If US boxing promoter Don King came to define the art of braggadocio in promoting a world title fight, then Briton Eddie Hearn has taken the art of bravado and showmanship to a whole new level in the age of social media.
The subject of viral memes, champion of big-money fights and winner of record-breaking contracts, Hearn has amassed over two million followers across his social media platforms, while he’s also the inspiration for the parody fan account, which has over 360,000 followers.
It’s almost as if the Essex-born boxing promoter is more interesting and compelling than the fighters he promotes.
‘We want people talking’
“The razzmatazz is important,” Hearn tells CNN Sport’s Don Riddell ahead of this weekend’s super-middleweight title unification fight between Billy Joe Saunders and Canelo Álvarez. “We want people talking.”
Set to house over 70,000 spectators at the AT&T stadium in Texas, Hearn is excited about the prospect of a fight that will hold the record for the most fans in attendance at a US sports arena since the pandemic began. “From now hopefully this is the start of a return to normality.”
Hearn says the past year has had a “very detrimental” impact on the sport. He’s not wrong. In 2019 there were 15,856 matches worldwide between March 1 and Sept 1 compared to just 5,150 in 2020, according to the boxing database BoxRec.
In his DNA
Having sold out Madison Square Garden and filled Wembley Stadium with 80,000 fans, Hearn has shown his ability to attract large audiences by flaunting the promise of engrossing and lucrative matches for fans and athletes — a skill you could say is in his DNA.
In 1982 his father Barry Hearn founded the promotions company Matchroom Sport group and was a key player in turning snooker into one of the most followed sports in Britain, eventually making his foray into boxing, darts and golf.
This spring Hearn was appointed group chairman when his father stepped down after almost 40 years and took up the position of president in an advisory capacity. Alongside his new role Hearn leads Matchroom Boxing, including its US division and the PGA EuroPro Tour.
He’s also involved in the Matchroom Sport Charitable Foundation, and told The Sunday Times earlier this year that the group has donated over a million pounds ($1.4 million) in the last couple of years to various charities.
In spite of the pandemic, the group had its most successful year ever in 2020, hitting almost £30 million ($41.7 million) of net profit. Hearn expects profits to fluctuate over the next year, but as he said in the same interview, to achieve even £20 million ($27.8 million) net profit is quite unusual for a family business.
Success begets rewards and after smoothing out the deal for the Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko fight in 2017 and selling out Wembley, Hearn told the Sunday Times he had treated himself to a Rolls-Royce Wraith.
Hearn says it’s his father’s ambition and vigor that he’s inherited. “He always made me realize that you don’t get anything for free, you’ve got to work for everything you get.”
Not without controversy
For Hearn, sharpening his salesmanship has always been the secret to his success. “I’m not a genius. I didn’t come out of college with straight A’s, but I knew how to sell.”
He’s struck eye-wateringly profitable deals in the past, including a recent record-breaking contract with broadcast streaming service DAZN that is reportedly worth nine figures.
The five-year contract marks a new era for Matchroom. Due to start on July 1, it will end an almost decade-long exclusive broadcast relationship with Sky Sports in the UK and will bring many of the group’s elite British and Irish athletes to DAZN, including Callum Smith and Katie Taylor.
However, Hearn’s career hasn’t been without controversy.
During a BBC Panorama episode in February, Hearn was shown photographed with Irishman Daniel Kinahan, who last year was described by one Irish politician as a “criminal mastermind.”
In a statement via talkSPORT, Kinahan denied any links to criminal activity, confirming that he is still involved in “planning multiple record-breaking and exciting world title fights.”
At the time Hearn admitted that whilst the matter isn’t good news for the sport it won’t make him think twice about the advisors he deals with, telling The Independent that “everybody in boxing knew the story last year. I don’t think it [the documentary] taught us anything new and I think that ‘alleged’ is the right word to use here.”
“You have to be making noise”
Despite promoting victors such as heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, Hearn emphasizes the importance of engaging fans just as much as competitors.
“We want them [fans] to buy into the narrative of these great fights. If that means me putting myself up there on a pedestal and taking a few knocks on the way, then so be it.”
In a sport where an athlete’s backstory can be integral to their audience profile, a sizable chunk of Hearn’s work involves talking up boxers in order to add to the build-up before a big match. “When you’re the mouthpiece of these events and these fights, you have to be out there, you have to be making noise.”
He’s also faced pointed criticism from rival promoter Frank Warren, who accused Hearn of “talking rubbish” and having an “awful” ego in an interview with The Times.
“Sometimes it’s controversial, sometimes people agree with you, sometimes they don’t agree with you, but I love what I do,” Hearn tells CNN Sport.
Meanwhile Hearn is looking ahead to what he calls “the biggest fight in boxing today,” a reference to the unified world heavyweight championship bout between Joshua and fellow British boxer Tyson Fury.
Hearn confirmed that the two-fight deal will take place in the Middle East, with the first taking place in August and the second one in December.
“It’s a fight that the whole world will stop to watch, and it’s the sporting event of the year for me.”
Behind his bombastic persona, Hearn says that he’s driven by his unrelenting love for boxing.
“If you can sell and you have a great product, you’re indestructible. And that’s how I feel right now with the great shows we’re putting on all around the world.
“If you don’t have a passion for what you do, you can’t be relentless,” he adds.
If 2021 promises much for Hearn, the 41-year-old promoter is savvy enough to strike a note of caution.
“Boxing is the greatest sport in the world, but it’s also the worst business in the world … the highs are high and the lows are low. There’s never a dull moment.”