Eddie Hearn gave the best idea yet of what UK viewers should expect from Matchroom under their new deal with DAZN as he unveiled what he called “the best Saturday night card we’ve put on since I’ve promoted boxing” in Liverpool on October 9.
The show, which will be headlined by an all-Liverpool clash between Liam Smith and Anthony Fowler, supported by the British super-welterweight title fight between Ted Cheeseman and Troy Williamson. The emphasis is on close competitive fights, rather than big-name draws, indicating the Hearn’s first task will be to get hardcore boxing fans signed up to the new channel rather than try to spread the word to casual fans just yet.
By “best Saturday night card”, Hearn clearly means non-pay-per-view card. And some might not be overly taken in by the sale-pitch, having seen Hearn’s last Sky Box Office show be described as his “best card ever”, only to be headlined by Derek Chisora and Joseph Parker. But these are strange times for British boxing. Matchroom’s biggest names, Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, are considered too big for the DAZN deal, while the next series of headliners are yet to reach their peak yet. So, if star power is thin on the ground, tough matchmaking becomes imperative.
Fowler and Smith, the former WBO super-welterweight champion, will be the first time in Fowler’s 15-1 career that he hasn’t gone into a fight as the strong favorite. Cheeseman has been used to being matched tough and has another hard one against the unbeaten Williamson, who is promoted by rivals Queensberry. Williamson is the mandatory challenger and Hearn won the purse bids.
The bill features a third all-UK super-welterweight bout, with former British title challengers Kieron Conway and JJ Metcalf, as well as Shannon Courtenay making the first defense of her WBA bantamweight title.
“I can’t thank the fighters enough for taking so many big challenges on this card,” Hearn said. “This is exactly what we want from boxing.”
The main event is a big step up for Fowler, but a crossroads fight for Smith, who lost his WBO title to Canelo Alvarez in 2016 and was last in action in May when he lost a controversial decision to Magomed Kurbanov in Russia.
"This fight is a fight that quite frankly two or three months ago I hadn’t thought about,” Hearn said. “Liam Smith went to Russia, he got robbed of a decision out there in a fight that probably should have taken him on to challenge for a world title.
“Anthony Fowler under the tutelage of Shane McGuigan has improved and improved and wants all of the big challenges. Both camps were quite shocked when I suggested it but both camps considered the fight and both camps believe they can win. The card is absolutely fantastic.”
The idea of facing Fowler was clearly a step down for Smith, who declined to shake hands with Fowler after their stare down.
“This is a fight that was put towards me and not one I was looking at,” Smith said. “I think Anthony’s team were hoping, but once the fight was spoke about and this was the path we were going. I said it’s a fight that I’ll take and it’s a fight that makes me smile, it’s a fight that I’ll be bang up for.
“I’m buzzing to be top of the bill again, on a card like this, against another Liverpool fighter who I can get my teeth into. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll just show him I’m that little bit of a step ahead and he wasn’t ready for that step up just yet.
“I just think he’s [Anthony] competitive, I think he’s a good fighter for four rounds, but he reverts back to what he does. Once the fight goes past four rounds the fights only going one way.
“He’s got a lot to deal with in the next nine weeks, a lot of pressure, the build-up side to the fights. I’ve been in with bigger punches, better fighters, I’ve been in local derbies with my brothers, he’s got a lot to deal with in the coming weeks and it’ll be interested to see.
“I believe I’ll stop him, 100%, I’ll be wary of his power the same I’d be wary of anybody’s power on this table. He’s got 10-ounce gloves on, I’m not deluded, I’ve been in boxing a long time and I think one shot can change the fight with anyone. People are getting a little mixed up, if Anthony loses where does he go? He’s 30.”
Fowler, though, is looking forward to topping the bill in his home city for the first time.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t think I could win this fight,” Fowler said. “He’s going to be confident, he’s boxed at a lot higher level, but I’ve done a lot of good stuff behind closed doors. I was sparring world champions as a kid, so I know what I’m capable of, I just need to perform on the night.
“I’ve had 16 fights and most of them have been quite easy, I haven’t really been tested, I lost that fight early on in my career, but I regrouped, got a new coach and had four fights with four knockouts. I’m on my way up and coming to my peak.
“I’m as big and strong as anyone in the weight, obviously I haven’t got the experience, but I hit as hard as anyone. I’m big, strong and I know what I’m capable of, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could win.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.