Eddie Hearn, boxing's next big-name promoter, is ready to take over America
Hearn, who credits UFC as inspiration, begins his British Invasion on Saturday in New York
From arrogant to charming (and all adjectives in between), there have been many words used to describe polarizing and wildly successful British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport.
None of those words would be "ignorant," however.
Just days away from his first U.S. card as lead promoter -- headlined by middleweights Daniel Jacobs and Luis Arias in Uniondale, New York -- and his much-hyped debut as a new featured player on HBO, Hearn sets to embark on boxing's version of a British invasion in America.
"We are not naive enough to think that we are going to walk right in and dominate U.S. boxing, but we have a great model in the U.K.," Hearn told CBS Sports. "It has been very successful for us and we are excited about the challenge here in America and see what the future holds."
Hearn, 38, isn't ignorant to the challenge he faces. Nor is he ignorant to those wishing for his demise.
"Can you imagine the Eddie Hearn voodoo dolls that are out this weekend hoping that my show is a complete disaster?" he said.
The native of Essex, England, doesn't quite fashion himself a savior of the sport he grew up in, reminding that like his U.S. promotional brethern, "we are all glorified car salesmen." Yet there's something unquestionably different Hearn: You want to believe everything he's saying and, as a result, buy everything he's selling.
The heir to the throne of Matchroom Sport chairman Barry Hearn, who has built an empire promoting snooker, boxing and darts in the U.K., the younger Hearn is striking and quick-witted. At 6-foot-5, and rarely seen in anything less than a fitted three-piece suit, he has done his best to class up the sport, which remains a big secret to his success across the pond.
"I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I did turn it gold," Hearn said at Thursday's Jacobs-Arias news conference.
His analogy isn't far off. Ever since taking becoming the face of the company's boxing promotion to open this decade, the gold continues to pile up.
In 2010, Hearn signed Carl Froch away from competitor Mick Hennessey. Two years later, Matchroom signed an exclusive deal (which currently runs through 2021) with Sky Sports, England's most prestigious boxing network. Hearn also promotes the likes of Kell Brook, James DeGale, Scott Quigg, Luke Campbell and Irish Olympic star Katie Taylor, just to name a few.
But the key to Hearn's booming financial success in recent years has been the four-year build of unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, who has helped Matchroom more than double its revenue over the past year.
"Well we have the biggest star in world boxing, but we have one of the biggest stars in British sport," Hearn said of Joshua. "A phenomenon in boxing to deliver maybe 170,000 gate over a five-month period. It's incredible. We have the most exciting heavyweight in world boxing. Deontay may argue with me. I feel like we have the ultimate ambassador, the ultimate brand and the ultimate star."
Joshua knocked out former champion Wladimir Klitschko in April in front of 90,000 in London. Two weeks ago, Joshua set a new boxing indoor attendance record when he stopped Carlos Takam in front of 78,000 in Wales. Froch defeated Groves in their 2014 rematch in front of 80,000. Hearn was the brains behind all three events.
Unlike many American promoters who are content to stick marquee fights in small Las Vegas arenas while charging ticket prices that only high rollers can afford, Hearn credits much of his success to "creating great memories" and "making boxing accessible to the people." He also wanted to clean up the sport's presentation to make it smarter, in hopes of attracting more women and children to the events.
Upon signing the Sky Sports deal in 2012, Hearn predicted "a rebirth in British boxing." It's exactly what happened next, with Matchroom at the forefront. Not only did England close 2016 with more world champions than any other nation, its passion for the sweet science has become rabid, producing the kind of live energy American crowds could only dream of.
"We didn't have that five or six years ago," Hearn said. "So what have we done? What we have done is we have created an experience and created a night out. We have made boxing sexy and cool again. We look a lot at the UFC model and look what they have done and the great job Dana White has done.
"When there's a UFC event, people dress up a little bit smarter. People like to go out and listen to the music, people like to have a drink and people like to watch great sport. So why can't we do that here? Just because it's a different country? We are all human and we all like to enjoy ourselves. We all like to watch great sport and boxing has been around a long time. When you get boxing right, to me it's the greatest sport in the world."
Hearn is hoping to bring the same model to the U.S. He also supports White's interest in doing the same, calling"absolutely brilliant" for the sport. In fact, Hearn doesn't hesitate to criticize any of boxing's old guard who don't agree.
"Why wouldn't you want [White], who has revolutionized a sport through UFC and MMA, to start becoming involved in boxing and raising the profile of the sport?" Hearn said. "You are only really bitter and stressed and revolt if you don't believe in yourself and you don't think you can compete."
Ironically, despite calling out his competitors, it has been Hearn's history of playing nice within the sport's broken political structure (particularly in the U.S.) that gives him a fighting chance of succeeding in America -- and equally has domestic fans excited about his arrival.
In a climate where promoters and networks rarely get along or sacrifice short-term gain for the potential of long-term growth for the sport, Hearn is willing to work with anyone (he made deals with six different promoters for Saturday's card) and currently has his biggest fighters positioned prominently on both major American networks.
"Ultimately, I can't be bothered. I'm not interested in all of the crap," Hearn said. "Boxing makes you very bitter as a business. It's a terrible business to be involved in. It can make you very bitter and twisted. I think I'm young enough that it hasn't happened to me yet."
Hearn also appears poised to replace Top Rank (which signed a four-year deal with ESPN in August) as a key provider of fights for HBO. A big part of that move was signing Jacobs, a Showtime fighter managed by PBC boss Al Haymon, and bringing him over to HBO as the face of Hearn's American launch, which makes the success of Saturday's card important.
"I don't care who I deal with if it means making the fights that people want to see, if it means developing as a business, if it means developing the sport of boxing," Hearn said. "I don't care if you like me or hate me, we don't have to be friends to work together to do good business. For me, I'm open to work with absolutely anybody and everybody to progress our business and progress the sport of boxing."
Along with building card's into spectacles, Hearn believes American promoters have failed in providing their fighters with enough opportunities to be active. He also believes that many top American champions,, have had far too much trouble becoming crossover names in their own country.
"[In America,] you don't have standout personalties and superstars," Hearn said. "Well, I take that back. You do have them but they just aren't being turned into stars. Promoting fights is tough to do but when you have the product there is no excuse for turning them into stars."
Hearn, who has popularized the hashtag #EarnWithHearn thanks to the financial success he has given his fighters, ultimately compares his current challenge in the U.S. to what he went through earlier this decade upon first becoming a power in England.
"Everybody was behind me, the public were behind me but in the game they prayed for my failure," Hearn said. "We overcame that in the UK. We won -- maybe won is the wrong word -- we're winning. We still have a long way to go. I feel fresh again coming over to the U.S. I don't have any grudges, I don't have any negativity. I only have positivity for the sport and what we are trying to do."
Asked one more time if he's ready to take over America, Hearn paused and smiled.
"Well listen, I'm ready," he said. "But are you ready for me?