the hard thing is that the fighters care, they want to win a world title. There’s never going to be a Matchroom belt, I have no interest in that. So you either work with one [sanctioning body] or you work with a fair attitude; you understand the rules and if you need to give up a title, you do. There has to be less focus on the belts moving forward, I’ve been guilty of not doing that. I’ve promoted WBA regular titles as real world titles when they’re not real world titles. But we’re not at a point – yet – where we can just say, ‘let’s get rid of the belts.’ But we might be if we can’t make the fights that we need to make for the good of the sport.”
Plenty will scoff at Hearn’s plan. Yet there is renewed desire inside the 41-year-old to succeed, a desire that wasn’t there when Boxing News sat down with Hearn in New York, just days before Andy Ruiz Jnr upset Anthony Joshua 20 months ago. Instead, there was a weariness about Eddie Hearn as he went from plane to plane, country to country, meeting to meeting. He struggled to come to terms with Joshua’s loss and, seven days later, still in New York and preparing for Gennady Golovkin vs Steve Rolls, he started to ask himself some serious questions.
“Ruiz-Joshua was so high level in terms of stress,” Hearn explains. “[The next] Saturday was my 40th birthday. My missus had left me a card from the kids, they’d drawn in it, ‘Happy Birthday Daddy’. I looked at it and I just thought, ‘What the f**king hell am I doing?’ It was a ‘What’s it all about?’ moment. We always say, family first, business a close second. But it’s really close. Because our business is our family. My dad created this in a snooker hall in Romford.
“But I look back at that time and I look back on photos of myself and I looked f**ked, totally f**ked.”
Last year, his dad Barry Hearn survived a second heart attack. Eddie’s grandfather and great-grandfather died from cardiac arrests while in their forties.
“You try and stay healthy,” Hearn answers when asked about his concerns about his own heart. “You use your success, and I mean the money, to make sure you get the necessary help. Once a year I get a heart scan, MRI, have all the arteries checked. I am destined for a heart attack, destined. But hopefully you catch it before it comes. My dad had his [first] heart attack in his early fifties. His dad had his heart attack at 44 and died, his dad had his heart attack at 43 and died. They were all smoking about 40-a-day by the way, and so did my dad when he was younger. I don’t smoke but I am a big lump and I do have unbelievable stress. But this year has been really good for me. I’ve had a year off! Now I’m so alive and dying to do it. No one else can do this.”
Hearn’s phone flashes again. The opponent he managed to find for Hopey Price in the middle of the night is on his way. Hearn smiles.
“Why am I making six-round fights on the undercard? I know why. I’m a sycophant. I love it. And I can’t let that go because I love it. Hopey Price’s opponent dropped out and I make it my job for the day to find a new opponent. In the middle of the night I found some geezer in Mexico who is now on a plane and he’ll be here tomorrow.
“But that’s good news for fight fans. I’m not some corporate guy who’s said, ‘Do you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to get involved in boxing.’ Sometimes the fight fans forget that – I’ve been going to live boxing for 32, 33 years. I’ve been at every major fight, virtually, in that period. I’ve been in the changing rooms, I’ve been in the hospitals, I’ve been at people’s homes, I’ve stayed in camps. So I am boxing through and through but sometimes they [the fans] don’t see that. And I’m not looking for appreciation but it’s good news for them.
“People might read this and say, ‘What a knob’ or ‘He’s deluded’ but it’s good news for them. Because if I get this right, then boxing is in a good place. I don’t care what people say about me but the truth is, if it wasn’t for me, boxing wouldn’t be in this position now. I’m not saying it’s all down to me but we wouldn’t, as a sport, be where we are in this country if I didn’t put the time and effort in. And we won’t get to where we need to be if I’m out, because if I’m out, the others [promoters] don’t really try. They’re all desperate to beat me.”
It’s true, Hearn’s unflinching self-assuredness will wind many people up. Big egos do that in every walk of life. The promoter is also aware that he has to keep that ego in check and thanks his family – “My dad tells me twice a week not to be Billy Big B*****ks” – for doing just that.
“My wife is secretly a huge supporter but she might as well be a Twitter troll,” Hearn chuckles. “She’ll watch these No Context Hearn clips and look at them in disgust. My kids are so unimpressed. Your feet get planted back on the ground very quickly.
“But I’m my own biggest critic. I don’t know why that is, maybe it’s my subconscious playing a trick with me so I don’t get complacent. I don’t have people around me patting me on the back and fluffing my pillow telling me I’m unbelievable, telling me I’m the king of boxing.
“I feel like I’m at four or five out of 10 in terms of what I can do and where I need to be. That should put everyone on notice about my ambition and my mindset and what I’ve still got to achieve. So if I’m at four, what is the other six? The answer is total global domination. I won’t be happy until I have achieved that.”