By Terence Dooley
Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn has often talked about his desire to bring a heavyweight to his burgeoning stable. Not just any old heavyweight, either, but one that can bring in punters, satisfy TV audiences and headline big bills. Hearn has been speculatively linked with Anthony Joshua and a few other big guys yet few expected to see him link-up with David Haye, which is what happened earlier this week when the “Hayemaker” signed a four-fight promotional deal with Hearn.
Haye’s first opponent will be former world title challenger Manuel Charr, 23-1 (13), at Manchester’s MEN Arena on June 29; the Charr fight, and expected win, could catapult Haye, 26-2 (24), back on to PPV if he manages to secure a showdown with either of the Kiltschkos or a domestic match with Tyson Fury off the back of it. Hearn revealed that the union between Haye, Matchroom and Sky happened organically over a period of time when talking to BoxingScene.
“It was a weird one, really,” said Hearn. “I was working with Adam a lot over George [Groves], getting on really well, and we were talking about getting the Haye fight on Sky because we’re coming to the end of year one of our contract with Sky. It didn’t look like it was going to happen until Adam asked us what the chances were of bringing Haye’s fight over to Sky — then it was all done within three or four days. It is the perfect deal for everyone in terms of how it worked out. It was everything we wanted to achieve, and it worked out for us and everyone else. This is a game changer, in many ways.
“Adam announced it as a ‘long-term deal’. It is a four-fight deal so that could be one year, two years or five years. A one-fight deal wouldn’t be enough for a broadcaster, this gives us a chance to build on it and plan a strategy for the future. Obviously we’re trying to get more Sky dates, so this was perfect timing.”
In terms of bums on seats, which is the bottom line, the heavyweight division is in reasonably good health. Now all it needs it a little bit of razzmatazz; this is where Haye comes in. Haye brings a sense of drama; his fight with Dereck Chisora at Upton Park was easily the boxing event of last year here in the U.K. The mere announcement that Haye might have an announcement to make created a buzz last month, and Sky has always had a good relationship with the sport’s most high-profile division.
“Broadcasters understand the pulling power of a heavyweight, but I don’t think they’re obsessed with getting a heavyweight,” said Hearn. “But this isn’t just a heavyweight, it is David Haye. Some heavyweights have the personality and pulling power, and the fights themselves become irrelevant, but David is the perfect all-round package.”
Online speculation that Haye’s first fight back on Sky would be PPV was proven to be erroneous. Although Hearn admits that, should Haye beat Charr and secure a big name, the days of heavyweight pay-per-views could return.
He said: “Everyone assumed it (Haye-Charr) would be PPV. That’s the aim, but the first fight in the deal is on Sky Sports. There’s no point lying about it, every fighter wants to get on pay-per-view — any big-name fighter who tells you they don’t is lying. Froch-Kessler got the nod because of the occasion and the fight — it is a pay-per-view fight.
“The rose in the deal, if you like, is that this fight isn’t pay-per-view, which is great for the punters. Everyone expected it to be pay-per-view, but it is on regular Sky Sports and we’ll build a card for it that would have been pay-per-view in the old days.
“As I said, it is every fighter’s ambition to be a pay-per-view fighter, but the policy is not to just get pay-per-view back in. If the fights are big enough then you can bring it in, if it is not then just continue to build, build, build. David’s on Sky to make that happen, but not in the first fight — for me the only pay-per-view fights out there for him are either Fury or Klitschko.”
Sky TV turned their back on pay-per-view in 2011. Dissatisfaction with the strength in depth of the bills was said to be a key factor. Hearn has talked about returning to the glory days of PPV, strong bills topped by terrific main events followed by a strong U.S. bill in the early hours. This is exactly the type of fare that was offered by Frank Warren during the mid-1990s golden age of PPV. Warren’s U.K. shows, often at the MEN Arena and topped by big names, would be followed by a live feed from the U.S., resulting in bumper nights of action for U.K. boxing fans, who now rely almost solely on BoxNation for their live International action.
Carl Froch versus Mikkel Kessler is a return to those epic nights, a brilliant main event, a big card then over to Canada’s Bell Centre for Lucian Bute versus Jean Pascal. It could rejuvenate the PPV format here in the U.K. Although Haye’s first fight with his new outfit will be on Sky Sports, his first on regular Sky since 2007’s single round TKO of Tomasz Bonin, the door could be left ajar for the 32-year-old’s return to PPV.
“That’s important, especially with our mission because fan perception of what we’re doing is important, we don’t want them to think: ‘Oh, Froch-Kessler’s pay-per-view so that’s how it is going to go now,’ — it isn’t,” answered Hearn when asked if putting Haye on Sky Sports was an indication that the powers-that-be won’t milk the PPV teat dry.
“Froch and Kessler is a freak fight that comes around once in many years, especially in the U.K., so when we signed David people came out and said it would be another pay-per-view, but it isn’t — what I’m saying is that pay-per-view should be for something very, very special. Haye on normal Sky Sports will do massive numbers, and that’s paramount to what I’m trying to do on Sky.”
Another interesting aspect of the union between Hearn and Haye is the fact that Hearn was in the opposite corner when Haye fought Harrison. Throw in Hearn’s claim that Haye was a ‘continuous PR disaster’ when speaking about the former WBA titlist’s press conference brawl with Dereck Chisora with The Daily Star’s Nick Parkinson and they make for strange bedfellows. Hearn, though, insists that Haye is the heavyweight game’s greatest self-publicist, and that his ability to sell time to an inmate is an integral part of his mass appeal.
“It is not like we’re just starting out with a youngster who we need to get out there — he’s a massive name,” he said. “David’s own promotional outfit is very successful as well so we’re all working together. I don’t always agree with everything David’s done, but he’s a fantastic self-promoter and self-publicist. For the Harrison fight, we got on great and he probably liked the job I did promoting it — he did alright for himself.”
Working with Haye also means dealing with Booth, his canny long-time trainer, manager and friend. “I find Adam very fair, straight talking, and he has got a good eye for a deal and a situation,” said Hearn as talk turned to the “Dark Lord”. “We get on well. We’ve always got on well.”
As for Charr, the Germany-based boxer has Syrian roots and has pledged to use half his purse to help improve conditions in Syria. Syria is a tough, dangerous and poverty-stricken place, so Manchester should be a home from home for the 28-year-old.
“I was speaking to Adam about David’s opponent, they had so many lined up and Charr was one of them, so I said: ‘Adam, get Charr because he’s a decent fighter, a good looking geezer, a big lump and he has a great story’,” revealed Hearn. “You saw it at the press conference when he started talking about Syria. Blimey — that was some big stuff.
“Some people come to win, and some people really come to win, some say it but deep down they know they’re not, those who think they can always put up a good fight, and he does think he can win. He’s young and fresh, he knows he is in a tough fight and will give it everything — he’s the perfect opponent for where David is. David’s proved so much already, but has a guy who he knows won’t just quit after a few rounds — it will spur him on in training.”
Returning to the subject of PPV, I asked Hearn about Fury, and whether Haye versus Fury could become a reality during the course of the coming year. Sure, Fury is working his IBF rating, but a fight with, and win over, Haye, rather than Kubrat Pulev, would have the same outcome as a final eliminator. It would pique the interest of a Klitschko enough to secure him a world title fight against either Wlad or Vitali.
Forget about the top ten of any given governing body, fighters appear and disappear, sometimes randomly. Being number one doesn’t always guarantee you a shot, but a win over Haye would pretty much seal the deal for Fury, or anyone else.
However, Fury is with Hennessy Sports and fights on Channel 5 — the will they, won’t they network that enjoys teasing boxing fans with their ‘Dear John…’ Tweets and subsequent u-turns — so Haye-Fury looks a long way off. Throw in the fact that Mick Hennessy is an expert when it comes to guiding fighters to world title positions via the rankings — he delivered the WBC 168lb title to Carl Froch — and the fight seems even more unlikely. Still, Hearn is a pragmatist; his main hope is that the Fury and Hennessy identify a meeting with Haye as the optimum route to a world title.
“Adam spoke to their team before we were involved, so I don’t know too much about it, all I know is that it is a huge fight which would do great numbers,” predicted Hearn. “I don’t know too much about Tyson’s position, to be honest, all I do know is that he’s got to fight Pulev next, which is a really difficult fight and for small money. David Haye’s a difficult fight for massive money, so if it is a choice between Haye and Pulev then he’s got to fight Haye.
“If he fought Haye, and beat him, then he’d be in line for a shot anyway so it’s irrelevant. Pulev’s not bad and Sauerland might win that purse bid — do you go to Germany for small money for a really tough fight or do you go for the U.K. with David for probably ten times more money? Losing to Haye isn’t the end of the world, losing to Pulev is the end of the world because no one knows who he is.”
In the meantime, Kessler-Froch II will serve as a hors d'oeuvre for future PPV events, a chance to see whether the British sporting public is ready to dip its toes back into the PPV waters. Hearn believes this will be the case, and pointed to Sky’s acquisition of Lucian Bute-Jean Pascal as a sign that they’re catering to both casual and hardcore fans on May 25th.
“Obviously we want to put on a big night for people,” he said. “It is a difficult one, you want to keep the boxing fans happy, but probably eighty percent of those buying it are buying it for Froch-Kessler, not the undercard or Bute and Pascal, but I want everyone to be happy and to have a good night of boxing.
“The Tony Bellew-Isaac Chilemba fight will be a good one because they’ll both come with something different this time. It was close last time [when they fought to a draw in May], so it will be fascinating. Groves and [Noe] Gonzalez [Alcoba] is a good fight. You’ve got Froch-Kessler then Bute-Pascal, one of the biggest fights ever in Canada, but obviously everyone’s tuning in for Froch-Kessler.”
The number of people tuning in will be the cause of lots of speculation before, during and after the fight itself — more so than the ins and outs of the contest given the online world’s recent, and tedious, obsession with TV networks. Either way, Froch, and possibly Haye, could be the twin turbines that power a short-term PPV revival, but, long-term, we’re going to need lots more stars.
This is where the 2012 Olympians come in. As luck would have it they’ve arrived on the scene just as we are ushering Audley Harrison — the star of the 2000 Games, Haye’s co-accused in the PPV disaster of 2010 and one of Hearn’s first big boxing projects — out the door. Boxing’s a brutal old game.
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