Eddie Hearn was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani this week, and spoke about a variety of topics, including Taylor-Serrano on Saturday, his relationship with Dana White and UFC, including what he hopes to take from their business model, Canelo, Tyson Fury, and much more.
The full interview is up top in the video. Also, don’t miss DAZN EVP Joe Markowski’s appearance on the same show.
On possibly being the best promoter in combat sports
“I’m not in awe of Dana White, but I have huge respect for him as a promoter. So if you ask me, ‘Are you the best promoter in boxing?’ It’s not even close. Genuinely, not even close. But Dana White I see as a trailblazer in terms of promotion. Not just as a promoter, but in terms of the business, the brand. The way that that sport or that brand has penetrated the global combat market.
“For me to not answer that question with, ‘Absolutely I am,’ is a massive credit to Dana White, because my ego is out of control. I can’t sit here and say I’m a better promoter than Dana White. I just don’t know, because the proof is in the pudding in terms of the growth that business has had. Whether that’s down to him — the model is quite similar. I recognized that if I could build my platform or my brand, you’re not solely dependent on talent in terms of your commercial deals and your broadcast deals. Dana White and the UFC have built a product where they can go into new territories, they can sell out arenas without you actually knowing who’s fighting.
“I was at the London event, people knew that Molly was on and people knew that Paddy was on, but [it was], ‘UFC are coming to London! Get your tickets!’ Same [as WWE], and that’s the same as what we’re trying to do. You have your own production values, the production is in-house, you control your own narrative, you control your own shoulder programming, digital content, you build your social media team. We’re following in suit of UFC, and I always say we copy a lot of what they do, I have no problem saying it. We’re the closest thing to UFC in boxing.”
On whether he might consider going into MMA
“We’ve had loads of approaches from investment companies. ‘Could you back an MMA project?’ And it’s, like, when people talk about Dana in boxing — you have to have a passion. Personally, I love boxing, I’ve been around boxing since I was eight years old, and I have such a huge passion that I can sit at ringside, scream and shout, and just be totally engrossed in boxing. And I see that in him [when he’s at UFC shows]. Still, as many fights as you watch, to still have that passion and energy, and that’s the love for what you do.
“I find it difficult to get involved with something that I don’t have the same passion for, and I don’t yet have that passion for MMA. I’m a fan, I think, sort of borderline, but who knows in time? But I don’t think Dana could have that same passion in energy in boxing, and I don’t think I could have it in MMA. ... He’s done a few bits and pieces, but the model’s different, the balance sheet is different, everything’s different. The control is different.
“I go back to the building of the brand; what they’ve done so well, Dana and the UFC, is create a model that is not totally reliant on talent. In boxing, you kind of rely on talent, really, whether it’s Canelo or AJ or Fury. I kinda get the feeling with UFC, they want to create stars, but they want to just — and once you get someone outspoken and powerful like Conor [McGregor], it becomes a nightmare for them. Well that’s day-to-day in our world. We’re dealing with egos, personalities, agents, managers, and everything. We let them get out of that box, where I feel the UFC do a great job to — almost like the brand is bigger than the fighter.”
On Taylor vs Serrano and the buzz in New York
“[On Monday], we went to the Empire State Building. They’re gonna light up this model and put the Irish colors around the Empire State Building model, and Puerto Rico at the top. And I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, on Saturday, we’ll light up [the actual building] with Ireland and Puerto Rico colors.’ And I’m, like, ‘Can I pretend that’s my idea?’
“The ‘Today’ show, the girls are on yesterday. I can’t get fighters on the ‘Today’ show in a standard event. The media that are here this week, the different kind of media, it is incredible how big this fight has become.
“When we talk about women’s sport, there is a real consistency among broadcasters and commercial organizations to think, ‘Let’s support women’s sport because it’s a good look, it’s a box ticked.’ This breaks through the barriers of that. Katie Taylor has taught me that mindset of, ‘That’s a good look,’ that’s not equality, that’s disrespectful to women’s sport. Women’s sport and women’s boxing needs to maintain its position through quality, through demand, through viewership, through ticket sales. That’s how you create a sustainable product and longevity in sport.
“That’s the most pleasing thing about this. We won’t sell out Madison Square Garden because all those people are going, ‘Oh, I’m going to buy a ticket to support women’s boxing’; they’re buying a ticket to watch a great fight. This is the Mayweather against Pacquiao of women’s boxing. Undisputed champion against seven-division world champion, it can only be a thriller. You couple that with the history of Madison Square Garden never having a female boxer headline, the biggest female fight of all time, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Brooklyn for Amanda Serrano, Jake Paul, me, DAZN, you get involved.
“For the first time in a mega-fight, I’ve never felt so much goodwill. Even in the boxing community, but particularly outside of that community in sport and entertainment. We’ve seen the WWE really get behind this event, as well. You, MMA, everybody — there’s never a feeling of goodwill in a boxing fight. Everyone hopes someone pulls out, or it rains at an outdoor show. That’s the world we live in. But this is very different, and it feels great to be a small part of that.
“But also, you want to get deeper, and you talk about inspiring the next generation. Inspiring athletes, young people. I have two daughters. I want to talk to them about this fight and show them two great athletes that had a dream, worked so hard, and were told this wasn’t possible. Watch them shine on Saturday night. And even beyond young women, young girls, anyone who has a dream! Anyone who’s told it’s not possible. Anyone who works hard enough to achieve what no one ever thought could be done.
“I always said to Katie, ‘One day, you’re going to headline Madison Square Garden, you’re going to make seven figures’ — but it’s just something I say. I was part of her dream. I’ll be very proud on Saturday night.”
On ESPN running Valdez-Stevenson on Saturday
“I said to Bob Arum and I said to ESPN, ‘Whatever you do, do not do a show on this night. You will get crushed.’ And we’re seeing it before our eyes. Stevenson against Valdez, I’ll give them some promotion now. Great fight. No one’s talking about it outside of boxing. This is the moment, Saturday the world will stop to watch [Taylor-Serrano]. ... [Even not going head-to-head], why go on Saturday night? The fight was already announced. We were on sale.”
On women’s boxing and two-minute rounds
On Taylor saying she wanted to be paid more to do three-minute rounds: “The duration of the rounds has absolutely no regard for the amount of money these fighters get paid. The perception is, it does. But there’s actually no commercial benefit other than it’s a nice story. Will a broadcaster pay more for three-minute rounds? No. Will more people buy tickets for three-minute rounds? Not really. Right now, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
“In time, I agree [about going to three-minute rounds]. I think we need to evolve and make sure the very elite end of this sport is three-minute rounds. But I will also say, when you’re introducing something into a market, fast-paced content is always good. We’ve seen it with Prizefighter, something we used to do when we were trying to grow boxing back to where it should be. You’ve seen it in cricket with Twenty20. Other sports are adopting that.
“Two-minute rounds is great action, right, because you’ve got two minutes. You’ve got to win the round. They come out, the pace is much faster. But you will see more stoppages across three-minute rounds. I didn’t feel that now was the time we needed to introduce that. There would be a lot more talk about it being a three-minute round than actually focusing on what this is, which is a huge, huge fight. I agree with you in time. Now that the audience for women’s boxing is becoming more educated, more invested, I think we can definitely look at that.”
On Taylor being a slight underdog
“I like it, it’s great being the underdog. I’ve never seen her more focused for a fight. This is her Garden, this is her house, this is what she’s all about. I think the last two fights, people say, ‘Maybe slight decline?’ It’s about motivation, for me. I think she would always say she’s motivated, but this is what she’s about.
“I just watched them down at the media workout. Serrano looks so strong, huge puncher. Katie looks so fast, so determined. I’m going for a Katie Taylor stoppage in this fight. I think she’s going to stop Amanda Serrano late in a thriller, but it will be a thriller.
“That’s been part of this whole journey with Katie, proving the naysayers wrong. My dad is a Hall of Fame promoter. If he’s honest, when I started with Katie Taylor, he felt — and Bob Arum’s the same — ‘Women shouldn’t box. No, not for me.’ He watched Katie Taylor and was a fan from day one. It’s been easy for me to roll her out and give her the platform and say to people, ‘Just watch.’ So on Saturday, just watch, and you’ll be a fan for life.”
On there being a rematch clause
“If a fight is commercially viable, so it’s not immediate. The fight has to warrant paying the numbers that need to be paid for the rematch. Personally, you may see this two or three times. It’ll be that good. But we want to win. And that’s always what it comes down to, winning. Taking part is beautiful and we should always advise our children and all those wonderful people that it’s great to take part — but it’s better to win. That’s how I was brought up, and that’s all that matters on Saturday night. ‘Oh, it’s amazing, biggest fight in women’s boxing history, what a moment for boxing.’ Win. Go out there and win. And (Katie) will do everything she can to win on Saturday.”
On Tyson Fury and his thoughts on the retirement
“I don’t really believe anything he says, but he also is capable of doing anything. And ultimately, it’s on him. If he wants to walk away from boxing now, good on him! It’s a very tough sport. He’s made a lot of money, he’s won the world heavyweight championship, and if he’s happy doing that, good luck to him.
“I just feel like his biggest fights are in front of him. The real career-defining, legacy-defining stuff. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about him being a generational great and better than Lennox Lewis and these fighters of the past. He may be, but he ain’t got the resume to prove it yet. But he could do. If he beats AJ, or he beats Usyk, he goes down as an undisputed champion, a Lennox Lewis-style legacy, generational great.
“He’s a really good fighter, like, sometimes people get it confused. I just feel that when you look at resumes, AJ’s got a great resume. Is he a generational great heavyweight? No. But if he can beat Usyk and he can beat Fury, he goes down as an all-time great. That’s what he’s chasing.”
“What do you want? How bad do you want it? Maybe he don’t want it anymore. But I would love to see Fury, who may well be in his prime, fight AJ, fight Usyk. He’s great for boxing. He’s had a great run and maybe he’s had enough. But I don’t believe him.”
On Fury vs Francis Ngannou
“It’s a big fight. I actually don’t (think it happens). But I don’t know the contractual situation. I think Tyson Fury’s up with ESPN or about to be, and Ngannou’s up with the UFC. Maybe Dana comes in and does it himself, maybe I do it with Dana, I don’t know. I’m interested in any big fight that does big numbers. I’m not really interested as a boxing purist because (it’s a mismatch). I mean, they’re big boys, one punch can change everything.
“I actually prefer Dillian Whyte against Ngannou, maybe with a little bit of mixed hybrid rules because Dillian Whyte is a kickboxer, he can grapple as well — I don’t know. Anything like that is exciting. Fury against Ngannou, Dillian Whyte — it sells itself. Big fight. But it’s the contracts. I can’t imagine Dana doing a fight with Bob Arum. I don’t know how long the contracts are, is Ngannou gonna re-sign (with UFC)... I would be very surprised if Ngannou left the UFC without Dana White having some kind of involvement or control.”
On Usyk vs Joshua 2
“(July 23) is probably the favorite date at the moment. ... I spoke to Dana (about UFC running July 23 in London), and we just talked about time zones, really. He said, ‘I’m looking at that, is that your date?’ I said, ‘It’s not really done yet, but could be a date.’ We’ll work around that. If (Usyk-Joshua) takes place in the Middle East, the main event would probably be closer to 9 pm (British time).”
“I’d love to fight in London, so would AJ, but there’s twice as much money, maybe three times to do it elsewhere. And when Usyk’s on a financial split of the deal, they’re not gonna just take it in London because AJ would prefer it there. Those negotiations are ongoing. You will see the fight in July, 100 percent. And AJ is pumped for it. He’s ready. He watched (Fury-Whyte), he wants to get in there.”
“The great thing about it is, the relationship we have (with UFC) is a sensible one. It’s not, like, ‘Right, I’m not talking to him! We’re going anyway!’ We’ll work together to find a solution.”
On Canelo vs Bivol going against a UFC show
“We can help each other. There’s crossover to these things. They’re different audiences but ultimately there is crossover between UFC and boxing fans, and it doesn’t benefit anyone going head-to-head. But also, we live in a world where there are so many shows. I mean, how many UFC shows are there? It seems like every week. Every time Canelo fights we see this.
“Canelo is a beast in the ring and commercially. It’s almost one of them where you don’t really have any fear about what you’re up against, because that audience is incredibly passionate, and it’s a huge Hispanic audience as well. We’ll talk.”
“Sometimes that noise across social (media) actually impacts and benefits the two shows. ‘Who’s gonna go first? He’s waiting for him, are the UFC waiting for Canelo? Canelo’s gonna ringwalk. The UFC is holding their main event. Dana’s watching the Canelo fight on a laptop.’ This is noise that reverberates around the world. I think it’s always smart to have a sensible conversation.”