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DAZN and Sky Sports on a collision course as Hearn spins plates

Pressure for Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn to deliver high-quality British shows is mounting.

Boxing at The O2 Photo by James Chance/Getty Images

We’ve all seen the meme of the guy holding his girlfriend’s hand, yet looking behind at another girl to his girlfriend’s dismay. Not the start you expected to a boxing piece, granted, but stick with it.

So the boyfriend is Eddie Hearn, the girlfriend is Sky Sports and the passerby is DAZN. See where I am going with this?

For years, British boxing fans have been treated to regular shows being broadcast live on Sky Sports. It’s spearheaded the sport for the past twenty years, with attempts from the likes of Setanta, BoxNation, ITV, BT Sport and Channel 5 — to differing levels — playing second fiddle to Saturday Fight Nights and, more recently, a surge of Sky Box Office events.

Matchroom’s long-standing relationship with Sky Sports goes above and beyond boxing. Built by Eddie’s father, Barry Hearn, sports including darts, fishing, 10-pin bowling, table tennis and snooker under the Matchroom Sport banner have featured heavily on the Sky Sports platform, with a healthy relationship supporting both parties flourishing deep into the naughties.

From the outside looking in, it has always seemed a harmonious relationship. Backscratching from equal sides has seen both Matchroom Boxing and Sky Sports dominate their respective fields for years, with competition struggling to get a foothold in the monopolised market.

Frank Warren has bitten back in the last couple of years with the birth of BT Sport. His platform and stable are growing considerably, with a jump into the pay-per-view waters signalling the short-term future of the sport; “healthy and welcomed competition,” as frequently stated by Eddie Hearn through gritted teeth.

This being said, it looks like a domestic rivalry was a red herring to the real threat to Sky Sports in the coming years. Hearn’s “billion dollar” DAZN deal which was announced last May looked, on the face of it, a win-win scenario for British boxing fighters and fans. Matchroom would supply fighters from their ever-growing stable to fight on the lucrative DAZN platform in the US, earning money unimaginable on British shores — as fans, we’d get all the content for free included in our Sky Sports package.

Great! Basically, free boxing. Well, free to a degree. And usually at 4-5 am. But still. Free boxing!

Daniel Jacobs, Saul Alvarez, Oleksandr Usyk, Demetrius Andrade, Tevin Farmer, now Gennady Golovkin; world champions oozing out of every weight division that us British fans would have access to on a regular occurrence, without finding dodgy streams or being forced to sign up to a plethora of different channels.

So, what’s the catch? The catch seems to have become apparent in a barren start to 2019.

Saturday Fight Nights used to be the bread and butter of the boxing schedule. A range of talent would be on display from venues up and down the country with titles ranging from domestic area level to world championships up for grabs. ‘Ringside’ — a magazine show — would be aired on a Thursday evening building up to the weekend’s action with relentless plugging.

The DAZN deal looks to have changed everything. Look at who has made the leap Stateside since the deal was announced. Anthony Crolla, Rocky Fielding, Gavin McDonnell, Jono Carroll, Kal Yafai, Luke Campbell, Scott Quigg, Tommy Coyle, Callum Johnson. Yes, they are all at different stages of their careers, but the lure of money and exposure Stateside has meant their standing as Saturday Fight Night headliners has taken a back seat.

It’s now happened with Anthony Joshua - the jewel in the Matchroom crown. His promise to fight at Wembley Stadium on April 13 this year went up in flames after negotiations failed to entice one of the big hitters to the National Stadium. Instead, a trip to New York will offer AJ the biggest paycheck of his career to date.

Ted Cheeseman vs Sergio Garcia and Jordan Gill vs Emmanuel Dominguez is all we’ve had since the turn of the year on free-to-air Sky Sports - which isn’t in the early hours of the morning. This isn’t a slight on Cheeseman or Gill, but the standard of shows seem to be slipping fast.

The timing hasn’t been ideal. Recent retirements of the likes of Tony Bellew, George Groves and James DeGale have forced the next generation to be thrown into the spotlight. This being said, the fundamentals of regular British shows shouldn’t suffer under the growing DAZN platform. Whether DAZN launch in the UK in years to come will prove a further headache for Hearn and Sky Sports, but for now, the attention of Matchroom seems elsewhere.

This problem isn’t unique to these platforms. Frank Warren’s recent fighter’s deals with Top Rank and ESPN will have a similar impact on British shows from their stable. Tyson Fury and Carl Frampton have both committed to fights across the Atlantic.

The spike in money flying around in the US boxing market will eventually plateau, but until then, provisions need to be put in place to protect British boxing. Small hall shows and domestic title fights need to be given more air time, more attention. Grassroots funding will forever be critical in a sport like boxing.

I’ll be attending Sky Sports’ third Saturday night show of the year on Saturday inside East London’s Copper Box, and admittedly, it’s a step in the right direction. Charlie Edwards, Joshua Buatsi, Lawrence Okolie and Lewis Ritson will all be fighting at prime time in the UK. Let’s hope that this is the start of the new breed of headliners, rather than a stepping stone before being fed to the lions at 4 am, live on DAZN.

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