Eddie Hearn has something to say. He always has something to say. You’d think someone seen in media so often might run out of words, but he seems to have an infinite bank inside his brain. The trail never runs cold. There’s another story around every corner. A story he can sell like he’s never told it before.
We’re catching up on stories in the Monte Carlo Casino, one day before Matchroom will be taking over for the weekend. It’s their first time here in five years. There’s four fights on the card; two titles on the line. It's intimate, elegant, black tie optional. Call it a James Bond audition, boxing style. Only three hundred people are allowed into the event. One side is reserved for royalty. You’ll find Hearn with the prince.
Until then, we’re sitting in the foyer where he is quoting Shakespeare to me under million dollar murals. “All the worlds a stage…’ I can’t decide if Hearn is the leading man, or the bard himself. We sat down with the business mogul to discuss this new era, lessons learned along the way, and why he thinks boxing could change the world.
If you could take a picture of the boxing industry the day you entered versus a picture of it today, what’s changed and what’s stayed the same?
Ambition. When we moved into boxing, there was such a lack of ambition. From broadcasters to promoters, people had just given up. When you start going to leisure centres to hold eight hundred people because it’s just cheaper to go there, and you’re looking at the broadcast and it’s half empty, there’s basketball hoops in the background. How do you expect anyone to look at that and say boxing is so cool, boxing is so sexy, I love it. You’re just sitting there thinking the sport is dead.
When we came in, we said we’ve got to change it. Boxing is glitz and glamour. It’s passion, noise, energy, fans. That's what live sports is all about. We made that investment. The first real one of those was Froch vs Groves at Wembley when we did 80,000. That was the turning point. That was 2014.
So much in life is about perception. Especially with products. If it’s cool, people want to go. I came around at the right time. My dad was finished as a promoter. I came in, rubbing against people the wrong way, a bit younger. Matchroom was back. It was the momentum. Fighters wanted to sign with us, I got the deal with Sky.
Now, when we look at the boxing world. How do I paint that picture? Huge sport, but a sport that needs to be careful. A sport that’s on the tightrope in terms of its product. People have been acquiring talent, and forgetting about the product. The product is what happens in the ring. If you get the product wrong in the ring, it can peter off quite quickly.
With the YouTube world, all this exhibition stuff is delivering for broadcasters. A broadcaster doesn’t care about the future of boxing, it cares about numbers. If we don’t deliver the numbers, they’ll do more of that. Plus it’s cheaper.
We live in a world of followers. The followers are following. If you have someone with 15 million followers, and you are telling that story: the journey to fighting, the training, the big fight. Versus someone with 3000 followers who actually goes missing for his camp and relies on local media to get behind him: who’s going to drive numbers? They’re very good at what they do. On our end, we can’t overpay fighters or we make sure they start taking the big fights.
How do you think influencer fighting is going to play out over the next five years?
It’s powerful. You can’t ignore what they’re doing. You know, a lot of fighters speak negatively. ‘It’s not fair, I’ve been training my whole life.’ Tough shit. It’s very fair. They built the following, they built the fan base to do what they want. They chose boxing.
Let’s say KSI vs Tommy Fury does 1.3 million subscribers worldwide, which is around the number. How many of those new subscribers will tune in to watch Cordina? Not many. That’s the reality. Most of these people are kids, they have no idea what boxing is but if we can get 10 or 20% to start to take an interest in boxing - it can only be positive for us.
Plus if you’re a young kid watching someone train in a boxing gym, get in shape, and tell the story you’re much more likely to go to a gym or hit pads and once you do you’re probably going to fall in love with the sport. When you do, you’re going to watch boxing, real boxing. If we work it right, there’s a benefit to influencer fighting. Long term: I don’t think boxing can be beat. Great sport. If the fights are right, there’s nothing like it.
How have you changed as a leader in Matchroom over the past twenty years?
Delegation. When we started in boxing, it was me, Frank Smith and a guy called John Michelle. That was it, three people in the department. I was doing all the social media, all the posted creation, we were selling programs on the night. That’s the schooling. That’s why Frank is so good. He learned to do broadcasting when he was 17.
The hardest thing for me was to give away the work. I used to make all the fights, from four round fights to top of the bill. I’m an encyclopaedia of boxing. I know everything, everyone, every career. I could plan a fighter’s career, match make a career. There comes a time when you have to let it go, and that was quite difficult for me.
When did you let that go?
About five or six years ago. You want to be across everything but you’re so busy. Frank was like, ‘you want to be across everything, but we don’t have time for you to come back on a poster design three days later.’ You have to look at it and decide. I’m selling it, that’s all part of the sale. The poster, the art work, that's the story. That’s what we’re best at.
If you could break down the equation of that perfect boxing story: what would it look like?
Shakespeare said ‘All the world's a stage’. Every fight is just a play. We’re all caricatures in boxing. There’s Eddie Hearn, the younger, mouthy one who turns up in a suit. Frank Warren who’s an institutional old dinosaur. Bob Arum who’s 92. They’re all characters.
You look at Ali and Guzman here. You’ve got a fighter who’s a refugee from Somalia who moved to the UK. You’ve got a fiery Guzman who probably grew up in the roughest area in Mexico you could ever imagine. They have their first fight, Ali’s winning, she gets knocked down. Now she’s back to face her demons. That’s so easy for me to sell. It’s content, it’s pictures. The narrative stuff is just about telling the story of the fight. Not every fight has a story, but every fighter has a story.
What is your favourite fighter story you’ve ever come across?
I received a letter from a boxing club that said, ‘There’s a young heavyweight who’s got himself in trouble. He goes by the name of Anthony Joshua. He’s been arrested, he has a court case coming up. He’s a good kid, I just need someone to come to court and explain that if this young man continues to achieve what he’s achieved in the amateurs – the levels he could go to as a pro, the money he could make, how bright his future is.’ I read that and I was like, I don’t even know the guy? So that went straight in the bin.
Two years later, I went up to the Great Britain Training Squad, and I saw this kid hitting the punching bag and I said to Rob McCracken, who’s the lead trainer. I said, ‘Who is that?’ He said, ‘Anthony Joshua.’ That was a week before the World Championships where he won silver and two months before the Olympics where he won gold. What happened was he got off the court case, and he could have gone to prison but he found boxing and it just changed him completely.
Every fighter has that story: I walked through the boxing gym and it changed my life. Every fighter says they would either be dead, in jail or up to no good if they didn’t find boxing. I truly believe it can change young people’s lives.
I send my daughter to the boxing gym. She doesn’t spar but she does her circuits, she hits the bag, she comes back to the car, she’s goosed. She’s meeting people from different backgrounds, she’s meeting people with different religions. She’s meeting people she’d never meet otherwise. In a boxing gym, everyone is equal.
How do you think Matchroom can help to break down that stereotype that boxing is barbaric and violent?
That’s the problem isn’t it. I’ve thought about trying to start a boxing program at the school my kids go to, but I know that parents from that background will look at it like that, like ‘I’m not having my child in a boxing club. Are you mad?’ No, actually, you’re mad. As my delegation allows me to do a bit more, one of my legacies will be to support grassroots boxing more. To convince the government to make those investments in those clubs.
We recently reopened the Lynn Boxing Club in Peckham. The whole place was rotting, there were holes in the floor. The council came in and said ‘you’ve got to close.’ They were like, ‘well can you help us out?’ They said no. These kids have nothing, and this club has saved so many lives. The government doesn’t even know, that's what makes me sick. They needed £10,000, that’s it. So we went and gave it to them. They had everything re-done. They reopened their doors. We had an opening night, and it was like where is the local council? They don’t come.
What do you think is the hardest business lesson you’ve learned in your life?
When Anthony Joshua lost. My dad is a chartered accountant, he’s a numbers genius. Everything with him is budgeting, know where you all at all times. We’re not a business taking undue risks. We’re smart. When Anthony lost to Andy Ruiz; emotionally, mentally, from an ego perspective, we were hurt. I wanted to bounce back.
I decided that one of our Olympic gold medalists, Luke Campbell, was mandatory to Vasiliy Lomachenko. I paid for him to come up to London to fight Luke Campbell at the O2. I got the numbers wrong. The pay per view didn’t deliver. We lost a million quid on the show. My dad’s never let me forget that. That was four, five years ago. You make mistakes, some are more expensive than others. But you always have to think smart. Ego gets in the way, especially with boxing. You just want to win. That was an expensive lesson to budget, stay calm and act sensibly.
When you walk into a business meeting, how do you hold yourself?
As you get older, I think you care less what people think. There’s a certain confidence you have in a certain position. When I go into a meeting I don’t think stand tall, sit up, be confident. It comes so naturally to me, but it's a state of comfort that comes with the position you’re in.
Do you think that comes as a side effect of power?
Yes but it also comes from experience, confidence in your own ability. There’s a lot of different types of confidence. There’s fake confidence that you can talk yourself into. And then there’s confidence that history, statistics, and past reputation can garner you. I don’t need to tell myself anything. I believe in myself.
Did you always have that?
I find myself very limited if I’m honest. I’m not overly bright. I can sell, I could always sell. I’m an entertainer who never actually went to drama school. I like to be the centre of attention. I was a clown at school. I wanted the big stage. I liked that. I liked speaking at press conferences and doing interviews.
With press conferences for example: I never write notes, ever. I’ll show up to a presser with five minutes to go, I’ll look at the name tags and I’ll be ready to go. That’s my biggest skill. There’s a word in England called blagger. I guess I am a blagger, but I’m a top blagger. That’s the best way to describe it.
But again, when you’re talking about walking into a room, age brings with it a comfortability within yourself. I don’t care, really. When I was in my 20s I cared how I looked or what people said. But when you don’t care, you’re free. The only thing I do care about is the product.
As you’ve gotten older, what’s changed in your day to day in order to keep up with your schedule?
The training side. I’m a lot more conscious of my health. The reason I’m doing this is so I can go harder and longer. Someone’s got to keep these vultures happy. Men’s Health came to me six months ago and asked me to do a column, and I like doing things that I think are hilarious. Like when I wrote my book. If you’d have said to me that I’d write a book one day, I’d say no, never. But I did a book, Sunday Times Bestseller.
I always say your 40s is your period of time where if you lose track of your health, it can go downhill. But if you get fit in your 40s, then your 50s and 60s can be amazing. I thought I’d do it. It went really well. Three months ago they asked me to be the front cover. It’s been three months now of hard training. It’s just a laugh, I tell my mates I’m on the cover of Men’s Health, I can’t believe it. It's a bucket list things. People have messaged me on instagram and emailed me like, ‘you’ve really got me kick started.’ Wow, really? What a cool thing?
I always tell fighters that a conversation they have with a kid could change their life. It only takes one. That’s the kind of thing that will stick with someone. That’s the feel good stuff. Boxing can make you feel shit sometimes. But whenever we do a community boxing event in an amateur club, I walk out totally cleansed. I fucking hate this business, but that was fucking amazing. That’s boxing.
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