With the UFC managing to hold a trio of empty-arena shows in a week’s time as the first major sport to return during the coronavirus pandemic, the attention of the sporting world will now turn to boxing.
Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn applauded UFC president Dana White for pulling off the trifecta of events at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. While not without caveats, he did find some common ground with how the UFC operates that will likely apply to how he brings boxing back.
“I really applaud the UFC for going through with it,” Hearn said on the Boxing With Chris Mannix podcast. “There are things that they did that I think they made mistakes and I think that they know that.”
Hearn cited the handling of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza after he tested positive for COVID-19 the day before UFC 249 on May 9. The promoter felt that having Souza in Jacksonville without a clean bill of health was a huge mistake.
“You have to test these people (first), get the results, when they are cleared move them into another area that is a sterile environment,” Hearn said of how he would have handled coronavirus testing. “But, again, it wasn’t easy, and they were going to make mistakes. I commend them and thought the event was great.”
When it comes to bringing boxing back, Hearn isn’t in a hurry. Instead, he's seeing the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to step back and right some of the wrongs that have plagued the sport for years. Chief among those concerns is the presence of overwhelming mismatches that pay bigger names a massive check for limited competition.
“I’m not trying to be a trailblazer,” Hearn said. “I’m not thinking that we have to be in June. I know Top Rank is planning to go in June … but that’s four weeks away. So the fights are only going to be one-sided fights where the fighters only need three or four spars, and he is good to go.
“I don’t really want to do that. I want to come back with the schedule that we had with championship and unification fights.”
And this is where Hearn finds common ground with White. Boxing has long been criticized for taking too long to put together the best fights and turning fans of competition off with bouts that serve as nothing more than a glorified sparring session.
“We do need to get tougher with fighters,” Hearn said. “We do need to eradicate the warm-up fight or the easy fight for big money."
Hearn blames himself and other boxing promoters for continuing with a model that has been a disservice to the sport. Not only is it expensive, but with the UFC routinely putting the best fights together, boxing is losing fans who can no longer stomach mismatches.
“I feel like we’re moving a little bit more toward the UFC model now,” he said while explaining that he wants to take the matchmaking out of the hands of the fighters and their management teams. “We can’t afford to (have warm-up fights) anymore because of the competition. Not with just other networks and boxing promoters, but with other sports. We’ve got to come back with a schedule that sports fans like. We can’t afford weak fights anymore.”
Hearn explained that fighters in his stable would need to step up against stiff competition. He envisions unification fights and only the best fighting the best moving forward. Of course, he'll be at the mercy of the sanctioning bodies and mandatory defenses. But if it's up to him, putting together marquee fights will be the norm and change the perception of boxing post-coronavirus.
“If we rush boxing back with poor level content and bad quality fights, it’s going to do ourselves more damage in the long run against the bigger sports.”