If the British boxing business was a prize fight then Eddie Hearn and his Matchroom stable would be way ahead on points. It is one year since the company aligned with Sky Sports as their principle boxing promoter, and the results speak for themselves.
Matchroom now promotes 75 percent of Britain’s reigning world titlists in Carl Froch, Ricky Burns and Darren Barker. Indeed, only IBF bantamweight champion Jamie McDonnell prevents it from completing a clean sweep of U.K. fighters on the world title scene.
Hearn was also hugely instrumental in revitalizing Sky Box Office PPV, which was discarded in 2011 following back to back disappointments. By contrast the May rematch between Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler was a huge success in terms of pay-per-view buys and also performed very well on HBO in the United States.
There have been disappointments like Gavin Rees and Lee Purdy losing badly in one-sided beat downs to Adrien Broner and Devon Alexander, respectively, but Hearn rebounded last Saturday when friend and fighter Darren Barker netted an emotional victory to claim the IBF middleweight title from Daniel Geale.
RingTV spoke to Hearn about Darren Barker and Ricky Burns in Part 1 of an insightful interview.
RingTV: Aside from being Darren Barker’s promoter, you are also a very close friend. Can you explain what his world title victory over Daniel Geale meant to you?
Eddie Hearn: It meant a huge amount to me. I was very nervous because Darren put a lot of pressure on himself and emotionally he can be a bit up and down, at least that’s the way he’s been in the past. Darren finds peace through boxing but when things break down he becomes very unhappy. I had confidence that he would win but if he didn’t I was concerned that we wouldn’t see him in a boxing ring every again. Still, what happened was he had two fights, back to back, before Geale and emerged from camp injury-free and buzzing for the sport. That has made such a difference to his outlook and his family has been a tremendous support unit for him.
After he stopped Kerry Hope and Simone Rotolo he begged me to make the fight with Daniel Geale and I eventually got it. From there Darren was on a mission, was completely single-minded and went all out to win that fight. This was his best chance, his last chance and his only chance. The fight was close and I thought Darren had won but we’ve been in a bit of a rut over in the States recently with Froch vs. Ward, Barker vs. Martinez, Rees vs. Broner and Purdy vs. Alexander (all losses for U.K. fighters). Then Michael Bufffer said, “And new…” and I’ll never forget that moment for the rest of my life because Darren is such a nice guy with a lovely family.
I’m closer to some fighters than I am to others but Darren was the first fighter I ever signed and he’s a good mate of mine. Everyone knows his back story and Robert McCracken MBE said to me today, people like Darren don’t win world championships, and he’s right. That is probably why the win has been received the way it has been because since when did a really nice bloke, who had a story like Darren’s, who really deserved it, capture a world title? There are so many people like that in boxing that never fulfill their dreams. Darren is talented but you would have been forgiven for thinking he was going to be a ‘nearly’ man. As it turned out Geale was perfect for him and the way he got off the floor to claim the title was terrific. Darren said to me he got sloppy but I said people love seeing a fighter rise off the canvas to win. HBO loves it and the fans love it.
Two years ago I’m not sure Darren would have gotten up because he was more worried about how he looked for the after-party. These days he would settle for having his face smashed to bits as along as he gets the win. He’s become a father, his priorities have changed, he has a responsibility to provide and he’s made of sterner stuff. How he got up from that shot was incredible because when a fighter is kicking their legs it’s usually game over. I don’t think Darren moved until the referee got to eight but then he just sprung up and displayed a different side to his game. He was so determined and people will never question his guts ever again. Previously he ran out of steam in fights because injuries were holding him back in camp. The fight with Geale was fought at an incredible pace and he was there round after round.
There are people who thought Geale would outwork Barker but it was Barker who outworked Geale and that surprised me. He threw more punches and he landed more punches but to get that decision was still unbelievable. Tony Sims, his trainer, is a nice guy and I’m really happy for him and his team. I told Darren that whatever happens now, he’ll be happy forever because nobody can take away the fact that he’s been a world champion. Also, Darren is now in a position to make some serious money which, because of injuries and inactivity, was never there before. These are great times for him.
RTV: Many fans would like to see the British middleweights match up against one another. Could Darren’s win be a precursor to fights with Murray, Macklin or Andy Lee? They’re huge events now, right?
EH: I think so, but winning a title carries obligations and Geale made a voluntary defense against us. That means we now have involvement with Gary Shaw, which will also help our relationship with HBO in the States. Anyway, when we got the Geale fight the IBF informed us in writing that we would have to fight the mandatory challenger next. After Darren won they notified us that the next challenger would be Felix Sturm, and I don’t know what is happening with Sam Soliman (February win over Sturm changed to a no-contest after failing drug test) because he was ranked number one.
If we get past Sturm there is then the possibility that a rematch with Geale makes sense financially, so we may go down that route. In an ideal world we would like to fight Murray and Macklin but we have responsibilities that must be honored. We were happy with the conditions that came with the title shot or we wouldn’t have signed the contract in the first place. I’m more than satisfied with the Sturm fight, which will be in London in November or early December, because I think that’s a perfect fight for Darren.
It’s all very well people saying you have to make the biggest fights but we only have to do what’s right for Darren Barker. I think Martin Murray is a lovely bloke and so does Darren but that doesn’t mean we’re going to fight him. If the money is there and it makes sense, then it will happen.
In answer to your question I do think there will be big domestic middleweight fights next year but Martin Murray has to fight more regularly and raise his profile in the U.K. The longer he’s out of the ring the less value Barker vs. Murray has. Macklin has lost three of his last four, so he’s been smashed around a couple of times but at least he’s been active and HBO still likes him. Murray is a more credible challenger but his profile is low, despite a fantastic performance against Sergio Martinez. That fight was staged before a very small audience in the U.K. (on BoxNation) and now he’s gone quiet. If I was him I’d be out there making some noise and getting it done in the ring. I’ve also reached out to Sergio Martinez because I think that is a fight I can make in the U.K. and that one makes sense for spring or summer 2014, again in London. I think Darren wins a rematch but Sergio is still a middleweight great and that fight would be enormous. I also think Quillin would come to the U.K. and then you have Golovkin. There are options everywhere.
RTV: Ricky Burns returns to action on September 7th in Glasgow. You always thought Jose Gonzalez was a potential banana skin and he almost was. What is your opinion of Raymundo Beltran?
EH: I’m just back from America and everyone is talking about this fight. People look at Beltran’s record, notice he has six losses and then assume it’s a routine title defense for Burns. Beltran was slung in deep at the early stages of his career, he’s been robbed a couple of times but recently he has posted solid wins. He’s also hungry, has a good setup with Top Rank and a dedicated team who are desperate for him to win. I think outside of the current world champions this is the toughest fight Ricky could have taken because this guy has terrific pedigree.
Last time out, against Gonzalez, Ricky was coming off an eight-month layoff and he had a lot on his mind outside of the ring. He was leaving his previous promoter (Frank Warren) and it was his first time back on Sky Sports which carries added pressure. Ricky is not the type of guy who will sit there biting his nails but sometimes the strain doesn’t need to necessarily show itself for it to be there. Also, “Chelo” Gonzalez was extremely good and his style proved to be very awkward for Ricky to solve.
I believe that Beltran will come out to fight and this will be a very lively event. In the States everyone sees Beltran as a credible challenger, although we’re after a unification fight.
RTV: Assuming Burns defeats Beltran, when do we see him make an attempt to unify?
EH: I really thought we’d get Miguel Vazquez this time but I contacted his people to see if a fight was possible and it clearly wasn’t due to money. I know how much he wants and without going into figures it’s roughly four times more than Beltran is being paid. Then people forget the purse Ricky would need for that fight and although he would probably box him for the same money he’s getting for Beltran, there’s no way I will let that happen. A unification fight brings more money to the champion, not the same as a voluntary title defense. Vazquez is now in with Ammeth Diaz in a rematch and that fight went to an overall purse bid of $60,000 or something ridiculous. You would have thought he would take $150,000 to fight Ricky Burns, rather than $30,000 for Diaz but he wanted much more than that and it didn’t work out. We’ll build towards a fight of that magnitude and Sky TV are very happy with Ricky, so hopefully we can get him the payday he deserves. You also have Richar Abril (WBA Champion) and the WBC title might open up if Daniel Estrada and Omar Figueroa gets made. It’s a matter of time before these fights are there for Ricky and it’s my job to make sure the revenue streams are there for it to happen.
In Part 2 Hearn discusses Haye vs. Fury, Froch vs. Groves, Scott Quigg, Kell Brook and Nathan Cleverly’s recent dethroning at the hands of Sergey Kovalev.
Photos: Scott Heavey-Gettyimages (2); Rich Schultz-Gettyimages (2)
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing