2018 Yahoo Sports Man of the Year in boxing: Eddie Hearn's impact a driving force

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
No one has had a more significant impact on boxing in 2018 than Eddie Hearn. (Nick Potts/PA)
No one has had a more significant impact on boxing in 2018 than Eddie Hearn. (Nick Potts/PA)

For the person I choose as the Yahoo Sports Man or Woman of the Year in boxing, it has to be someone who impacts the sport in a profound way. The person has to have a wide reach in boxing and significant say in what fights are made, where they will be held and how they are perceived.

In 2018, no one fits that definition better than Eddie Hearn.

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Hearn was little known in the U.S. just a few short years ago, as he promoted primarily in the U.K. But in 2018, Hearn had the greatest impact on the sport anyone has had in a long time.

He was tabbed by Len Blavatnik, the billionaire who owns the streaming service DAZN, to build its boxing content. He was given nearly unlimited funds to do so.

And while the results haven’t always been positive — we’re still waiting for a fight between the Hearn-promoted Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder — there is little doubt of the impact Hearn has had in 2018.

It’s why Hearn is a clear choice as the Yahoo Sports Man of the Year in boxing for 2018.

Many promoters have complained that Hearn has single-handedly thrown the boxer payscale out of whack in the U.S. with the money he’s offered fighters to induce them to sign with DAZN. That argument, though, runs hollow and is simply self-serving.

In any business, if a newcomer enters the market and wants to make an impact, it will have to spend more than established businesses in order to gain traction.

Hearn hasn’t made all the right moves and he’s learning that promoting boxing in the U.S. is vastly different than promoting it in the U.K. The first iteration of the Premier Boxing Champions had seemingly endless funds, but frittered away hundreds of millions of dollars after its founding in 2015 and nearly went under.

The PBC was largely saved when Fox, which lost the rights to broadcast the UFC to ESPN, offered it a deal on its networks.

So, just because Hearn is loaded with some of Blavatnik’s $21 billion fortune doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to rule boxing for the next decade.

What it does mean, though, is that Hearn is going to have a big say in how the public perceives the sport over the next several years.

Hearn has the money to land just about any fighter he wants. There is no one with the deep pockets Hearn has, thanks to DAZN and its parent company, the Perform Group.

But as dozens of NFL, Major League Baseball and NBA teams have discovered since the advent of free agency, signing the highest-priced players is no guarantee of success on the field.

DAZN’s biggest signing in 2018 was two-division champion Canelo Alvarez, and though Hearn played a role in getting Golden Boy Promotions and the Perform Group together, it wasn’t his deal.

While signing Alvarez was a good move for DAZN, it won’t work in a vacuum. Golden Boy pitted him against Rocky Fielding, who had little name recognition and less talent, in the first of his 11 fights on the $365 million deal Alvarez signed with DAZN. The public isn’t going to accept that kind of one-sided fight very long, and that’s where Hearn comes in.

He knows that DAZN wants two fights for 2019: Alvarez against Danny Jacobs and Alvarez against Gennady Golovkin.

Neither of those two has signed with DAZN yet, and the PBC and Top Rank, which supply fights to Fox and Showtime (PBC) and ESPN (Top Rank), have interest.

That puts Jacobs’ shrewd manager, Keith Connolly, in a powerful position. Golovkin is reportedly so angered by the decisions in his two fights with Alvarez — a controversial draw in their first fight which most observers thought Golovkin won, and then a decision for Alvarez that was extremely close — that he may not be all that interested in a third bout, believing he’ll never get a decision.

If he goes to either the PBC or Top Rank, that would leave Connolly to play Jacobs off against the three competitors.

But Hearn has been wise with the way he’s spending his money. He simply hasn’t gone out and thrown cash at just everyone. The Matchroom roster isn’t loaded with hugely familiar names to U.S. boxing fans yet. Joshua signed with DAZN, but he was already promoted by Matchroom prior to Hearn’s deal with DAZN.

He has a good list of fighters, including 2018 Yahoo Sports Fighter of the Year Oleksandr Usyk, but he has no one save Joshua who has the look of a U.S. superstar.

Given the money Hearn has had, it could be a sign that he’s signed the wrong people or that he’s being judicious and waiting to pounce when the fighters he wants become available.

But Hearn’s money has clearly forced his competitors to react. Top Rank signed Terence Crawford to a multi-fight extension that pays him more than $3 million a fight, even though the vast majority of welterweights are with the PBC.

Hearn’s task, though, isn’t simply to sign an all-star roster to Matchroom; it’s to acquire fights for DAZN. So he can also use the purse bid process to land bouts for the service even if he doesn’t promote the boxers involved.

We can also blame him in large part for not getting the Joshua-Wilder fight done, one which most fans were begging to see.

He’s had his share of hits, and he’s had his share of misses, but no one has had a more significant impact on boxing in 2018 than Eddie Hearn.

For that, he’s the 2018 Yahoo Sports Man of the Year in boxing.

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