BArry Hearn is supposed to be retired, but here we are, in his elegant old office, talking about his certainty that his son, Eddie, would defeat Jake Paul in a pay-per-view extravaganza that would generate millions of pounds. We’re in the middle of a long and thoughtful interview about sport and life, work and fame, mortality and marriage, which includes Hearn’s memories of starting a promotion 40 years ago in a grimy little office under a billiard room in Romford, as well as his newfound ambition to play cricket for the England team of over 70 years.
“As Jake Paul has shown, you don’t have to be good now. You just have to be famous, ”Hearn says kindly as he considers our changed world. “That brings a different experience. How do I make you famous even if you are not very good? “
Hearn’s passing interest in the YouTuber is sparked by the fact that, when he boxed former UFC fighter Tyron Woodley Last month, “Jake Paul had one million pay-per-view purchases in the United States. When was the last time a traditional fight got a million buys? Canelo Álvarez faces Caleb Plant in November in a unification fight. Canelo will not receive a million PPV and is the best fighter in the world. So we have to use different standards. “
Eddie Hearn, who is an even better boxing promoter than his father, helps promote Canelo. The Mexican is the most authoritative presence in world boxing, so surely Hearn Sr. is feeling downcast that Canelo is being outsoldier than an amateur slugger. “It is disheartening for some people, but not for me. I made Steve Davis rich for being boring. It shows that you can cover the promotion from different angles. When I met Steve, all I saw was his dedication to billiards. I wasn’t looking for a personality then. The actual expansion of personalities came later. Initially, with Steve, it’s like someone has a nosebleed because they’re trying so hard. That is what I want. If they are not going to commit, the rest is completely secondary. Would you take a bullet for what you think? With Davis it was: ‘Absolutely.’
“Life is different now. Jake and Logan Paul have six packs and they are on YouTube. That is your brand. It helps if you are very good at what you do but, these days, it is not essential. The numbers don’t lie, whether it’s Love Island or a million pay-per-view for Jake Paul. He wasn’t very good with the gloves on, but he might have had a chance against Jake. I think Eddie would hit him comfortably. We were talking about it last Sunday. Eddie would guarantee himself a $ 5 million purse and would probably train for six months to get in shape. We wouldn’t even do it for the money. It would be quite a stir. You can imagine?”
Eddie Hearn v Jake Paul is the kind of surreal promo that would make a big deal today, which is why a 73-year-old master salesman flies into fantasy. Hearn Sr. laughs when I suggest he could work Eddie’s corner. “Oh buddy,” he laughs, “I’m undefeated in the corner. I’ve only done it four times, but I’ve won all four fights. Francis Ampofo [a flyweight in the 1990s] twice and Eamonn Loughran [a welterweight in the same decade] twice. They both wanted me to stay, but I said, ‘No, I’ve peaked.’
Hearn Sr. is more of the old school than his son and thus, to prevent us from getting carried away by the idea of a talkative boxing promoter stepping into the ring against a YouTube con artist, the speculation ends. “It will never happen because I won’t let it. We have a business to run. “
Hearn retired as president of Matchroom Sport in AprilEddie takes his place at the helm of the company, but his involvement remains palpable in a week in which, on Wednesday, he will win the Coutts Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sport Industry Awards. He’s more determined to celebrate the fact that Matchroom survived Covid with a minimal drop in profits. “The figures are already in Companies House, but before Covid we got 28 million pounds before tax,” he says. “For a small business in Brentwood that’s not too bad. It went down with Covid last year to £ 22 million. We got super creative. We were doing TV events, filmed on your iPhone, with dart players in their kitchens. It was amazing, but the stations didn’t have any sports.
“We have always been savers and we have never been afraid to spend our savings on a rainy day. Suddenly, with the pandemic, it was raining. But we didn’t cut a penny from the prize money. We did more events during Covid. There was no crowd, revenues weren’t that strong, but we put in a lot of overtime, which has put us in a position now for a huge expansion. This year it will be significantly higher because our business is about content ownership. The more you do, the more you own, the more you do. Build momentum for sports we run like billiards, boxing, and darts.
“The potential of darts has not even begun. It’s big now but, my gosh, it could be colossal because it’s the world we live in. There will always be the traditionalists saying [Hearn puts on a posh accent]: “Fat people who play darts, it’s not a sport, is it?” But instinct brought me darts. I loved. I could smell the potential because there were no barriers to entry. All the things he hated had gone in darts. It didn’t matter where you went to school or how much money your dad made. All that matters is: Can you shoot those arrows at the triple? There was a beautiful simplicity and all he needed was money. It is easy. There are so many people who have too much money. Our job is to be the Robin Hood of sports. We rob the rich. We take it from the station and we give it to the athlete ”.
Despite his second heart attack in April 2020, Hearn is still full of energy. But now, since you’re the president of Matchroom and your focus is on “group strategy and global expansion,” do you have more time to take a bigger picture of the sports landscape? “That is an interesting question because now I am much more thoughtful. We have 650 days of events, but I have time to step back and say, ‘What have we accomplished? Have we invested enough? We are losing time? What do the numbers say? Jerry Maguire said, ‘Show me the money. I say, ‘Show me the data,’ because data equals money.
“Sports like horse racing have an inverted snobbery. They are old money that we always call ‘fur coat, no panties’ because they have the style but not necessarily the substance. We have seen real substance in attracting a non-traditional audience. Look what Eddie has done in boxing. This was my audience when I started … “
Hearn flattens his nose into a pastiche of a traditional boxing fanatic. “He had 500 people who would go anywhere to fight. Then comes Eddie and when Anthony Joshua fought Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley [in 2017], 71,000 tickets were sold instantly with more than 100,000 people still in the waiting room. Eddie could have sold 200,000 tickets in one day. Who are these people? The goal is the casual fan. Women and people who normally don’t even think about boxing. They want a little brand that says, ‘I’ve been to boxing. It’s almost a wish list thing.
“Everyone in sports promotion wants control, but they don’t have the vision of how they can really expand. Your dog could sell tickets to the World Cup final. But how do you get 7,000 people [the darts at] Wolverhampton on a Tuesday? That’s when you discover how good you are. “
Hearn is still a fan of stories. We sat in Mascalls, the luxurious home that was the Hearns family home for decades. Last summer, and again this year, it became the Fight Camp site which allowed Matchroom to regain boxing, at the highest point of the lockdown, in the Hearns’ backyard.
“When I arrived, there was nothing I was not prepared to do. I tried to keep it legal, otherwise my mother would have scolded me. He stood out on the patio outside this office in 1982 and looked at me. I had just bought this place and she said, ‘Are you doing something illegal?’ I said, ‘Mom, I’m a certified public accountant. We are terrible gangsters. I am a Cinderella story. Twenty-odd years in a council house, Dad is a bus driver and then he built the best sports promotion business, probably, in the world. “
This summer there was another Cinderella story in the family. Barry and his wife have been married for 51 years and Susan has carefully avoided the spotlight. She has concentrated on horse breeding, and after three decades of grinding work, Susan had a great success in June. Subjectivist, a horse that he raised in Mascalls, won the Gold Cup at Ascot.
Her husband was excited and proud, describing it as “one of the best days of my life” as Susan climbed the heights of racing. “She is really old school and the only one Eddie and I are afraid of. Sunday dinner? You talk business, your dinner is on the dog. I remember when Eddie was in daycare. It was evident that he was misbehaving because a woman slapped him on the legs. Susan looked at her with her chin. Both were banned. ‘
So there was no rematch? “No. But it would have been nice for pay-per-view.”
Could Hearn be tempted to switch careers? “Susan is absolutely vehement about how terrible prize money is at racing. I am talking to the Jockey Club on an ad hoc basis, because if I can help in any way I will. If I were a little younger, I definitely would. It’s pretty easy for me to see what’s wrong in racing. When I talk to the Jockey Club, and it’s definitely the early stages, I say, ‘What is your position in the NFT?’ They all say, ‘Excuse me?’ “
NFTs are non-fungible tokens that can record a transaction digitally. Hearn shrugs. “I don’t know. But you can feel the energy and the potential of racing.”
Hearn and horse racing make for a dizzying match, but the club’s old cricketer has a more personal sporting ambition to play for England’s 70-plus-year-old team. “I’m going to have a big boost next year. This summer [playing for Essex’s over-70s] I should have won a hundred against Surrey. I hit 50 and thought, ‘It’s flawless. Baz, you’re on fire, son. The moment you start to believe that, everything goes crazy.
“Many of these cricketers were much better than I was years ago. But that difference is stabilizing because I am fitter and stronger. Energy finally beats skill. That could lead me to the national team as a very useful all-rounder. A friend called me on the phone and said: ‘Next week I’m going to play golf with the captain of England who is over 70 years old. Do you want to play?’ I said, ‘No!’ It seems very disgusting, doesn’t it? I said, ‘Just tell him I’m going to go find him.’
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism