boxing

The Creation of Eddie Hearn, Man, Meme, Boxing Match Master

Hearn is better known than the majority of his fighters – here's how he got to that point.
26 February 2020, 12:27am
eddie hearn
Eddie Hearn with Ted Cheeseman (left) and Sergio Garcia (right) at a press conference. Photo: Mark Kerrison / Alamy Live News

Despite the best efforts of architects and local arts initiatives, much of England looks and feels the same. Travel across this land and all the town planning, topography, bread rolls and drinking holes start to blend into a muddy monoculture, where accent and shares of the "leave" vote are the only reliable demarcation points.

But thankfully there are some places left which retain a degree of uniqueness – places with a rare ability to birth concepts, people, movements that only they could have. And much in the same way that a band like Black Sabbath could have only ever come from the industrial Midlands, or a dish like the "hotshot Parmo" could only have been birthed in Teesside, only the green and chrome pleasant lands of Essex could have spawned a man like Edward John Hearn. Because while it's true that not everyone from Essex is like Eddie Hearn, everyone who is like Eddie Hearn is from Essex.

Son of Barry, schoolmate of Frank Lampard and Jodie Marsh, the 40-year-old ex-double glazing salesman has entered the public consciousness in a way that no boxing promoter has since Don King became the pay-per-view PT Barnum.

Frank Warren might have worked with better fighters in a better era (and probably made a lot more money), but has always been perceived as a little too crim-adjacent – despite the fact he's in no way a criminal himself – for wider pop culture to really embrace. Hearn, on the other hand, is just about respectable enough to play the role of the ringmaster of contemporary bloodsport that he has assumed. At 6'5", with a face like a cartoon cowboy and a propensity to put himself at the centre of things, he's Dana White in a Massimo Dutti three-piece, the Emperor Commodus of the O2 Arena.

Hearn is nothing short of a phenomenon – part behind-the-scenes man, part box office draw himself. He is both the first YouTube promoter and the first promoter of YouTubers. He's the guy who can transform an uninspiring match-up between two domestic maybe-men into a Sky Sports main event, the man who brought a heavyweight title clash to an Amnesty-condemned Gulf state, all while maintaining the kind of memetic stardom usually reserved for Drake or Kat Slater.

For a guy who is essentially an administrator of a sport that's probably seen it's best days, Hearn has become superfamous. While it wouldn't be true to suggest he's more famous than his most famous clients (they would be Anthony Joshua and KSI, weirdly), he's certainly a lot better known than the likes of former title-holders Anthony Crolla and "Ted Cheeseman".

Much of this notoriety stems directly from the "NoContextHearn" Twitter account, which boasts an impressive 345,000 followers at the time of press, as well as a line of semi-official merchandise. The bread and butter of the account is Hearn's idiosyncratic outbursts; his rubber faced expressions, his tendency to mug for the cameras, to pitch up his voice, to talk complete rubbish. Even just saying the words "Yes, Liverpool" seems to have viral potential when you're Eddie Hearn.

Truth be told, the account probably isn't as funny as its popularity suggests – but there's no doubt Hearn has an impressive library of sounds and faces. In fact, he's a one-man eBaum's World soundboard, comedy god for people who believe "Matt Daymon" to be the summit of all hilarity, the WC Fields of Reaction GIFs for a generation raised on Ronnie Pickering and Worldstar.

The success of the account relies on the fact that there is a lot of material to pick from. The sheer depth of "Eddie Hearn interview" results on YouTube tell of a man who appears willing to have a 25-minute chat with just about anyone who cares enough to ask. Like many an affluent Essex boy before him, he seems to have never been told to give it a rest, philosophising and postulating on every subject under the sun. Watching an interview with him is like sharing an UberPool with Narcissus.

The all-consuming persona, the slapstick expressions, the constancy of his social media appearances all add up to a concept far greater than the man himself. Hearn has made himself the funniest character in the bad sitcom that is modern Britain; he's the likeable egomaniac, the fall guy who you hope gets back up, a hyper realisation of Boycie, Blakey and Brent. But it means that people who have absolutely zero interest in, say, Scott Quigg vs Jono Carroll have taken notice – and therein lies his genius.

In the world of boxing, his achievements are disputed. Certainly, he's taken the groundwork his dad laid down in the 1980s with his promotions company Matchroom Sport, and linked it up with a kind of multi-platform, gear-fuelled, concussion-thirsty, post-pub audience (whereas Barry's main achievement was getting the public interested in snooker ace Steve Davis and darts champion Eric Bristow – as documented in Gordon Burn's brilliant Pocket Money). Yet there is an abiding belief, regardless of how valid it might be, that he isn't to be taken seriously, that his fighters dodge the sporting fights and take the paying ones.

Hearn with Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua ahead of their fight. Photo: ITAR-TASS News Agency / Alamy Live News

But what Hearn has done is drag boxing from the arse-end of the Sky package towards pastures unknown and un-liked by many. Hearn's legacy will probably be that of the first promoter to really harness the power of digital media. Granted, he didn't come up with KSI vs Logan Paul – he even admitted to having no idea who they were – but he's also willing to admit to being wrong, and by the time the YouTubers' rematch came around he'd already made himself a major character in this strange new strand of light entertainment.

Listen to him talk and often he doesn't speak like a boxing promoter at all. He's fond of tech-jargon – all "driving" audiences, "smashing numbers", "evolving", "innovating". He even referred to the NoContextHearn account as "launching". Despite his dad's credentials and his Beano physique, he's actually more Silicon Roundabout than Caesars Palace, more marketeer than promoter.

Yet there is still plenty of vaudeville about him. As somebody who's never not trying to convince people to pay for fights, he lives in a state of perpetual pantomime. He had nothing to do with this past weekend's title fight, but was still being called out by Tyson Fury in the build-up – yet again placing himself and his fighters at the centre of it all. In his time, he's been insulted, attacked and barred by plenty of fighters, promoters and journalists alike – but the Hearn machine just keeps on rolling.

Fighters who chop wood, talk about God and eat un-castrated wild boar aren't immediately appealing to the British public, yet Hearn generates mainstream interest in these kind of characters through his gurning everyman persona. In a time obsessed with easy lookalikes and stock character references, Hearn is the internet's second hand car salesman, its mum's new boyfriend, the school bully who gets picked up in a Range Rover, the estate agent with a Rick Ross ringtone.

Time well tell if young Eddie ever eclipses his dad, if he's ever really taken seriously or if KSI stays bankruptcy-free. But for now, boxing's Big Lord Fauntleroy is more than just a contender.

@thugclive

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.