Note: This story appears in the July 2011 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
Boxing is not exactly big on innovation. We cling to the past, forever looking over our shoulders at the wondrous ways things were done in various golden eras. And this applies particularly to the promotional sphere. If new boys on our block, such as UFC, muscle in with fresh ideas, we merely huff and puff while our sport moves ever further to the fringes.
So when a novel scheme for pulling the punters is proposed, the reflex response tends towards skepticism. That, at least, was part of the backdrop three years ago when Barry Hearn’s Matchroom Sport came up with the idea of one-night single-elimination events featuring eight boxers fighting three-round bouts, for what was then a £25,000 (approximately $41,000) first prize.
“We recognized audience demands were changing,” said Matchroom’s managing director Eddie Hearn, “but boxing wasn’t changing with them. It had become flat. You have a long wait for the main event, with an undercard that is often too one-sided, and then the big fight might only last a few minutes. We needed more excitement, more build-up of the characters involved, and a new way of doing things, so we came up with a model where the boxers could double their money with each win.”
The proposal in early 2008 was that each Prizefighter event would involve promising young prospects from a chosen weight division. Four of the boxers would be eliminated in the quarter finals, taking home a consolation prize, now set at £4,000 ($6,500), two more in the semifinals at £8,000 ($13,000), and the winning finalist would walk away with the prize money of what is now £32,000 ($52,500) with £16,000 ($26,000) for the runner up. The whole event would be over in three hours.
The concept was presented to the British Boxing Board of Control, which was not exactly bowled over at first.
“It is true to say they were a little hesitant, although they did understand the need to do something different to promote boxing,” said Eddie Hearn. The team then sat down with the board’s general secretary, Robert Smith, and the board’s doctors, and eventually won them over to trying the idea. “They thought about it carefully, agreed to give it a try, and now they love it,” he said.
Barry Hearn threw his East End charm and well-honed PR skills into this venture, announcing: “This is an experiment, but we should try it rather than letting things disintegrate. I’ve done over 500 boxing shows and today isn’t as exciting as former days. That’s my fault and that of promoters who have bigger fighters than me. But this is a new adventure that will revolutionize the sport. I’ve looked at the popularity of Ultimate Fighting Championship — and people like the instant action of it. We are trying to combine The Contender and UFC television series into something for professional boxing.”
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