Barry Hearn is a man who needs no introduction.
Unless of course you live under a rock and haven’t watched any snooker, darts or boxing on terrestrial TV in the past 40 years.
Having grown up in the 90’s Matchroom and Barry in particular played a huge part in my weekends.
Most Saturdays I was taken to Leyton Orient by my grandfather who was born in the area.
In the evenings like most of my generation, I would settle in front of the telly and watch the Super-Middleweights battle for supremacy in an golden era; the likes of Nigel Benn, Steve Collins and of course Chris Eubank.
In light of his recent induction to the illustrious Boxing Hall of Fame, I caught up with the Barry Hearn at Matchroom’s HQ to discuss why he started in the boxing industry and it took me on a fascinating journey to the present day where the baton has been passed to his son Eddie:
Barry, it is great to finally meet you. You have been promoting sport in this country for over 40 years.
What made you make the transition in to boxing?
I’ve always been a fight fan. I’ve often flirted with the idea of being a fighter but god never gave me the ability, which was a bit of blow if I’m honest!
I enjoy confrontation, 1 to 1 stuff I’m very competitive by nature so I joined Waltham Forest boxing club, Garden City boxing club and it was quite clear early on it wasn’t going to be a long term career!
As a fan I used to watch all the shows Micky Duff, Jarvis Astaire, Terry Lawless I knew well, in the middle 80’s the way the sports promotion was going I thought to myself;
“Let’s have a go at boxing promotion”
I didn’t know a lot about it I had lots of enthusiasm. I knew I wanted to do competitive fights, I knew I wanted to do big fights.
Terry Lawless convinced me to try a couple of small shows topped by Gary Mason at Cliffs Pavilion in Southend and of course once you do 1 or 2 shows, you get a bug for it.
I remember the first show I done; Andre Van Der Oetlaar v Gary Mason at Cliffs Pavillion I think the show made £659.00 profit and I was hooked.
So I did another one which lost about £6,000 or £7,000 and by then it was too late.
The adrenaline rush I experienced by love of what I was seeing was great.
My 3rd show I went for gold and did Bruno v Bugner at White Hart Lane that made millions pounds.
That was it, it was over for me. I still didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve been a promoter irrespective of the sport.
But with boxing you have got to pay your dues, which I did.
I learnt that it’s a unique business with unique people. You always appreciate the skills, which I never had myself.
There is nothing quite a big show, nothing like the atmosphere that is created in boxing.
It is a sport I’m passionate about.
I think I understand enough about it now to know the up’s and down’s; which there are plenty of them.
It’s a tough business inside the ring and sometimes it’s tougher outside the ring.
It is a sport that has made a major contribution in my life over the past 30 or 40 years.
I don’t regret a moment of it.
I think what differentiated you in the early days was your accountancy background. You have always striven to be upfront and honest with people, displaying transparency in how you went about your business.
When I first went in to it from my mother down, they thought you were turning in to a gangster because boxing had that “tough-guy” image.
The game has changed, if you go back to the 20’s, 30’s and 50’s there was definitely a lot of influence around tough-guys not legitimate tough guys.
I think there is a certain appeal to this being the real men’s world and all macho but most promoters are run by accountants & lawyer these days and broadcasters.
Even in my time in the game, it’s changed so much.
The promoters were like the “slave traders” we used to get people on contracts forever.
If we failed; we lost money. If we won; we made a load of money.
The emphasis now has entirely shifted in-line with the rest of professional sport:
That star is the boss; the athlete is the guvnor.
And we work for them now and not the other way round.
Initially it was definitely the boxers worked for the promoter. Now it is an entirely different world every big-time of boxer has his own team of lawyers and accountants and I welcome that as it always follows the transparent approach that I have always followed.
There shouldn’t be any secret, it should be totally transparent between you and your client, which is what your boxer is.
In the old days it was more like your dog!
Micky Duff’s famous comment:
“If you want loyalty, buy a dog”.
Which is something still prevalent is in today’s industry. It is coming in to line with most other sports because we are all relevant on television company contracts, sponsorship contracts so it is a legitimate business.
Me as an accountant, I get criticism for being an accountant but accountant’s run proper businesses and isn’t that what you want boxing to be?
It is a dangerous game and you can’t afford to mess about with it; you have to do it properly.
You’ve promoted over 600 shows (I said 500 until I was corrected) from your perspective the 90’s was your pomp
I think there are always shifts of power in boxing, at the end of the day you can be the worst promoter in the world, if you have the best boxer; you become the best promoter in the world.
It is a bit like trainers; great fighters made trainers great, not the other way round.
And great fighters made promoters powerful; and not the other way around. We have to understand that.
So we’ve seen a shift in power in my time, started off with Soloman and Levine; coming in to the Duff, Lawless, Astaire; coming in to the Warren era, to Hearn Snr back to Warren and obviously it’s “Fast Car’s” era (Eddie Hearn) as no one can live with him because he is the best I have ever seen.
The power shift changes based on the raw material; and the raw material is the fighter.
We will move on to the 90’s. Christopher Livingstone Eubank, a legend in British Boxing. How did you first come across him?
I had a phone-call from Len Ganley a very famous snooker referee. “Ball Crusher Ganley”, dead now unfortunately, but his son (Mike) works for me at World Snooker which is nice.
“There is a boxer up here asking to see you. Next time you are up here at the world snooker championship in Sheffield I’ll make a meeting”.
In swans Eubank much the same, even though he had nothing, he had style and charisma. His first words to me were:
“Good afternoon, I’m a professional fighter and I know my worth”
What was your initial reaction when you first saw him?
I loved him to death as soon as I saw him. I love characters that are different, in my world that is what sells tickets, that is what gets media attention.
You can be the best in the world but if you are a secret, no one is going to know you and no one is going to reward you.
When he walked in I thought;
“Oh, I like this bloke!”
I’d seen him fight a couple of times; I knew he could hold his hands up.
I never knew how good he would be in the same way I never knew how good Steve Davis would be in the early ‘70’s so you need a bit of luck.
So we signed him on a 3 fight deal, £200,000, £250,000 and £300,000. I think I paid him about £300 a week in wages and he said:
“If I ever get beat, you can stop paying me my wages”
“I’ve got a better idea; if you get beat twice I’ll stop paying your wages”
We had 19 title defences, a wonderful roller-coaster, he drove me mad, he was crazy, eccentric and an enigma but he is a fascinating man.
I think he threatens to be intelligent, I’m sure he swallowed a dictionary when he was younger.
He used to have a dictionary on his desk and he used to learn 6 or 7 large words a day, you know and he would try to use them somehow or the other.
That was all part of his personality; he was what people didn’t expect.
If you analyse Eubank’s boxing from a technical view, he wasn’t the most exciting boxer in the world. He had a good chin, was a great counter-puncher he always had problems for me going forward with his feet. He could bang a bit, not concussive.
Basically I was never fully sure he wanted to box.
He once said to me:
“If I draw that means I keep my title. If the other bloke doesn’t hit me and I hit him occasionally”
He was a tough guy, had a natural ability, had a tough chin, was a warrior etc.
He would always love to give the impression he never trained but behind closed doors he would train like a dog. You don’t get to look as good as he did without training.
He would say:
“My road work is 400 yards running backwards”
He was completely off the planet he made it in to an over-complicated science. He used to confuse everybody by descriptions that went on for hours.
Eubank has never ever used a sentence when a paragraph would suffice.
It’s not a criticism as we used to laugh all the time, it was a great deal of fun we made a load of money, he spent his, and I kept mine.
Unfortunately that is the same with Ronnie Davies.
But he was always his own man; you have to let characters like that be themselves.
Most people don’t know that he styled himself on the old comedian Terry Thomas, he wanted to be the English Gentleman, hence the monocle, it was a plan to get noticed and accepted.
He was a ballsy character; no one goes in to Berlin to face (Graciano) Rocchigiani to a crowd chanting “Kill the black man” a right-wing Nazi crowd and Eubank was walking round the outside of the ring.
I’m shouting at him;
“Get in the ring, get in the ring”
“I’m just soaking up all the hate”
On the perverse side of that when Steve Collins told Eubank he had been hypnotised it completely threw Eubank out of sync as he thought it was Black Magic.
I told him; “You can’t hypnotise a chin”
“No but its not right Barry” he said
The Michael Watson tragedy affected him deeply; he is a deep, deep thinker. Sometimes irrationally deep. He has a big belief in himself and his ability to create situations, argue out situations and sometimes that is unfounded in terms of intelligence.
**Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 where we discuss Chris Eubank Jnr, what fight he wish he made and sending British fighters abroad**