Mention the name Eddie Hearn to any hardcore boxing fan in the UK, and you might expect a wide variety of reactions. From his critics, the most common adjectives used to describe the head of Matchroom Boxing might be prick, knob, arrogant, smug, self-serving, spoiled, pompous, and even “a lanky cunt” by a former fighter he once promoted. To his fans and his current stable of fighters, he is generally regarded as being relentless, loyal, professional, approachable, highly knowledgeable and on-time with the purses he pays, and of course the savior of British boxing. Like most things in life, the truth probably lies on both sides of the extreme emotions he evokes in people.
What cannot be disputed, however, is that Eddie Hearn is THE most successful boxing promoter in what has become the Mecca of boxing, the United Kingdom. Emotions and facts are two very different things. Regardless of what you think of the man on a personal level, you would be a fool to try and argue that there is a promoter on the planet who does better business than Hearn.
While the American boxing market has plenty of marketable and elite-level talent, the results in ratings and attendance at live shows has been falling at a rapid pace for years. Pay-Per-View numbers of less than 200,000 total buys are not uncommon. World champion fighters fail to sell more than 5000 tickets in their hometown. Some fighters, particularly in the 147-pound division, fight only once a year to lackluster ratings and a fan base that seems to be largely detached and nonchalant about a sport that was once dominated by American fighters, American promoters, and American venues.
Multiple reasons for the sharp decline of boxing in the US could be argued with ease. The UFC is slowly taking over with their much more frequent high-quality cards and with a product that is significantly more brutal and exciting for the fans. Few would disagree on that point. Others would say the American sports market has little room left for boxing after the fans spend their time and money on NCAA football, NCAA hoops, the NFL, NBA, and NHL. That’s probably true as well. Another argument to be made is the perception that boxing is controlled on some level by shady characters with political and monetary interests that result in fixed fights, inexplicably bad judging, unwillingness to match the top fighters against each other, and inconsistent enforcement of rules and regulations. Enough evidence suggests this argument is not without merit. American boxing fans should consider another reason for the decline of the sport, and the reason is simple. We don’t have a promoter like Eddie Hearn. At least, not yet. If you believe what Eddie has to say, however, he’s coming to America with designs on Matchroom USA taking over the sport, and who would doubt him as it appears ripe for the picking.
At 38 years old, Eddie Hearn is the son of Barry Hearn, founder of Matchroom Sport. Barry, now a few months away from his 70th birthday, grew up poor on a council-estate (think government subsidized housing in the US) in Dagenham and turned Matchroom into the premier British sports promotional company. Matchroom has a lucrative deal with Sky Sports to televise their many offerings, including tennis, snooker, bowling and darts. For comparison in the US, Sky Sports is the equivalent to ESPN. Matchroom has made hundreds of millions and appears in no danger of losing momentum soon. Barry, while still involved on many levels, has turned over the majority of the boxing platform to Eddie, his only son. As Eddie humorously but honestly says, “I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but now I’ve turned it gold.”
Tall, good looking, supremely confident and with an admitted taste for expensive cars, suits, watches and luggage, Eddie works much harder than required. Already set for life with the family business his Father built, Eddie always seems to be working. Whether traveling around the UK for the 24 fight cards he promotes for Sky Sports each year, or conducting multiple interviews with various media outlets, or traveling to places like Kazakhstan and New York to sign fighters and promote his business, the man simply doesn’t stop. His twitter account profile says, “Family first, business close second.” Some would argue he spends way more time on business than family, while others would counter that his time spent working is to ensure the family will continue to have a place at the head table of sport for generations to come. Again, feelings and emotions are different than facts, and the fact is nobody in boxing works harder than Eddie Hearn.
Hearn is not without his many detractors. He has zero relationship with fellow British promoter Frank Warren, who was considered the premier boxing promoter in England before Eddie came along. From interviews readily available on YouTube, it is plainly obvious they don’t care for each other and don’t plan to match their stable of fighters against each other. Tyson Fury, the man who dethroned Wladimir Klitschko two years ago and then disappeared for various reasons, has been quoted as saying, “Eddie Hearn can lick my balls.” Lou Dibella, the New York promoter with plenty of experience in the business, has called Hearn “A good businessman, but he can kiss my ass.”
Good businessman is correct. In the last year, Hearn has sold out three stadium fights. And we aren’t talking about small stadiums, we are talking 90,000 at Wembley, and 78,000 for two fights in Cardiff at Principality Stadium. Some would argue these stadium fights are only the result of Anthony Joshua being on the card. Anthony Joshua is the biggest draw in world boxing by a long shot, but would Floyd Mayweather sell out a stadium in the US? No way. Never. Take Joshua out of the equation for arguments sake. Just a few years ago George Groves and Carl Froch sold 80,000 tickets for their fight at Wembley. Kell Brook sells 12,000-20,000 in his hometown of Sheffield. Amir Khan is fighting an unknown opponent in Liverpool and sold out the Echo Arena in the process. Tony Bellew remains a huge draw, and his fights against David Haye sold out in minutes. Even Anthony Crolla, a hard-working fan favorite but not an elite level fighter, regularly puts 12,000 fans in the Manchester Arena. By comparison, a Tyson Fury/Klitschko rematch (that sold 50,000 tickets in Germany in the first fight) sold half the arena before being postponed and then cancelled completely once Fury’s legal troubles came to light.
Billy Joe Saunders, a truly world class middleweight who has the talent to give Gennady Golovkin all sorts of problems, has fought in front of less than 3,000 people in a world title defense. The common theme with the pathetic ticket sales for Fury and Saunders fights? They aren’t Eddie Hearn cards. Plain and simple.
Watching a Hearn/Sky Sports card is a completely different experience than what you see on typical HBO or Showtime cards in the US. Chanting, Singing, and overall debauchery appears to be the status quo and welcomed by all in attendance. It looks and sounds like a party on TV. Imagine what it feels like being in attendance. Watching a domestic card here in America is still a decent experience, especially if it is the rare occasion when we get two top level fighters in the ring together, but it isn’t much fun. The crowd is generally quiet, open seats are usually visible, and there doesn’t appear to be the passion that you see from our friends across the pond.
Recently, Hearn has eyes on the American boxing market. He has signed talented middleweight Danny Jacobs and massive but untested heavyweight Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller to his stable of talent. Hearn has been quoted as saying there are plans for Matchroom USA to open offices in New York City and slowly take over the American boxing landscape. Arrogant? Yes. Possible? Yes. The big question now is if Eddie can make the most mouth watering fight in boxing.
Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder is what the fans want. Despite opinions by some, this is the fight Eddie says he wants to make. Actions speak louder than words, so time will tell if this happens. If it does, expect Hearn to become even more well known in America and continue his quest to make Matchroom a worldwide entity.
Bob Arum is getting up there in age. Don King isn’t looking so hot these days and is notorious for questionable accounting and payment practices. Oscar De La Hoya has his cash cow on the sidelines with the Canelo Clenbuterol scandal. Lou Dibella, with all due respect, doesn’t have the clout he once had. Al Haymon, who remains a player, is burdened by questions about the financial failure of the PBC experiment and how well he might expect to do without the drawing power of Floyd Mayweather. If there was a time for an outsider to make a move for a share of the American boxing market, this might be the perfect time. Boxing may be dying a slow death stateside, but if it has any hope of revival, the answer, much to the chagrin of many, it just might be Eddie Hearn. The silver-spoon kid with the cocky demeanor, smug smile and obvious love of himself might not be your cup of tea (or coffee), but he’s the best damn promoter in the business and may be America’s best hope to bring boxing back where it belongs.