Eddie Hearn, backed by a new streaming service and $1bn, is taking his first steps to conquering America
On a breezy Saturday evening in Chicago, Eddie Hearn parked his tanks firmly on American boxing’s lawn and declared: “The war is on.” Thus the first shots were fired in the sport’s latest – and most intriguing – turf war.
Six months ago, Hearn would not have a hope. Not against the muscle of Showtime and Top Rank. But now he comes armed with the financial equivalent of a Gustav Gun after signing a $1bn (£760m) eight-year deal with the streaming service DAZN (pronounced Da Zone) to stage 16 shows in the US every year and another 16 from the UK. And global ambitions.
“I am trying to do what no UK promoter has ever done,” he says. “Everybody wants us to fail, just like they did when we came into the UK five or six years ago, but this deal gives me a chance. In six years’ time we want to be the No 1 promoter in America.”
Hearn has never been shy about his ambitions but the event in the Wintrust Arena was a reminder that in America different strokes will be needed for different folks. Anyone who has watched a Matchroom show in the UK knows they have their finely tuned template down to a tee. The beer flows freely. The air reeks of testosterone and, as the main event nears, the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline whip the crowd into frenzy. The experience is intended to be as if in a nightclub or party – except that those throwing the punches are usually wearing gloves.
Understandably, there was not quite the same vibe in Chicago. The venue was two-thirds full, although a crowd of just over 6,000 was respectable enough. But only once, when Tomasz Adamek, the former light‑heavyweight and cruiserweight world champion, entered the ring to loud patriotic cries of “Polska!’ Polska!” did the atmosphere become supercharged.
It did not last long. During the second round Adamek threw a right fist that appeared to get temporarily lost in the midriff of his 22-stone opponent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. Miller snorted with derision. Moved closer. And then short-circuited Adamek’s senses with a nasty, brutish and short uppercut.
But Hearn has plenty of time to find the magic formula and, crucially, plenty of money. As he points out, the people behind DAZN are serious players – including Len Blavatnik, whose net worth of $21bn makes him the richest man in Britain, and the former ESPN president John Skipper. Quickly and quietly they have established themselves in Canada, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan to the extent that this year they will stream 150 million hours of sports content from 20,000 sporting events.
The ambition is clear. Joseph Markowski, the senior vice‑president of DAZN North America, said: “We want to do for sports what Spotify has done for music and Netflix has done for TV.”
To do that they need to break into American homes – and boxing, along with MMA, is a natural entry point.
You can see why boxing appeals given the American market as it stands clearly is not working for fans or most fighters. When Canelo Álvarez fought Gennady Golovkin last month it cost $84.99 on pay‑per‑view so when DAZN comes along offering dozens of shows a year for a monthly fee of $9.99 you can see why it could appeal.
Something is also clearly going wrong somewhere when Deontay Wilder holds a version of the heavyweight title, possesses ungodly punching power and yet is not a mainstream star in the US.
Even so, it is going to take a lot of subscribers to make the sums add up and if you don’t yet fully understand the economics then you are not alone. “Luckily we have got the deepest pockets of all because we are with DAZN,” Hearn said. “In fact I wouldn’t be here without them because I couldn’t compete because the financial model doesn’t work. We have built the financial model in the UK perfectly. But it’s nuts in the US. Fighters are getting overpaid. We are having to overpay the fighters that are already overpaid. It’s madness.
“It is ferocious and there is so much money going around. Who knows where it will end?”
DAZN insist they will take plenty of new ideas to the table, although the only notable one in Chicago was seeing a cameraman clamber into the ring for a close up of Anthony Sims Jr’s face after he had put down his opponent, Mario Aguilar – even though the referee had barely started his count. Luckily for all concerned Aguilar stayed down.
Meanwhile, it was not a great night for British fighters. First, Gavin McDonnell was slowly dismantled by the WBA super-bantamweight champion, Daniel Roman, before being chopped to the canvas in the 10th round. Then Callum Johnson lost a slugfest against the IBF light-heavyweight champion, Artur Beterbiev, in the fourth.
Hearn, however, is still smiling after a promising first night. “They are saying out here that it is a three-way race, between Top Rank, Matchroom and Al Haymon, which I am flattered by,” he said. “But this Brit has rolled into town and everyone is trying to stop me. But they shouldn’t do that because it makes me even more motivated.”
As he spoke there was a glint in his eye – and then, as he left, a definite spring in his step.
Read more: www.theguardian.com