Eddie Hearn has every reason to rue the complex political landscape which is the sport of boxing right now.
Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing is just one of the promotional entities trying to put together the biggest bout in British boxing history – an undisputed world heavyweight title showdown between Tyson Fury and his own fighter Anthony Joshua.
But the myriad of governing bodies and alphabet titles threaten to at best delay and at worst scupper the dream fight the whole of Britain (and the entire boxing world) wants to see.
Fury (30-0-1) currently holds the WBC, Ring magazine and lineal titles while Joshua (23-1) is the IBF, WBA and WBO king. Fury must defend his WBC belt against Deontay Wilder (42-1-1) and then meet mandatory contender Dillian Whyte (27-1) before he can take on Joshua. Joshua meanwhile must take on IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev (28-1) and WBO mandatory Oleksandr Usyk (17-0) before he can think about ‘The Gypsy King’. And breathe.
Confused? You should be.
This is the perfect example of where Hearn says Dana White and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have stolen a march on boxing by arriving at a model which works for everybody – one champion in every weight division and the fights the fans want to see. And he believes a similar model must be adopted if boxing is to reach new heights.
Hearn, responding to subscribers during a Q and A with The Athletic, said: “I think it’s a must to take boxing to the levels I want to see it. The sport is fragmented and fans get impatient waiting for certain fights. There’s that reputation boxing has, particularly among casual fans, that we never get the fights we want to see in boxing.
“UFC has taken over that mantle. Look at what they’ve come back with – they’ve delivered intriguing matchups, 50-50s, deep cards. And they’ve done it with style. I say it to Dana White: ‘We copy a lot of what you do because as far as I’m concerned, you are the trendsetter for combat sports.’ ”
Right now there a number of promotional behemoths – Hearn included – who all have different broadcast deals, which leads to an incredibly fragmented landscape. But he believes that pulling everything together is not an insurmountable goal.
“The UFC is a business that was bought for $4 billion – there is no reason why you cannot create the same value business in boxing,” said Hearn.
“It’s a bigger sport. It has more history and a much deeper fanbase globally. Bob Arum has made no secret of the fact that he would sell the company (Top Rank) if the right buyer was there. There are plenty of people out there – big, big players – who are saying, ‘Eddie, can we do this?’ And it would be incredible, but part of me wants to say, ‘I think I’m going to do it anyway.’
“It’s about how quickly can you do it? At the moment it’s so hard to get on in the business because no one wants you to get on. I would probably miss it if it was just us – part of the fun is Lou DiBella, Al Haymon, Arum – and all the back and forth. But it’s also incredibly frustrating and I think what the UFC have done just proves that it works.”
Hearn believes there are two ways to build this notional model – either organically over the long term or by acquisition (see above). Both present different challenges, and very different timescales.
He said: “The only aim I have is to develop an organisation like that for boxing because that’s the ultimate. We have to try to have a universal product that isn’t fragmented and the only way you can do that is to create an organisation, either by generating enough power and success that it naturally filters through and takes over the sport or you do it via a business that acquires other promotional outfits and creates that entity. I can do it both ways. The fun element of that is to do it myself and to do it naturally. But that takes time. The other version can happen in six months.”