Hearn's Search For The X-Factor

Author: @Lead_Right (Twitter)

The bright lights, loud music, smell of lager, dolled up females and well-groomed young men in blazers. Could be mistaken for a night out in Brentwood, but in fact it’s a Matchroom Boxing show. The spectacles they put on are unlike any other in British sports. Eddie Hearn has built a distinctive boxing offering which caters to young professionals, rather than football fans looking to extend their day out.
Like most outfits they have tried and tested different things in terms of the production of the show, the viewing options and most importantly the types of pugilists they work with. Recently one of Matchroom Boxing’s most recognisable boxers, Ohara Davies, stepped out of line and tweeted an inappropriate comment that offended many Liverpudlians. A lot of very good articles have been written on what went wrong and who is to blame. But I can’t help to think that Ohara Davies is a throwback from the previous era of Eddie Hearn’s stable.
Let’s go back to 2014. A 22 year old Ohara Davies was snapped up by Eddie Hearn under the noses of a number of promoters. At the time Eddie Hearn’s outfit was very different to what it is now. Joshua was about to fight Dennis Bakhtov in his ninth fight, Matchroom weren’t open to the idea of female boxers, NextGen shows didn’t exist and there wasn’t a JD Sports partnership in place. Matchroom weren’t the force that they are now, nor did the shows and their transfer policy have a defined strategy in place. Therefore a relatively cheap punt a talented novice with a handful of fights wasn’t a big risk. In fact Ohara Davies made his Matchroom debut on Joshua vs Bakhtov undercard. That card included the likes of Ben Hall, Tommy Martin (retired due to an injury), Ricky Boylan and Erick Ochieng, who have all since left Eddie Hearn’s stable or have been relegated to the fringes.
Now Eddie Hearn’s strategy for Matchroom is very different and clear. They predominantly sign Olympians (Galal Yafai, Josh Kelly, Joshua Buatsi and Lawrence Okolie), fighters with impressive amateur records trained by their favourite trainers (Ted Cheeseman) or established British-level fighters with a lot of financial upside (Lewis Ritson, Jamie Cox and Frank Buglioni). You can’t blame Matchroom as the strategy is cost-effective and relatively risk averse. Most importantly they want to sign prospects who attract sponsorship, represent brand Matchroom and have the full package – the X-Factor (unrivalled amateur pedigree, ticket sales and sponsor friendly).
The general assumption is that Matchroom shows, aside from the Joshua fights and PPVs, don’t make much money for the outfit. This means that fighters need to sell tickets and attract sponsorship revenue to stop the shows from being lossmaking. You don’t have to be an accountant to know that running an O2 or Wembley Arena show in London is more expensive than one at the Liverpool Echo arena.
There is a finite number of London shows that can be promoted without Anthony Joshua headlining. Last year aside from York Hall shows, these included Haye vs Bellew’s pay-per-view show and underwhelming shows headlined by the likes of Frank Buglioni (vs. Ricky Summers). Eddie Hearn sent Ohara Davies to Scotland for a big payday on a Cyclone show against Josh Taylor. The economics of attracting Taylor for a crossroads fight to London didn’t make sense.  Ohara isn’t a big enough sole ticket seller, therefore he was shipped off to Scotland.
What does this mean for London-based prospects?
Unfortunately for many of the fighters based in London, unless they are Olympians they aren’t a lucrative proposition for Matchroom. In the last 18 months alone Matchroom have passed on very talented fighters like Daniel Dubois, Anthony Yarde, Linus Udofia, Umar Sadiq, Richard Riakporhe, and Chris Kongo. If they were based in Liverpool, Manchester or Belfast, would they be signed? Perhaps.
Does Matchroom need any more London based fighters who can’t headline outside a NextGen show (Joshua Buatsi, Ted Cheeseman, Felix Cash, Reece Belotti, Jake Ball, Felix Cash, Danny Dignum, Charlie Edwards and Martin J Ward)? Probably not.
It’s likely that Eddie Hearn will continue to pass on prospect fighters from London going forward unless they have outstanding amateur pedigree, sell tons of tickets or are trained by Tony Sims or Adam Booth. Unless they makes business sense of course; this could be a dual-track approach of building a rivalry (e.g. Okolie and Chamberlain) or a red corner fighter on a Matchroom show is beaten by an undefeated small hall fighter from London.
Back to Ohara Davies, who has now been suspended by his manager and trainer, in addition to his next fight being pulled after his Twitter comments. Harsh to say the least, but then again he doesn’t fit the current Matchroom criteria. This might have been a contributing factor in the hasty decision to publicly reprimand him. One thing that we can be sure of is that Matchroom won’t be signing an Ohara Davies 2.0 anytime soon.  He had the X-Factor at the time, but like X-Factor’s 2014 winner (Ben Haenow – who?) he is a relic from 2014.