How Eddie Hearn Built Matchroom Sport Into A Boxing Heavyweight

The brash British entrepreneur is bringing the sweet science back by punching above his weight as a promoter and embracing his role as the sport’s latest hero—and villain.

By Justin Birnbaum, Forbes Staff

Inside the Hilton Syon Park hotel, on another cloudy London day in July, Eddie Hearn has gathered the media for what he bills as boxing’s next big U.K. fight, an August rematch between two-time former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and ex–British boxing champ Dillian Whyte. (Days after this story was published in the August/September issue of Forbes magazine, Whyte was replaced by Robert Helenius due to a failed a drug test.) Yet Hearn can’t help thinking ahead. Noticing former heavyweight contender Derek Chisora a few feet away, he crashes a YouTube interview with another fighter, Fabio Wardley. “What about you two?” Hearn jokes, until both unexpectedly express interest and the wheels start turning. It’s no blockbuster match, but there isn’t a limelight too small, or big, for boxing’s perpetual hype machine.

The 44-year-old Hearn loves to put on a show. He’s pushed the boundaries of his family’s event promotion company, Matchroom Sport, to previously unimaginable heights, which Forbes estimates posted fiscal 2023 (ended June 30) revenue of $365 million and a net profit of $60 million. Much of that is thanks to the rejuvenation of its boxing division, which he has steered since 2012 from small-time enterprise to global brand. Boxing now accounts for over half ($235 million) of Matchroom Sport’s estimated annual sales and nearly $20 million of its cash flow. It is the biggest name in U.K. boxing, a nascent yet profitable player in America and an emerging presence in newer markets such as the Middle East.

It’s the kind of success his father, Barry, never envisioned when the elder Hearn founded the company in 1982. Starting with just £100 and a focus on snooker, and later darts and other small sports, Barry assembled a respectable promotion business that was pulling in roughly $1 million in profit on $10 million of revenue when Eddie joined Matchroom in 2000. Twelve years later, when Eddie first approached his dad with a radical plan to blow out the firm’s boxing operations, the entire company was earning less ($7 million net profit on $46 million revenue) than it does solely in the ring today. “I always had dreams,” Barry, 75, says. “But Eddie’s shown me that there is another level.”

In a way, Matchroom has injected new life into a sport many believe is stagnating, or even dying. Over the last decade, boxing has found itself as the cultural undercard to mixed martial arts in the UFC, a far cry from 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle,” when Muhammad Ali’s knockout of George Foreman drew huge (and possibly apocryphal) numbers with as many as 1 billion global viewers and an inflation-adjusted gross of $600 million. UFC’s bloody Octagon battles, streamlined title belts and charismatic fighters continue to captivate young fans, so much so that media conglomerate Endeavor spent just over $4 billion to purchase the property in 2016. When merged with WWE later this year, it will become a $21 billion publicly traded entity.

Meanwhile, Matchroom produced more than 3,000 hours of programming last year across 12 sports, which included 30 fight nights. Hearn has promoted some of the biggest stars in boxing, including Joshua, and the longtime pound-for-pound champion Canelo Alvarez. And rather than go the traditional broadcast and pay-per-view route, in 2018, Hearn went for a haymaker—he signed an eight-year deal with the fledgling streaming service DAZN. At the time, the deal was estimated to be worth a total of $1 billion, quadrupling the value of Matchroom’s preceding pact with Sky Sports. And much like UFC president Dana White, Hearn is boots on the ground every step of the way, acting as a human megaphone for every fight Matchroom promotes.

Yet Hearn is still thinking bigger. Why keep Matchroom under 100% family ownership when he can expand toward his goal of an IPO? After recent negotiations to sell a minority stake to CVC Capital at a reported valuation of roughly $900 million broke down, Hearn says Matchroom has been fielding calls from several other private equity firms.

“The most difficult thing in having a successful father, especially one with a big personality and character, is to try to get to his level or outperform him,” Hearn says. “So the only way I could see myself as a success or a winner is to take the company to places that he hadn’t.”

That wasn’t always Hearn’s ambition. Growing up in Essex, just northeast of London, he enjoyed the spoils of his father’s labor, whether it was spending weekends at boxing matches or getting picked up from school in Matchroom’s white stretch limo. He loved to play cricket and rugby. Academics took a back seat, to the extent that Barry offered his son bribes to pass after Eddie failed out of Brentwood, a posh independent school that dates to the 1550s.

After secondary school, Hearn opted to join the workforce instead of going to college. He wrote to dozens of sports management companies, landed his first job and subsequently bluffed his way into another one with nearly double the pay. In 2000, Hearn started promoting golfers under the Matchroom brand. Then came poker, which became one of the company’s biggest profit centers during the Texas hold ’em craze of the mid-aughts.

The entire course of Hearn’s career changed when, at the 2009 World Series of Poker, he met former Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight contender Audley Harrison, who was desperate for a second chance in the ring. On a whim, Hearn agreed to promote him and eventually secured a heavyweight title shot. Harrison lost, but other boxers soon called seeking similar attention. Despite his father’s skepticism, in 2012, Hearn lan­ded an exclusive broadcast deal with Sky Sports. “There’s this little asterisk where people say Eddie was handed a deal because of his father’s relationship with Sky,” says David Itskowitch, former COO of Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. “But you have to give him some credit because he did things that hadn’t been done in English boxing before—and he did them very well.”

Of course, when you turn the silver spoon you were born with into gold, you’re apt to make plenty of enemies along the way—especially in boxing, where knocking a smile off a smug competitor’s face is expected. Before announ­cing the DAZN deal, for instance, Hearn boldly proclaimed that Matchroom would take over the sport in the U.S., joking that it would take only three months.

“When I went into America, the strategy was to upset people quickly, to build a profile, to create noise, create interest,” Hearn says. “I’d like to be a hero in terms of the time and the sacrifices I’ve made for the sport of boxing. But at the same time, I have no problem being a villain.”

Either way, Hearn is well positioned for boxing’s next phase. The roughly $440 million U.S. market is expected to grow 3.4% through 2027, according to IBIS World, but he is thinking glo­bally, looking to bring championship bouts to the Middle East and Asia in exchange for site fees.

“One day I will leave boxing,” he says. “But the problem is that boxing just consumes you. And if I don’t let it consume me, we won’t dominate like we are.”


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