By: Hans Themistode
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
COVID-19 has been a disaster for roughly everyone around the world. But the argument can easily be made that the sports landscape, and boxing in particular, has suffered more than anyone else. Live boxing events haven’t taken place in nearly three months and the reprieve seems to be nowhere in sight.
Instead of waiting for boxing to be thrown a lifeline, Eddie Hearn is focused on becoming the first promoter to bring live boxing shows back to TV screens around the world. Even if he has to go outside the box.
“I want to be the first but I want to get it right,” Hearn, told BBC Sport. “I don’t want to be the first with a bad product.”
At the moment, staging events at arenas aren’t exactly feasible. Even with social distancing and a seemingly endless supply of tests, fight centric cities such as Las Vegas and New York City are off limits.
With numerous sites off the board, Hearn has decided to go in a completely different direction by hosting events in the home he once grew up in that has been transformed into his Matchroom boxing headquarters.
“Financially this will be painful for us. But after the momentum we have worked so hard to build over the past ten years, I’m not going to let boxing just dribble back. While other guys go with arenas and empty studios, ours will look very different. Just imagine it. It is summer, the house is all lit up, you can see Canary Wharf in the distance and fireworks are going off. Then over the hill walk Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin for a massive tear up on my lawn. World championship boxing in my garden? Oh, go on then.”
Backyard boxing? It has a certain ring and appeal to it. Fighting in front of no fans in attendance hasn’t just become a possibility but a reality.
And while sports such as the UFC have not only found a way to return to business, but also normalize no fans in the arena, Hearn wants to bring some flair to his comeback.
“We cannot just bring boxing back with a dark studio. We have built our product on the razzmatazz, the sexiness and the drama. It has all been about building that moment for a fight. So we cannot afford to just bring people out like a game show.”
“We want to create a gladiatorial environment that will not only ensure compelling viewing but will also ensure fighters can perform at the highest level.”
Creating a spectacle is great. And live boxing making a return is even better, but what about testing and ensuring the safety of the fighters? Hearn has both of those bullet points checked off on his comeback list.
“We will be testing up to 100 people for the week, that’s a cost of £25-30,000. The tests are comprehensive and they take 24 hours. The fighter will stay in their room until they get a call from our doctors. Likely, the call would be on Wednesday, with their results. If they are positive, they will leave the hotel immediately. If they are not, they are able to leave their room and take part in the obligations of fight week, all with social distancing. Everyone involved in the show, from top to bottom, will have to go through that process before they are allowed on to our premises.
After years of promoting fights, it feels as though Hearn is starting from scratch to a certain extent. From supplying hundreds of tests, to completely rebuilding his headquarters, Hearns mission to bring boxing back would seem almost impossible. But it’s those very obstacles that have made Hearn as motivated as ever to get it done.
“It is a huge mission, but we feel we can do it. We are building changing rooms for the fighters. Setting up a space for a ring walk, and figuring out how we can do everything you need for this kind of production with as few people as possible.”
“We are in talks with a nearby hotel about taking control of it for each of the weeks. The way it will work is everyone involved. The fighters, their teams, the broadcasters – will go into the hotel on Tuesday. The fighter and their team will go to a testing facility at the hotel. You will go in, get tested, be handed a room key and go straight to your room, where you will wait until you get the result of the test.”
Hearn seemingly has it all mapped out. But he still has a bit more work to do in terms of smoothing everything out.
“In terms of fight-week promotion, that is the other side of the challenge. How do you do the media around it? Obviously we cannot have dozens of journalists turning up and sitting shoulder to shoulder for a presser and a weigh-in like normal.”
“So we need to decide how it will go. It is likely that Zoom interviews and social media live streams with the fighters and journalists will be the new norm and pumping out clips of the fighters around the clock. building up to the weigh-ins on the grounds on Fridays and the fights on Saturdays.”