Promoter Eddie Hearn Is Changing Boxing Forever
Fights in the Middle East and on Youtube offer new markets for the sport
By Brandon Sayer
September 30, 2019
By Joseph Hammond
London — British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn is attempting to expand boxing’s appeal outside its blue-collar base. Boxing is perhaps the oldest of professional organized sports. Through the decades the sport has attracted the occasional Joyce Carol Oates or Earnest Hemmingway among its fans but, its core has long been working class fight fans on both sides of the Atlantic
Hearn is in the midst of promoting two fights, one in Los Angeles and one in Saudi Arabia, which could shape the future of boxing.
In Los Angeles, Hearn will promote the first fight of 168 lbs. world champion Billy Joe Saunders but, the intriguing thing is Saunders will not be in the main event.
Instead, two social media stars with millions of followers will take the stage in the main event of the evening. Neither KSI or Logan Paul as they were known were professional boxers but, their fight last year received over 17 million views on Youtube and a respectable 2.07 million live viewers (half of whom watched illegally).
Hearn (and Saunders) are keen to turn some of those fans of into boxing fans. Even five or ten percent would be a mean feet. Promotional coverage of the first KSI vs. Logan Paul (which ended in a majority draw) received over 60 million views.
The premise is simple instead of making boxers famous, have famous people box.
“Who knows where this goes?,” Hearn told reporters at Saunders open workout last week with a smile.
Hearn who took over as the face of Matchroom Boxing which is father Barry founded. Hearn’s own rise in the world of boxing is closely associated with former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua more than any other fighter. Joshua won gold medal in boxing at the Olympics in 2012 and Hearn helped navigate “AJ” rise to household name in the UK and around the world.
“AJ is the biggest heavyweight that boxing has seen for some time. AJ’s marketability, despite the loss, still sees him sit at the perch of heavyweight boxing,” says Gabriel Ajala of Africa Sports Unified,” he has had plenty of endorsements and sponsorship. His ability to break into new markets still seem’s his as key asset for Eddie Hearn & Matchroom Boxing.”
Joshua is British but, is of Nigerian heritage raising the possibility of AJ at some point in Africa with many African boxing fans hope the heavyweight championship will again be contested there. Only twice has the heavyweight boxing title been contested in Africa.
The first was the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. The second was between the UK’s Lennox Lewis and America’s Hasim Rahman in 2001. Both ended in stunning upsets with the challenger emerging victorious.
Anthony Joshua was upset by Californian challenger Andy Ruiz, Jr. earlier this year in New York. The upset stunned the boxing world but, Hearn and Matchroom bounced back.
The Andy Ruiz, Jr. vs. Anthony Joshua rematch is scheduled for December 7th in Saudi Arabia as Hearn attempts to open-up another intriguing market for boxing: the Middle East.
The fight in Riyadh will be the first-ever heavyweight championship boxing match held the Middle East.
When asked by Zenger News if he would be putting on future boxing events in Saudi Arabia in the future, Hearn was quick to answer.
“Yes for sure and I have been to other events there the World Boxing Super Series fight and obviously Amir Khan recently, WWE, and many others,” he said.
As Hearn pointed out several recent boxing and wrestling events have been held in the Kingdom in the past two years. Saudi Arabia is keen to develop its status as a sports hub in order to attract tourism to the country. An economic strategy in line with the 2030 Vision which seeks to have tourism accounts for 10% of its GDP. Boxing, Hearn believes has a chance to be part of that story.
“Obviously it’s a massive financial opportunity for fighters to go [to Saudi Arabia] and ultimately thats what is going to drive fighters to go places,” Hearn said.
Hearn revisited Saudi Arabia in September in preparation for the fight. Other boxing promoters appear to be following Hearn’s forray into the Middle East.
Filipino senator and boxing Legend Manny Pacquiao saying he would be open to having his next fight in Dubai against Amir Khan. Khan, former British Olympian, fought in Saudi Arabia earlier this year in an event he promoted.
“We did a site visit and saw the stadium with the broadcasters from our point of you were all systems go,” Hearn told reporters last week noting that Saudi Arabia compares favorably to hosting events in London.
“It’s like 20 times more advanced logistically [having a meeting there] then the same meeting in London…everyone has a lot of questions but, everyone is comforted when they go, “he said of Saudi Arabia. The fight will be broadcast on the American streaming service DAZN.
Hearn and the Saudi sports authorities are doing their best to ensure everyone will go to the fight. Hearn announced that the nationals of 75 countries will be given visa-on-arrival if they purchase a ticket to the contest.
Taking in Hearns comments nearby was Billy Joel Saunders a two-time division champion preparing for his fight in Los Angeles. Saunders competes in the 168 Lbs, super-middleweight division.
Saunders own story is more intriguing than that of any Youtube star. He is the first member of the Irish Traveller community to be a boxing champion in multiple weight classes.
With fights in the Middle East and on Youtube boxing is changing more now than it has in the last century from the fan’s perspective.
Saunders is supporting Hearn’s drive to interest Youtube fans in boxing, believing an excellent performance on the night of the fight can steal the show. Would he follow Hearn’s lead elsewhere?
“Of course I would. I am a Gypsy; I travel about,” he said with a smile when asked if after Los Angeles he would be open to a fight in the Middle East.