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Eddie Hearn delves into near-term Matchroom future after Sky switch

15
Jun

Last year’s summer of boxing at Matchroom’s Fight Camp received solid marks and promoter Eddie Hearn hopes his three-week slate  of bouts this year tops 2020’s efforts.

Starting on July 31, the three-show run – the first nights of Matchroom’s new exclusive deal with DAZN – features Conor Benn taking on Adrian Granados on week one and Kid Galahad fighting Jazza Dickens for the vacant IBF featherweight title on week two. Light heavyweight talent Joshua Buatsi is taking on Richard Bolotnicks with intent to clash with WBA ruler Dmitriy Bivol next, topping the bill of week three.

This week, Hearn said he hoped as many as 400-500 paying fans will be able to attend at Matchroom’s Essex headquarters and they will be paying, he estimates, around £750 per head.

Sounds like those attending Fight Camp this year will get a posh experience.

Visitors will have to be bussed in, as there is limited parking at the venue but once in the garden, there will be a choice of dining experiences, a champagne bar and cocktail tent included in the ticket price.

“It’s a huge cost to bring people in,” he said. “I lost a lot of money on the last one [Fight Camp] and will on this one, it’s like one show, but three shows in one.”

Already around 700 regular VIP ticket buyers have tried to order tickets, so each show is expected to sell out and Hearn thinks it’s the best way to kick off the DAZN deal, one that from July 2021 to June 2022 could see him host as many as 18 UK fight cards, with a minimum of 16 contracted.

In outlining his hopes for the year ahead, he revealed how his ability to promote globally has changed what promoters are able to bring to the table. Hearn knows that is one of the things that sets him apart.

“A big string to our bow to be able to say to our fighters, ‘You’re out in Madison Square Garden, you’re out in Brisbane, you’re out in Guadalajara’, no one else can do that and that’s important for their development,” Hearn said.

The link-up with DAZN spelled the end of Matchroom’s boxing relationship with Sky, who have subsequently tied up different boxing deals for their output, including hooking up with Top Rank.

Is he concerned some fighters may leave him to join Sky Sports?

“The money wasn’t there in the Sky contract to pay these guys what they want, without going on pay-per-view all the time,” he explained. “I’d expect that [Sky to shop for fighters]. (The split from Sky) is very amicable but the majority of our fighters are under contract to us. I’ve been very honest with my opinion that if fighters don’t want to be with us and they think there’s a better home for them… I guess Sky will need talent now, and it doesn’t just come from Matchroom, it comes from Frank Warren, it comes from Mick Hennessy, it comes from Steve Wood, it comes from all these other promoters they’re going to be working with as well. It’s difficult, because ultimately you don’t want to tell a fighter that you now have a substantial budget, [but] you’re better off being honest because now we’re going to have to pay them more and it’s great for them. We’ve done deals with fighters like Conor Benn recently who’s been royally rewarded because his numbers on Sky are astonishing and he knows that.”

Hearn likes that Benn has that name recognition, it helps move those needles.

Benn has inked a five-fight deal that is hoped will lead him to a world title by the end of 2022, but Hearn won’t be rushed on that.

“There’s a lot of people talking about Shawn Porter [for Benn] but I think Granados is perfect, it’s a bit tougher than Samuel Vargas [who Benn blitzed last time out],” the promoter added. “I think he’s going to go deeper in the fight, I think he’s going to ask him some questions. He still needs those kind of fights and, to be quite frank, when he’s hitting the numbers he’s hitting, we don’t want to see him in a 50-50 fight just yet. We want to make sure he’s prepared for it. He’s someone that’s really going to benefit from the international schedule. He’s perfect for the US shows, he’s Spanish speaking. I’d love to take him to Mexico and link him up there with Canelo and Eddy Reynoso on one of their shows, he can box in Spain, he can box in Australia where his old man [legend Nigel Benn] is based, so I really see him as a future global star.”

Already others are on their way to that level, including Katie Taylor, but Hearn still has books to balance. The marketplace is competitive but Hearn said it’s not just quality fighters he wants. That’s part of it, but the ability to build and hold an audience is just as important.

“I think in the US, it’s a really good example of the market where fighters are overpaid in terms of the numbers that they do and that’s really where you need to reward fighters,” he continued. “We know the fighters that give good ratings, not just on Sky but across digital numbers and social media, they’re the ones that are going to actually drive subscribers and anyone who does that is going to be rewarded for it. We were getting to a point where with the demand on fight purses, the only thing you could really do in terms of making a big fight or a big card was to go pay-per-view. That will always exist but there were too many shows where we were having too many arguments with the fans about paying extra and you will see when we unveil our full schedule this year a number of key pay-per-view moments that will be part of your subscription.”

A number of shows are in the works. Attention is on Fight Camp front and centre but Matchroom could hit Mexico on August 20, California on August 27, Leeds on September 4, and Canelo could be heading back to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 11. Also, it looks likely there will be a Matchroom show in Spain on September 18 and Anthony Joshua fighting Oleksander Usyk on September 25, either at Wembley Stadium or Tottenham’s new ground.

British fighters are likely to see action on every bill.

“You want to create this global circuit where you’re making fights across that circuit,” Hearn stated. “A good example is Maxim Prodan, one of our Italian stars, fighting Florian Marku, and you’re going to see that more. You’re probably going to see Julio Cesar Martinez come over and fight someone, you’re going to see Dmitry Bivol come over and fight Craig Richards [which happened in May], Demetrius Andrade will probably fight someone, Canelo Alvarez just boxed two of our fighters and will probably box another one at some point so it’s kind of like an inner circuit within the sport. Are we ever going to see cross-promotion fights sometimes, when there’s a purse bid, we’ll have to see what other promoters’ TV deals look like in six months or a year’s time? Maybe there’s going to be less opportunity for broadcast deals, maybe there’s going to be less investment. I don’t think that’s something that’s going to change but it’s not affected our growth in the last 10 years. We haven’t done it in 10 years so the fact that we can’t do it now, frustrating as it is at times, it’s something we have to get creative on.”

The goal is not just in-house fights but “great in-house fights.”

Eddie got tired of fans bitching about PPVs but maintains the new DAZN deal allows him to pay up and keep more events off PPV.

“That’s what we want to do,” Hearn continued. “On a smaller level, Chris Billam-Smith and Tommy McCarthy. They could have had other fights that no one was really interested in but now we’ve got a budget where that’s an undercard fight and yeah, British, Commonwealth and European titles, you should be fighting each other. And there’s no excuse. Katie Taylor-Natasha Jonas, maybe we do that again, or Chantelle Cameron, or Terri Harper-Jonas rematch. Why not? Heavyweights. Middleweights. Super-lightweights, Fowler, Cheeseman, Fitzgerald, Liam Smith, they should be fighting each other frequently.”

WBO cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie is a significant part of his plans and could fight a mandatory in California on August 27 before a crunch clash with Mairis Briedis in November or December.

That August US bill could also feature heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte. Hearn expects to extend his Matchroom deal before he fights again, despite probable interest from Sky as one of their more recent pay-per-view fighters.

“[We’re] finalising whether he will be in the UK or USA,” Hearn went on. “We’d like him to box twice this year, his next fight might be smaller than he’s used to given every fight he’s in seems to be a 50-50 war so we’re expecting to announce that in the coming week.”

Is Sky a realistic option for Whyte?

The promoter Hearn and the fighter Whyte are in talks about the path forward for the popular heavyweight.

“It’s not what we want and not what DAZN wants,” Hearn said. “But he’s happy with us and he’s happy where he is and we’ve had talks to continue the relationship with us and I expect to see him box twice this year on DAZN.”

And while other promoters might be on the lookout for talent, Hearn is just the opposite. If anything, he’s looking to trim his own roster rather than breaking out the DAZN chequebook once more.

“We’ve got too many,” he said. “We really have got too many fighters and you’re getting to a point where even with Fight Camp we’ll be adding another five or six fights because people need to get out. But that’s another reason why the global deal is so important, because we will have fighters out on August 28 in America and we’ll probably have three Brits on that card in California [including one challenging for a world title]. We’ll probably have fighters on in Mexico, in Spain, in Italy, so we just need to refine the group of fighters. There may be a fighter not getting the attention or dates they want and maybe they go and look for another opportunity. We have identified the ones who are key players in terms of driving noise, numbers and subscribers and making sure that we focus on them. It’s not always the best fighters. Look at Alen Babic, who is getting more opportunities than some because he’s doing big numbers, because he’s a personality, he’s a little bit crazy and people like to watch him fight. Some of the greatest fighters of all time haven’t got the money or exposure they deserve but they might not be exciting. I feel like we have an unrivalled global talent roster. But people who drive numbers, and we’re not looking to bring YouTubers in, but quality fighters who drive interest and numbers are always the ones that are going to get more money and more opportunities.”

DAZN has a system in place that can generate the value of a fighter to the platform based on analytics and social and digital metrics. “We have a very good understanding of who people are interested in and who they are less interested in,” said Hearn, who added that Josh Warrington’s rematch with Maurico Lara should be in Headingly on September 4 and announced next week.

They are awaiting final clearance from Leeds council after some residents objected to the show but after some amendments Hearn believes it will be signed off. That bill could also include not just another world title fight but a unification fight, too.

“We fill up Headingly in a heartbeat with the show we’ve got planned,” he said.

Then there could be a stop in Liverpool in October, a heavyweight show in November and included somewhere will be his efforts to sign the pick of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic squad.

“A lot of it depends on who medals and who doesn’t,” he said. “We all know there are probably five or six that we would be very interested to bring to the roster. If they medal the price goes up and the demand goes up… We’ve seen that before with AJ and [Luke] Campbell and the other fighters we signed from London and Rio with Buatsi, and I think a lot of them will medal. We’ve got a fantastic team, so we’ll make a play for the ones that we feel have the ability to firstly become champions and have the right style for the pro ranks and secondly the ones that we believe have the characters, personalities and potential to drive numbers on DAZN.”

But a strong Olympic showing won’t guarantee a contract. Matchroom have recently released the talented Daniyar Yeleussinov, who’s 10-0 but wasn’t getting much traction as a pro.

“It was difficult to do because he’s an outstanding fighter,” said Hearn. “But if you’re not physically in a market, like Kazakhstan, it’s so difficult to build fighters like that in the markets that we are in. So we want to focus more on the markets we are in or the ones we will be in. It’s no secret, it’s only a matter of time before we launch in Australia, so fighters from that market, Mexico, UK, US, where we have a significant home for them already, it’s hard when you go to your broadcast partner and say, ‘I’ve got this incredible Kazakh…’ It’s more difficult to make that investment.”

Hearn is clearly excited for the future with DAZN. Some said Sky Sports should have given him more exposure on his final show for them last weekend but he didn’t mind. He wasn’t asked to say his goodbyes on air and he believes senior executives at Sky, having tried to keep him after several rounds of negotiations, understood why he left.

“They couldn’t match the deal, they couldn’t match the ambition of DAZN,” Hearn concluded. “Forget the financial element, which they couldn’t match, they couldn’t match the ability for us to keep expanding globally and with the vision, yes, of the fights of what we want to put on but also the production element. The investment in production of these shows we’re doing is three or four times beyond what Sky invested in terms of production, that’s important to me. Everyone was understanding. If I didn’t accept this opportunity, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. This enables me to do all the things I’ve dreamt of doing in boxing.”

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