Last year, when Eddie Hearn was pegged to head the mega-ambitious boxing project for DAZN, he probably felt like King Kong, Godzilla, and prime Don King all rolled into one.
After having already conquered his homebase UK as promoter of the hottest boxing property in the world at the time, Anthony Joshua, the slick Brit was given a billion dollars (over eight years) to play with as head honcho of the upstart streaming service.
With the death of HBO Boxing and an all-around shifting business dynamic, the billion-dollar DAZN deal instantly made the big-fish-in-a-small-pond Hearn into, arguably, THE big fish in all of boxing.
“I needed a partner that was gonna give me a huge amount of dates…as much money as possible, where we’ve got bigger budgets than HBO and Showtime put together, annually. So I shouldn’t really fail,” Hearn told a particularly compliant boxing scribe after getting the DAZN gig.
“Now the next job is to sign an incredible stable of fighters and to make sure that we produce a schedule for our broadcast partners that is second to none. Really a platform built by the fan for the fans — not coming on air at 10 o’clock to work around a movie — coming on air when we wanna come on air, showing all the undercard, shoulder programming, pre-fight programming, and really try and make a big dent in the market.”
And while Hearn had his heart set on conquering the tumultuous American market, things haven’t gone exactly as planned.
Unable to lure name-value fighters like Manny Pacquiao, Errol Spence, Keith Thurman, Adrien Broner, Mikey Garcia, and the Charlo Brothers to DAZN, Hearn countered by tossing ridiculous sums at second and third-tier name value pugs.
When the needle didn’t move all that much from the efforts of their initial roster of fighters (which included Demetrius Andrade, Jessie Vargas, Jarrell Miller, and Daniel Roman), Hearn’s deep-pocketed bossmen tossed in another half-billion to secure the services of legitimate star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and media-beloved Gennady Golovkin.
The needle then moved a bit in terms of subscriptions. Alvarez was a draw and piqued enough curiosity over the course of his two fights on DAZN to bring in some credit card digits. But a one-sided shellacking of hapless Rocky Fielding in December and a tepid, fully uninteresting performance against Daniel Jacobs in May were only going to generate so much excitement among boxing consumers.
What WOULD generate excitement is what the Mexican star reportedly refuses to give DAZN—a third bout with Golovkin. It was something key to signing Alvarez and also in luring Golovkin to sign on with the streaming service. But someone apparently forgot to tell Alvarez whether he cared to grant the Kazakh a third stab at beating him. As of right now, there’s still no Canelo-GGG bout even close to being discussed and Alvarez walked away from his preferred Mexican Independence Day fight date over an inability to sign a fight both to his liking and to DAZN’s liking.
And, as for Hearn’s pre-DAZN asset, Anthony Joshua?
It’s been a mess.
Hearn’s botched talks with WBC champ Deontay Wilder over a unification bout with then-three-belt champ Joshua left a bitter taste in Wilder’s mouth. The bad blood would later force Hearn to sit out ultimately failed DAZN efforts to sign the heavy-handed American champ to a big-money multi-fight deal.
Tyson Fury would swoop in to face Wilder when Joshua-Wilder fell through and then go on to sign a $100 million deal with Top Rank and ESPN off the weight of a controversial draw with the WBC titlist.
While all this was happening in a reinvigorated heavyweight division, Joshua stood on the outside looking in— “the next big thing” in heavyweight boxing and a proposed billion-dollar future global superstar—looking like an “also-ran” in a division he’s supposedly ruling.
So, Hearn pushed the Joshua career cart and booked him in an “Invasion of America” Madison Square Garden debut to generate some much-needed buzz.
We all know how that turned out. Andy Ruiz, replacement opponent for foul-blooded Jarrell Miller was always a poor choice of opponent for several reasons, but when he actually upset the champ and took his three belts, the poor choice morphed into a disastrous misstep.
And now the Ruiz-Joshua rematch is up in the air, despite Hearn’s decision to stage a press conference, with neither fighter present, to announce that the bout will take place on December 7 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
With a ton of Saudi money on the table and Joshua’s reputation on the line, new champ Ruiz is claiming that the return bout is going to happen, but on his terms and in the United States, not Saudi Arabia.
Hearn responded with talk of an airtight contract that’s already been signed and threats of a long and career-killing lawsuit.
The problem is that Ruiz may actually have a leg to stand on when it comes to his decision to nix the announced location of the rematch. The US State Department has Saudi Arabia classified as a Level 2 threat and has warned its citizens against any non-essential travel to that region. Hearn, legally, may not be able to force Ruiz to make that trip to a potentially hostile area—even if the no-travel-to-Saudi Arabia stuff from Ruiz is more loophole than actual fear of harm.
If Ruiz eventually complies with the Saudi rematch, it’s probably going to cost Hearn serious money and some major headaches while this is all being hammered out. Plus, there’s no guarantee that even if he gets the bout where he wants it, that Joshua—who was thoroughly trounced and battered into meek submission the first time around—will do any better in fight number two.
All of this is just in year one of Hearn in America.
One has to wonder if, deep inside, Hearn isn’t longing for the good old days in the UK where he slapped some regional talent on a card, along with some regional names who made good with world titles, and played to adoring, song-singing, half-drunk British fight fans just happy to be out of the house with a pint in their hands.