Professional boxing has, for a long time, been about more than pitting the best fighters against each other. Behind the superficial layers of the sport, it’s a business making billions across the globe. In the amateurs, the best face the best and matchups are dictated by rankings and tournament performances, but in the pros, money drives everything. Boxing greatest showman is about to happen on the 4th of August.
As fans, we often complain that we don’t get to see the fights that it seems obvious to us, should be made. The world waited over a decade for Mayweather vs Pacquiao and when we finally got it, it was a tough pill to swallow that both men were past their prime. We never got Nigel Benn vs Roy Jones Jr. or Erik Morales vs. Juan Manuel Marquez.
Successfully navigating the professional circuit then, as either a boxer or a promoter, is a very nuanced and difficult task. As a boxer, you need to focus on steadily improving whilst constantly testing yourself with boxers that sit at the limit of your skill level, you need to build a fanbase and endear yourself to the public, you need to keep yourself disciplined and in top physical shape despite any success you have.
Perhaps the man who sits at the top of this game at the moment is Tyson Fury. Fury has established himself as one of the most skilful Heavyweights of all time but has paired his talent with a fantastic public persona that draws fans in to watch him fight. Fury plays both sides of the game like a champion, he knows how boxing works in the ring, but he also knows how the business works outside of it. Many fighters fall short in this respect and simply can’t get the public excited about their fights, often claiming they get overlooked or that their boxing prowess gets dismissed. An example of this is Demetrius Andrade, an exceptionally dangerous fighter who just isn’t a big enough PPV draw for people like Canelo Alvarez to warrant the risk of fighting him.
IS EDDIE HEARN BOXING’S GREATEST SHOWMAN ?
As for the promoters, the man who clearly understands the boxing landscape better than most at the moment is Matchroom’s, Eddie Hearn. In the same way that big tech companies such as Google understand that most millennial employees value ping-pong tables and flexible working hours more than comprehensive dental plans, Hearn understands what modern boxing fans want.
Gone are the days when boxing at the MGM Grand was impressive. In the heydays of Don King and Bob Arum, the glamour and glitz of Madison Square Garden or Las Vegas made boxing fans excited to see their favourites fight there. Arum and King would book the biggest, swankiest hotels and arenas they could find to ‘woo’ us. Now though, we simply don’t care. The venue doesn’t matter to fans if the matchup is lopsided. No amount of money spent on fireworks or light shows will save an uninspiring card, most modern fans would rather watch a tough and competitive fight fought in the street or a field.
Hearn has heard the criticism and he has listened to it. He has tried to understand what the public wants, rather than continuing to sell the same product that he inherited. By not spending so much on the things that don’t matter, like the MGM Grand, Hearn can put money into his fight cards for his upcoming Fight Camp. By building a ring and facilities on property he owns, he’s taken the step of investing in something he can use for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, which is a huge question mark at the moment.
For his next US event in August, Hearn is organizing something equally out of the box, staging his fights on South Boston Ave, in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hearn said, “We are taking elite World Championship boxing to the streets in Tulsa…For our return in the US, we wanted to stage something as unique, ambitious, and spectacular as we have with Fight Camp at Matchroom HQ in the UK, and I believe that’s exactly what we have in Oklahoma.” It’s a smart move given that there won’t be live fans and makes for a more interesting backdrop, simply because most fights tend to be held in hotels, banquet halls, or stadiums. No matter how impressive a hotel or stadium is in person, on TV they all end up looking the same.
It’s still a possibility that Hearn’s Fight Camp could struggle with viewers like Arum and Warren’s shows have done, but it’s less likely given that we’re already more excited about his fights. We are obviously huge boxing fans, but we still couldn’t tell you a single fight on Bob Arum’s undercards without checking our notes. We can say we know 70% of Fight Camp from beginning to end. We don’t care that the fights are happening behind a house in Brentwood, Essex, but we do care about Katie Taylor vs Delfine Persoon, Jordan Gill vs Reece Belotti and Dillian Whyte vs Alexander Povetkin and even Sam Eggington vs Ted Cheeseman
For the same reason Dan White has made the UFC so successful, no-nonsense competitive violence packaged and sold, Hearn is slowly having more and more impact on the boxing landscape. His ability to focus on what counts and deliver a better overall experience than Frank Warren, have given him the edge in the UK and he’s beginning to manage the same thing in the U.S. Hearn himself described the path he wants to take and his competition that are allowing him to do so, saying, “If you’ve run a poor business and your team is not dynamic and if your people haven’t bounced back with the same passion after three months, you may not bounce back…We’re trying to grow the business into a global powerhouse in boxing. I want to be the UFC of boxing.”
Whether we like Hearn or not, whether we like the UFC or not, more competitive boxing with a bigger focus on fights and less focus on behind the scenes politics is something we can get behind.