IT WAS a little after 5:30pm on Wednesday November 15 when one of the most hotly anticipated encounters in modern British boxing took place at Wembley Arena.
But this was not a British Boxing Board of Control sanctioned bout, nor did it take place in a ring constructed in the venue’s centre.
Instead this was an unremarkable and low-key meeting, which lasted no more than five minutes, in one of the arena’s many small dressing rooms.
This was the night that Eddie met Frank.
Before a swathe of the fighters involved in the eight-fight Riyadh Season supershow on December 23 took to the stage at the Arena, it was decided that after years of regular virtual back and forth, mainly via Youtube, that the pair should meet in the real world.
And so they did. Eddie Hearn, along with Matchroom’s Ross Garrity, met Frank Warren and his son George in an empty room around half an hour before the main press conference. The meeting lasted only a few minutes and the pair discussed what they would say on the top table. There was a handshake at the end of a meeting that was described as ‘cordial’ and professional’.
“It was George [Warren] who said me and his dad should have a chat and I said ‘absolutely’. But I also said you won’t get any mucking around from us,” Hearn said.
It had seemed as though Hearn had been frozen out of the Saudi situation entirely with the General Entertainment Authority selecting Tyson Fury, a Queensberry fighter, to build their Riyadh Season opener around. The 6ft 9in Gypsy King will of course be centre stage next year when he faces Oleksandr Usyk, too.
Hearn has been involved with two fights in Saudi before, Anthony Joshua’s rematches with Andy Ruiz Jr and Oleksandr Usyk, but they were both via Skills Challenge, who have been seemingly usurped by the GEA.
But when fighters with an association with Matchroom like Joshua, Jai Opetaia and Dmitrii Bivol, Hearn became part of the picture once again. He and Joshua met Turki Al-Alshikh in London on Monday and by Wednesday the promoter was shelving years of long-distance bickering with Warren to ensure a smooth promotion.
“We are respectful with this opportunity,” Hearn said. “I can’t let that get in the way of an opportunity for AJ, Jai and Bivol. Imagine me pulling the plug and saying ‘no, boys’. Instead I wanted to make it work.”
There is a sense that all sides are aware that the Saudi GEA, who have the vast resources required to finance the sort of show that will take place two days before Christmas, might just pull the plug on their interest in boxing if they discover just how obstructive the sport’s politics can be.
“They don’t care about the history or the rivalry,” Hearn said of the long-running Matchroom-Queensberry feud. “I don’t think they understand it. They’re just like ‘this is what we’d like to happen, let’s go and make it happen’. They expect there to be no friction between us and they will get their way.”
Whether they realised it or not, as the likes of Joshua and Deontay Wilder shared the stage, in many ways it was the presence of both Hearn and Warren on the top table that was most surreal for many British boxing fans.
Much like the fighters, the two promoters were introduced onto stage with Eddie ‘walking first’. Warren, as the lead promoter, came shortly afterwards and waved to the crowd as he sat down. Although he had never met him before this evening, Hearn later said he felt like he knew him personally as a result of watching thousands of interviews with Warren, many of them chastising him, over the years.
Matchroom and Queensberry have done plenty of business over the years but the two main men had always been kept apart. But this was the night that not only they came together but the two companies too.
“That was the first time I met Frank tonight which is ridiculous really but I think we all understand how good this is for our business, our fighters and the sport,” Hearn explained. “Everything else is left at the door for now, I’m sure the rivalry will continue but who knows?
“It wasn’t really awkward at all. I’m not sure I’m on the Christmas card list but if it benefits Matchroom and for him if it benefits Queensberry I don’t think we are going to jeopardize this opportunity.”
The pair even stood next to each other as the fighters posed for face-offs after the press conference. Shoulder-to-shoulder, the pair beamed as Anthony Joshua and Otto Wallin exchanged verbals as they posed for the photo.
Warren, meanwhile, was keen to downplay the meeting. “I’ve never met him before,” he said. “It was a ‘hello, how are you?’ and that was it.”
When asked if it was a case of parking everything for the good of this show, he replied: “I have nothing to park, I’m good as gold and doing what I want to do which is putting these fights together. I’m as happy as you can be. Why wouldn’t I be? We will work together don’t you worry about that.”
So just like that, after a 13-year cold war, the Saudis managed to bridge one of the most stubborn gaps in British boxing in a matter of months. Once again we have seen that in this sport, perhaps more than any other, money talks. And now so do Hearn and Warren.