Matchroom Boxing head Eddie Hearn is not one to shy away from taking risks and being first to market. Over the last year, the promoter secured a $50 million site fee to stage a heavyweight fight in Saudi Arabia despite human rights concerns and he’s also partnered with Paul brothers Logan and Jake and pitted the celebrities in the ring with separate bouts as boxers.
Like many other boxing promoters, Hearn has had to suspend his full slate of shows around the U.K. and U.S. from March through June because of coronavirus.
UFC boss Dana White announced Monday that he’s moving forward with his April 18 ESPN Plus pay per view to an unknown island in the U.S. despite losing his original main event (Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson) and venue (Barclays Center) in recent days.
"It's unbelievable, I'd like to think that in boxing, there's no one more ‘roll your sleeves up and get on with it’ than me," Hearn told Express Sport. "But even I wouldn't consider staging an event right now. I'm not even thinking about options, not even on the radar.
"This is stubbornness [by the UFC]. These are many of the things that make [Dana White] successful but at some point you have to sit back and say 'white flag.' I'm quite surprised ESPN is going ahead with this, obviously they want ratings and money. But with Sky Sports and DAZN, I would not be allowed to stage events right now. It's bad taste to be quite honest.
"[Dana White] wants to be a trailblazer, people have told him he can't do it. But I know the feeling of being told something and you do it anyway. Half of me admires him for cracking on but the other half says 'come on don't be mad.’”
The UFC announced Monday that UFC 249 will be headlined by Ferguson and Justin Gaethje for the interim title and consist of 12 fights overall.
White will be able to conceivably book flights and fights for international mixed martial artists who couldn't come travel to the U.S. under the current travel ban. White plans on making the yet-to-be-announced location a new home for UFC for the immediate future until coronavirus is no more.
"So this place where this fight is going to be on April 18 I have locked up for two months, so I'm going to continue to pump fights out,” White told ESPN on Monday. “The infrastructure is being built right now. We're going to do all of our international fights on this island … We're going to start cranking. The UFC will be back up and running, internationally and here in the States.
"Health and safety is something we worry about all the time, not just during the coronavirus. Obviously, this has made our jobs a little tougher, but we're going to do everything above and beyond to make sure everybody is safe, just like we always do. A lot of things will be different."
Hearn shared that he’s taking an entirely different approach than White with boxing, and he doesn’t mind sitting it out even though fighters like Regis Prograis, who was supposed to headline a Hearn-promoted show next week in Maryland against Maurice Hooker, are calling for Hearn to follow White’s path at securing an island for boxing matches as well.
"I was on the phone with [Top Rank head] Bob Arum yesterday with Pulev's team too and Arum's like 'I like you guys but why are we wasting our time on this call? Let's speak at the end of the month and we'll know more'," said Hearn. "[Coronavirus] hasn't really affected our business too much. Financially we're okay, other than some initial costs which we couldn't get back. We've built up a decent business over the last eight years, we're in a strong position with good liquidity."
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the LA Times, Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com and currently does TV commentary for combat sports programming that airs on Fox Sports and hosts his own radio show in Los Angeles. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com.