By Eóin Kennedy: It’s been just over one year since the Chairman of Matchroom boxing, Mr. Eddie Hearn, shook the boxing world by announcing that his promotional outfit was leaving long-time broadcast partner Sky Sports in favor of upstart and unknown streaming service DAZN.
DAZN would go on to offer its productions through its online app only, meaning that Hearn’s Matchroom stable of fighters would now disappear from the marketing campaigns of juggernaut Sky Sports. No more stints on Soccer AM for Dillian Whyte, Callum Smith, and co. but Hearn eased any fears by declaring loudly, and often the Matchroom-DAZN mantra, “game changed.” The only fear that was now rational in the boxing industry was the fear of Hearn’s rival promoters. With DAZN having the luxury of billionaire backing, the Matchroom promoter declared that his outfit, which was founded by his father Barry, would ultimately inherit all of their competitor’s fighters once their contracts expired, such as the financial power now at his disposal. Hearn and the DAZN executives gleefully announced that pay-per-views fights would be a thing of the past. That old antiquated model was no longer fit for purpose, and the future had arrived, according to Hearn and co. Just a monthly subscription to see the likes of Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez, Gennadiy Golovkin, and many more. Hurrah!
Just over one year on, and well, the game hasn’t changed. The game hasn’t changed at all. The PPV is dead mantra didn’t last long, and fans have had to dip into their wallets this year to pay (on top of their subscription fee) to see Canelo vs. Dimitry Bivol, Canelo vs. Golovkin, Ryan Garcia vs. Emmanuel Tagoe (although this fight was a Golden Boy promotion) and more will follow. Chris Eubank Jr vs. Conor Benn was slated for DAZN PPV, but that fight descended into scandal and calamity, which is still developing after it emerged Conor Benn had failed a drug test. It’s evident that Hearn and the DAZN executives overestimated the volume of subscriptions the app would receive, and ultimately paying Canelo in the region of $30 million dollars per fight was not feasible without implementing the pay-per-view model.
Maybe worse than going back on their word to banish pay-per-view boxing as a thing of the past is the fact that despite all of the declarations of impending world domination, Matchroom shows have consistently dipped in quality since the move to DAZN. The early days of DAZN were promising, and there did seem to be an element of novelty to the production, but twelve months on, it’s apparent that DAZN’s sizzle isn’t enough if Matchroom isn’t providing top-quality steak. The cold hard fact is that Hearn’s stable is spread too thin in order to be a globally dominant force in boxing. The staple diet of a Matchroom show is now the main event that most fans are interested in but sadly preceded by a string of undercard fights that are almost always woefully one-sided. Fabio Wardley vs Chris Healy, Johnny Fisher steamrolling some unknown, Felix Cash getting the job done as predicted against a fighter he was expected to beat. This has become the Matchroom formula because Hearn doesn’t have enough depth in his stable to keep putting on shows of a five star quality on a consistent basis, which is fine really because no promoter does, but all the hot air and repeated regurgitation of “game changed” last year make the dip in quality of Matchroom shows disappointing.
What seemed to be key to Matchroom and DAZN’s success was the creation of Matchroom USA. This foray into promoting in the USA was really going to be the acid test of whether Hearn and his DAZN dollars could entice stateside boxers to leave the established outfits, Top Rank, PBC, Golden Boy, and Mayweather Promotions. The fact is that none of the rival promotion’s big guns have jumped ship to the British outfit; in fact, it has happened in reverse. Devin Haney was a shrewd signing by Hearn when setting out on his US project but he has since had to release Haney to sign with Top Rank in order to let the young American fighter challenge for the undisputed lightweight world title, which he subsequently won. Hearn helped Haney make his name, but now that he has, he’ll be reaping the benefits under Bob Arum’s Top Rank banner. Demetrius Andrade was the WBO middleweight world champion when Hearn signed him, but they recently parted ways mutually due to Matchroom being unable to secure a significant fight for Andrade. Matchroom did provide Daniel Jacobs with the two biggest fights of his career against Canelo and Golovkin, but nonetheless, the American fighter did not become a star within the sport, at least in a commercial sense.
One could quite rightly argue that Hearn and Matchroom still promote the two most commercially valuable fighters in the sport, Canelo Alvarez and Anthony Joshua, and that is true but both fighters come with caveats attached to them. Canelo signs short-term promotional deals and tends to fly to whichever nest appears most bountiful. Yes, the Mexican will probably stick around with Matchroom for the Bivol rematch and possibly another fight, but the stable over at PBC is looking a lot more interesting in terms of potential opponents for the undisputed super-middleweight world champion. David Benavidez, Jermall Charlo, and even Errol Spence are all big fights that Canelo could potentially have with Al Haymon’s outfit. Unlike Canelo, Joshua is signed up to a lifetime contract with Matchroom and DAZN, but you get the feeling that the two-time world heavyweight champion may be one loss away from retirement. There’s no doubt that Joshua’s stock has fallen quite a bit since his glorious victory over Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium back in 2017, and given his recent breakdown of sorts in the aftermath of his loss to Oleksandr Usyk in their second fight, another defeat might just be the end of the road for a fighter that has already achieved so much.
Hearn had a contingency plan for the Joshua-sized commercial hole the heavyweight’s eventual retirement will leave at Matchroom. That contingency plan went by the name of Conor Benn. But after the recent developments regarding Benn’s two failed drug tests and his flaky plea for innocence, accompanied by his decision to angrily relinquish his British Boxing Board of Control License in a show of protest, it is now abundantly clear that Benn will not be the Matchroom poster boy going forward. After all the promises of “game changed” and “pay-per-view is dead,” the consensus was still that yes, Eddie Hearn talks out both sides of his mouth, but fans always accepted that this was part of his charming Essex-boy shtick. The fallout of this Conor Benn fiasco and how Hearn has tried and tried to make his fighter come across as innocent despite fans having no other evidence to digest other than two failed tests has finally caused a backlash against Matchroom’s main man. Everywhere he looks, there’s criticism, whether it’s on the radio show TalkSport courtesy of host Simon Jordan or from rival promoters such as Frank Warren of Queensbury. Between “game changed,” “pay-per-view is dead,” and digging himself deeper and deeper with every interview he does urging fans to hold judgment on Conor Benn on the rationale that Eddie likes him and that he cried in Eddie’s office, the promoter certainly looks and sounds like he’s feeling the strain recently. If every guilty man was exonerated of his crimes after a few tears, the world would be a very different place. World domination will have to wait for now for Eddie Hearn, and he should be reminded of the old adage, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ The boxing game certainly doesn’t feel like it has changed too much in twelve months.