Interview: Declan Warrington

BN: With the perspective that comes with retirement, how do you reflect on Eddie’s progress?

BH: You’ve got a slightly vested interest, haven’t you? He’s my son – any parent is always proud of their children. If you’re trying to distance it and take me out of the equation as his dad, I’ll score him like any employee – based on his ability and what he’s achieved – and the scores read high. I value my roots and my work ethic – I set a very high standard that’s derived from my past, and when I look at Eddie three things go through my mind. One, I’m not frightened to die, ‘cause I think this boy is a reincarnation of me, to an extent. When he was growing up he led a different life to me – it was public school; nice holidays; money. That can soften people, and there was a stage in his late teens when I thought he might be softening. But the ultimate compliment I can give him is he works harder than I did, and I thought my work ethic was unbeatable.

[Two,] he has adjusted so much better to the new world of media than his contemporaries. The world’s a different place, but Eddie’s led a resurgence of boxing, which obviously would be impossible without the right talent; the AJs of this world; the Carl Froch days. From day one he’s embraced the digital world and social media scene, and built not only an empire, but made himself into a world-renowned figure. Most people in boxing live in a goldfish bowl. There’s a huge amount of opportunity [beyond boxing]. So in terms of media awareness and media manipulation, he’s a 10 out of 10. No one has a personal following like him; no one gets mobbed in the street like him. You’ve got to adjust, and it’s very stressful, but [three,] what he’s turned out to be is exactly what I wanted him to be. He’s a good man; he’s honest; he has integrity; he works his socks off, and he doesn’t like to lose.

Numbers-wise, he’s taken my company to another level. I don’t think I would have seen that level. Eddie’s always taken the piss out of me – “No – we don’t do it like that” – and it’s quite fun being told off by a youngster you’ve brought up, especially when you know they’re right. Work ethic – unparalleled. Understanding of social media – in the half-dozen people in the world. The ability to cope with the stresses and strains is the one that nearly always gets you in the long run. He’s 44; I said to him the other day, “I think you’ve got six years in you – this business burns you out; it burned me out a few times; in those days boxing wasn’t worth the price you was paying”. He’s thrown that goldfish bowl in the ocean, and he’s grown with it.

BN: Is he better than you?

BH: In today’s market, without a doubt. I doubted he could last as long – he’s been in the firing line for 10, 15 years – but he has. He’s had a mantel on his shoulders, which I always laugh about; I call him “Silver-spoon kid”. That’s now turned around. I walked into The O2 and heard someone shout, “Look, it’s Eddie Hearn’s dad”. In some things, without a doubt, he’s far better than me. There’s still a little bit – because of my background, I’ve got the edge on him on numerical understandings of the progress of business, but that isn’t the biggest part of business. The biggest part today is do you have the face? Do you have the talent? He has both.

BN: How are your book sales comparing?

BH: He’s killing me. Don’t even discuss it. My book is much better than his book, but he slaughters me. Why? ‘Cause he’s got 3,000,000 followers on Instagram.

BN: What are your thoughts on what could be described as “the cult of Eddie Hearn” – the social media parodies; the merchandise; the fight-day runs, and more?

BH: I find it [No Context Hearn] hilarious. “How does this happen? This is ridiculous.” Everywhere I went, all I could see was this. All of the mugs in my kitchen have got quotes on them. It’s part of the new world of promotion. When you promote an event you’re promoting yourself as well as the event.

[The runs are] clever. It’s out and out clever. I’d have never thought of something like that. And it has become a cult – it’s become things people look forward to; things people train for. It’s part of his image. What’s it done to him? It’s changed his body shape; it’s reeducated him. There’s always benefits to things that have longevity. What you don’t want to do is one-offs. If you’re creating a brand – he’s effectively created his own brand – all these other ideas are servicing and expanding that brand.

BN: He jokes that he’s having a midlife crisis…

BH: We all have little crises, don’t we? We’re all human. I’m 76 in June, but when I was his age I was doing the same thing. Midlife crisis – yeah. Inevitably, as you’re younger, and you drink too much, you eat too much and you party too much and you stay up too late, you perhaps neglect yourself, and he’s done something about it. I applaud him for it. How he’s fitting it in – the time – I don’t know, but he has.

BN: What do you make of the nickname “Fast Car”?

BH: I absolutely love it. It sums him up completely. One of the assets in life is to be able to take the mick out of yourself, and it’s quite funny, because it sort of sums up the way his career’s moved. He’s moved very quickly, and he likes the good things in life – he has his Rolls Royce – and at the same time he’s a fast operator in business. It sums up both sides of him.

BN: What’s his weakness?

BH: That coincides with your previous question. To be a great promoter, you also need to have a big ego.  If he has a weakness it’s probably his ego, because he wants to be the best, and he wants to be perceived as the best and respected as the best. An ego can be an asset and a disadvantage. But you’ve got to have that self-promotion approach to sell. We’re all some type of travelling salesman. Eddie projects his social image as well as I’ve seen anybody, but at the same time it’s a business asset. It can be a weakness if you make a decision based on ego. There’s always that potential when you’re so driven in your fast car to be the best. He has to be careful of that, because sometimes the more you’re ego-driven, the less you’re business-driven. Something inside everyone wants that pat on the back – it’s human nature to have an ego. [But] it’s more of a potential weakness than a weakness.

BN: How concerned are you about the risk of burn out?

BH: I think he’s now travelling more than I ever did. It depends on the individual. [Burn out] will slow down if you’re fit of the mind and body, and motivated and happy in your life. It’ll be his call [when to slow down], not mine. At the moment he’s really happy doing what he’s doing, and I’ll encourage him to do whatever he wants to do.

BN: Does being more famous than many of the fighters he promotes make him a good or bad boxing promoter?

BH: If I was a fighter – without taking the bloodline into account – is there anybody you’d seriously rather be with, looking after your career? Don’t be mad. Don’t even think about it. They don’t exist – anywhere in the world. I know how much he cares about his fighters. He lives it. He’d take a bullet for his fighters. But that doesn’t matter – he’s also bloody good, and when he’s doing a great job for himself… It’s a bit like saying, “Was Tiger Woods good for golf?”. Tiger Woods was very good for Tiger Woods, but he was also brilliant for golf, ‘cause what he did elevated it, and what Eddie’s done is elevated boxing – alongside people like AJ, and other fighters who’ve obviously been a part of that elevation. But from a management perspective, who could possibly give an all-round better service? There isn’t anyone who can even start to tie his laces.

The Hearns (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

BN: How do you reflect on him banning you from boxing meetings?

BH: Great move. Great move. I’m yesterday’s story, and yesterday’s technique. No one’s ever going to stop me having opinions, but in a business-sense, I’d bow to his judgement 24 hours a day. The society that we live in now – the old-school people talk our minds a bit too much at times. He’s dead right. Apart from that, everyone has their sell-by date, and you’ve got to be a big enough person to realise when your sell-by date is. Mine was probably six years ago. I can still have my nose in things and ask questions, but I’m enjoying other people do the work, frankly. He’s entitled to be in total control. You don’t appoint management and then manage yourself. The idea of appointing top management is to let them do what they’re good at, which is to manage at the top level. “Your days of press conferences are gone.” “Fair enough – I’ve got plenty of other things to do.”

BN: What about the move from Sky Sports to DAZN?

BH: The world changes, and people have got to be prepared to change. The worst thing that can ever happen to you is to get complacent, and Sky got complacent. They didn’t think we’d leave. They thought they could get us on the cheap. They didn’t read the market properly; they gambled, and they got it wrong, and we made exactly the right decision and I think it’s one Sky regret deeply. They will never say that. And who knows, by the way, what the future holds? You never know. It’s an ongoing story. Business is business. I always remember [Bob] Arum saying of [Don] King, “We don’t have to like each other to work together”.

It’s a shame – 30 years with [Sky]. We as a company – without Sky we wouldn’t be where we are. But they’ve still got to treat you with respect. A new player came in that was prepared to pay significantly more money, and they weren’t. We would have rather stayed with Sky initially, but they had to adjust to the new world we live in, and they didn’t. That’s okay. We’ve still got the darts, and other bits and pieces with Sky, and that’s humongous business for us. Far bigger than boxing. That contract’s up in a year’s time and I very much hope Sky move with the times and we do a deal we’re both happy with.

Financially, without question [it’s proving the right move]. Forget the goldfish bowl; look at the ocean. For all of the money, what’s it given us? Contracts in America; Japan; Mexico. We’re a global company; boxing is a global sport. Is the DAZN relationship perfect? No. Why? Because it’s still requiring investment to make it the force it can be. But the future of consumers across all sport, not just boxing, is digital, and people like Sky and ITV are realising that as well. We’re very happy with where we are and we believe in the future of where we are.

BN: …and his handling of the Conor Benn affair?

BH: My nature is to believe people, and I believe Conor Benn. I might be right; I might be wrong. I may never know. He’s boxed a couple of times in America, and we have contracts all over the world. We will always stay loyal, where we can. Unless it’s something horrendous, we’ll always give the benefit of the doubt, and stay loyal, to our fighter. There are limits to that, but in Conor Benn’s case; with the relationship with him and his father [Nigel], we go back a long way. Goldfish bowl. Where’s Dillian Whyte registered at the moment? Over in Ireland. Where’s Tyson Fury registered? [Benn’s] got to earn a living. If he’s banned worldwide, he’s banned worldwide – we can’t do nothing about it. [But] it’s a little dispute that’s been blown out of proportion. Let’s see how the appeal goes.

[The abandoned attempt to proceed with the fight] was a decision the promoters [Wasserman co-promoted Benn-Chris Eubank Jnr] made, and in hindsight they may have made a different decision. I’ve never really looked back with regret, ‘cause you can’t change anything. “That was a call I made. Did I get it right or wrong? I don’t know.”

BN: How do you feel about Matchroom’s growing relationship with the powerbrokers of Saudi Arabia?

BH: Our government trades with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia trade with us. Other sports have been there. I’m not going to mix up politics and sport. My client wants to maximise his earnings, and like a lot of other sports we enjoy going and changing the sporting landscape, along with our friends in Saudi.

I went there four years ago to talk about a snooker contract, and it took four years to sign. I said to the minister for sport there, “I only have one condition – we use women referees”. At the time, women weren’t even allowed to drive. “That’s the deal breaker our side.” And to his credit he looked at me and said, “Good – we’ll go along with you on that”. Small steps make giant leaps over a period of time. The world doesn’t change overnight, but there are movements there – it’s compelling to think that sport can be used in lots of different ways. I’m pleased we’re dealing with the Saudis; I’m pleased we’re dealing with the Qataris; the Abu Dhabians; the Bahranians, and also every other country in the world, because we don’t live in a goldfish bowl. Can you imagine me saying to Anthony Joshua, “I don’t think we should go to Saudi and earn X; we should go to York Hall and earn Y”?

BN: Given theirs and your history, what do you make of Eddie’s relationship today with Frank Warren?

BH: It’s good. I never understand this about “history”. Frank and I have been competitors for a long time, but I’ve always said to Eddie, “You’ll enjoy his company”. Up to a few months ago Eddie had never met him. “We don’t see eye to eye on business; different strategies make different people. But he’s passionate about his boxing, and he’s a good boxing promoter. I wouldn’t do business with Frank, but I enjoy his company.” Now we’re doing business with him, and that’s the right way to do, because it’s good for both of us. Don King and Bob Arum hated each other. I don’t hate Frank Warren; I wish him and his family the very best. We’re just different animals.

I actually met [Frank Warren] the other day, and Eddie said afterwards Eddie and George [Warren, Frank’s son] were laughing. “You were like two old farts talking about fights that took place 30 years ago.” He’s absolutely right. Don’t mistake competitiveness for personal feelings. Of course I wanted to win; of course there were fighters of his I wanted to nick; of course I had fighters that he wanted. That was the business then. Slightly changed business now. Eddie’s getting on well with George and he gets on well with Frank, and it’s good business. What did Micky Duff say to Lloyd Honeyghan? “I don’t need to like you to manage you.” But they’re getting on well, and that’s lovely. The world’s a better place.