On Saturday, when the middleweight Darren Barker climbs through the ropes for the first time in 14 months, he does so in the knowledge that his promoter, Eddie Hearn, will to the best of his power seek to deliver the biggest and most financially rewarding fights he could hope for should he successfully defeat Kerry Hope.
It’s something Hearn has gradually built a reputation for doing since re-establishing Matchroom as a major boxing power – a process largely started in 2010 by a chance meeting – something witnessed in the careers of Carl Froch and Kell Brook, and something Hearn believes he will do on a consistent basis throughout the sport in 2013.
With considerable controversy, Sky Sports earlier this year unceremoniously ended their contracts with rival promoters Ricky Hatton and Frank Maloney to pursue what many – rather reasonably – view as a monopoly with Matchroom and Hearn which made him, alongside Frank Warren, potentially the most powerful figure on the British scene. It is understandable that there are concerns that one promoter has such freedom within the increasingly murky waters of boxing but Hearn, who has been on the fight scene since a childhood largely influenced by the boxing interests of his famous father Barry, is adamant that he will be a force for the good of the sport and that he is on the verge of inspiring its “rebirth”.
“We’ve got a two-year deal with Sky, for 20 shows a year, and I want to make that a five-year deal with 30 shows a year,” explains Hearn, who points to the significant financial losses he is certain to make from Saturday’s bill at the London Olympia as a sign of his desire to deliver excitement to the sport, not just money for Matchroom. “I want to sign the very, very best fighters. That could include current world champions, amateurs – and the Olympians.
“I think in 2013 you’re going to see the real rebirth of British boxing, because you’re going to see the big fights come together. We’re just building the foundations now to get ready for these monster shows in 2013.
“The sport was dying in my view. The most important thing people need to understand about the Sky deal is that without Matchroom, I’m not even sure there’d be boxing on Sky Sports anymore. The ratings were dying, the shows were poor.”
Regardless of an obvious confidence, Hearn knows his role in the sport is largely down to a chance meeting with Audley Harrison at a poker tournament in Las Vegas, which had a $10,000 buy in, and in which both miserably failed. The heavyweight revealed he was looking for a return to the ring, and Hearn – despite then being an insignificant figure – persuaded Harrison that taking part in Prizefighter provided a potential route to a shot at world champion David Haye, something he duly delivered.
It was then that many really became aware of Hearn, who before his time at Matchroom had been working in both sports marketing and athlete representation, but who even since then has had strokes of apparently good fortune that have allowed him to progress further.
“I think people looked at what I did for Audley, how I made that fight and how I built his journey so quickly,” says Hearn. “From there, I was getting phone calls from fighters saying ‘can you do that for me?’ From there, Darren Barker approached me, so we signed Barker.
“Then two weeks later I was at a Prizefighter and I met Kell Brook who was leaving [Frank] Warren at the time, and we sat down a couple of weeks after and signed him.
“Then Carl Froch just rang me out of the blue! He said ‘I like what you’re doing, I’d love to have a chat’. Before we knew it, in not even three months we had Brook, Barker and Froch from no stable at all.
“Whether people think I’m right or wrong, they can’t deny I’m responsible for giving the other promoters a kick up the arse.
“Things have happened along the way that have been luck and timing, and I think it was that fresh thing. The thing I always used to see is ‘breath of fresh air for boxing’, which was great to see, it encourages you. I think people just became stale and lazy – other promoters – and now I think British boxing is in a stronger place than ever. And I really feel I’m one of the biggest reasons for that.
“My old man always said that if you could get one per cent of the buzz that a fighter gets when he walks out, you’d be happy. If I only get one per cent then the feeling they must have is incredible.”
Given the past year has featured Haye fighting Dereck Chisora in front of thousands at Upton Park, Ricky Hatton’s ring return selling out before an opponent was even named, several successful Olympians and the true emergence of a man many believe to be the future of the heavyweight division, David Price, for one individual to say he is on the verge of elevating the British scene is quite a claim.
Not only is it something that has been heard from others on numerous other occasions – boxing lends itself to hyperbole on a frequent basis – it is something that simply has not really happened and that is infinitely easier to say than do. That being the case, what is it that makes Hearn so confident? Why is it he believes the timing to be so right, and what is it he feels can top what has gone before?
“I remember going to Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank, when there were 60,000 at Old Trafford,” said Hearn. “There’s not that many fights now that would do those kinds of numbers. You need to go back to creating those superfights, but a lot of it comes down to the politics of promoters, and the egos, to make it work.
“People just need to be realistic. Greed is the main thing. There is so much money involved in fights like Kell Brook v Amir Khan, that everyone should be happy. It’s a case of understanding your worth. There’s probably a sum of around £4-5m in total for that fight; there’s enough money there to make everyone happy, so get around the table and iron it out.
“I would like to be in a position in five years’ time where people think, ‘F***ing hell, look at what Eddie Hearn’s done for boxing. He got it fresh again, he got it selling out arenas, he started to get his fighters better profiles’.
“I want to deliver three or four massive outdoor shows next year: Froch against [Andre] Ward, Froch against [Mikkel] Kessler, Brook against Khan, [Tony] Bellew against [Chad] Dawson, [Carl] Frampton against [Scott] Quigg… You’ll see the real rebirth of British boxing. There’s David Price and Tyson Fury, David Haye will resurface.
“They’re the fights we’re going to push to make happen, because that’s where the mega money is. And I want to make mega money somewhere down the line. I want to create shows that I want to go to, atmospheres I want to be a part of.
“I don’t know where we’re going to be in five years’ time, but we’ve got a long-term plan. But if it’s not where I want it to be within five years, maybe I’ll step back. If I can’t make boxing what I want it to be within five years, then I don’t think I can do it.
“If I can’t convince others that boxing’s the greatest sport going, then I’ve failed.”