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In-depth with MTK promoter, Lee Eaton

Image: In-depth with MTK promoter, Lee Eaton

By Ian Aldous: Imagine doing something you love every day. Well, that’s exactly the position that MTK Global promoter, Lee Eaton finds himself in. “Oh, it’s my dream job. People say to do a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life – it’s true”, he tells me over the phone with a notable enthusiasm.

The thirty-one year-old joined MTK in 2016 and the promotional outfit has grown from strength to strength since then. He believes it’s rather simple as to why they’ve been so successful. “The thing with MTK (is) we’re all about the fighter, and the fans, by putting on good shows with 50/50 fights. It ain’t just about making a quick buck.”

One of his most substantial highlights to date occurred in August 2019 on a drizzly night outdoors in Belfast. “August was the ‘Feile an Phobail’ with Michael Conlan, being the co-promoter for that with a 9,000 sell out crowd was pretty unbelievable.” Not only that, but the chance to be sat ringside and work with Top Rank’s Bob Arum that night was not lost on Eaton. “He’s an absolute hero of mine. Bob’s a legend. For me to be sitting next to him co-promoting – I had to pinch myself. He’s the best promoter worldwide. Working closely with him and ESPN is great.”

It was an epic night with a raucous Irish crowd roaring on the two-time Olympian, Conlan as he nears a shot at a world title. Attention has already turned to this year’s festival where his title shot might take place. “I’m pretty sure we will be going back this year, but nothing is confirmed yet,” he said. “Mick is No.1 with the WBO, No.3 with the WBA, No.7 with the IBF and No.12 with the WBC, so he’s knocking on the door now.”

MTK’s unique Golden Contract tournament returns to our screens on February 21st. Sky Sports will broadcast the featherweight and super-lightweight semi-finals in which the fighters only find out their opponent via a draw on fight week. It’s an idea that brings freshness to the most traditional of sports. “When I was told about it – it excited me. You’re training; you don’t know who you’re training for,” Eaton proclaimed. “You know the fighters, but the excitement of not knowing until fight week, and the first draw that we done – Leigh Wood picked Davey Oliver Joyce! I was jumping up and down biting my fingers! My events partner, Ian Ritchie, we was cuddling each other (laughs). We’re still fans at the end of the day. We’re big fans of the game.”

The aforementioned Leigh Wood emerged from that quarter-final with an excellent stoppage win of former Olympian, Davey Oliver Joyce. It was a win that made everyone, including Eaton, stand up and take notice of the Commonwealth champion. “Never really watched him before and he was very, very good in beating a great fighter, Davey Oliver Joyce,” he enthused. “Joyce just moved down in weight and beat Lee Haskins this weekend. Ryan Walsh (was) also very impressive – always has been. I’m glad that he’s actually getting his shot. If you look at the WBO rankings, he’s No.2 under Mick Conlan. I think Leigh Wood is No.9 and then Tyrone’s No.8. The winner of that competition, we didn’t think they would be as that wasn’t part of the plan, but they could basically get a world title shot. Jazza Dickens is No.3 in the IBF. The featherweights is one of my favourites. They’re all top, top boys. Tyrone McCullagh is probably the dark horse. He’s so hard to hit, he’s so awkward to fight. You can’t rule him out.”

The 140lbs division semi-finals will also be decided on February 21st. It’s another stellar cast of talent all clamouring to get their hands on the Golden Contract. “With the super-lightweights, you have Ohara Davies and Tyrone McKenna. You’d say the favourite is Mohamed Mimoune. He’s boxed at a higher level, (former) IBO world champion. The dark horse is Jeffrey Ofori – can’t count him out at the minute. He’s upset two of my fighters in a row (laughs). I’m glad that he’s got the opportunity and the pay day. I hope he does well.”

Just one of a multitude of success stories as MTK build their brand is that of Welsh flyweight, Jay Harris. The undefeated and then Commonwealth champion was contemplating retirement due to being unable to secure himself meaningful fights. In the space of just twelve months, he claimed the European title and now, a shot at the WBC flyweight World title against Julio Cesar Martinez in Texas later this month.

Eaton tells me of the journey he and Harris have been on. “I signed Jay in January of last year. I said we’ll get you in a six-rounder then see what we can do. We got him the six-rounder in March against Brett Fidoe. He wasn’t really up for it because it was a late change of opponent. Then he was mandatory for the European title. I went to Rome for the purse bids against Vincent Legrand. I was in Rome for about five hours (laughs). We won the purse bids and then Legrand pulled out and then we got Angel Moreno. Jay won the European (title). Then the Paddy Barnes fight came up and we offered him that. (He) jumped at the chance. (It was) one of the fights of the year; backwards and forwards for a few rounds. He beats Paddy. He was climbing the rankings and I got a phone call: ‘Does Jay want to fight for the WBC world title?’ straight away, ‘yes’, no matter what. Even if the money wasn’t great – it was a yes. We are under no illusions how tough of a fight it is. But, I watched (Andrew) Selby outbox him for five rounds and I know Jay can box. If Jay can keep him off him – who knows? It’ll be absolute scenes in Texas! It’s my first tip to America, so I’m buzzing as well!”

Lee then gleefully looked ahead to a busy spell for MTK Global, a busyness that’s becoming familiar for the eager promoter. “That’s 29th of February (Martinez vs. Harris). Then we go straight into Brentwood, Danny Dignum vs. Alfredo Meli. Then March 14th we’re doing a co-promotion with Mo Prior in Cardiff. Then we’ve got light-heavyweights (Golden Contract) at York Hall on 20th March with Dan Azeez vs. Andre Sterling for the English title. We’re gearing up for April and May shows at the minute. We’ve got Scotland, Belfast, London; probably going to do a little Maidstone show as well for the Kent boys.”

March 7th in Brentwood sees undefeated WBO European middleweight champion, Danny Dignum battle fellow undefeated pro, Alfredo Meli. Dignum was a standout amateur and is beginning to look the part as a professional. Remember the name! “Danny’s a right nice kid,” Eaton said. “I’ve known him a long time and he was with Matchroom. It didn’t work out for him, but everything we’ve said – we’ve delivered for him.”

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