“ALL the world’s a stage,” Eddie Hearn likes to say. It’s not an original line, he nicked it from Shakespeare, but his point is this: boxing, for all the honesty, purity and integrity of its participants, is littered with individuals donning masks, playing parts and hamming it up, all for the greater good of the show.
The show is the business. Hearn’s business. The boxing business. This business, a dark, controversial one, is somewhat removed from the sport and relies heavily on the ability of its cast to create characters, sell the performance, and deliver a finished product rooted in both reality and fantasy.
Tuesday’s press conference announcing the WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight title unification between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker was dull. That’s the reality. It was dull even by normal press conference standards. It was dull because Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker are two Big Friendly Giants boxing each other in the name of competition and a quest to be the best, rather than any reason pertaining to so-called beef, manufactured or not.
Dullness, however, isn’t necessarily a problem this time around, not with a main event as fascinating and important as Joshua vs. Parker, and not with a promoters like Eddie Hearn and David Higgins positioned either side of the fighters ready to pounce and make it significantly less dull. As such, there was never any need to worry. Give it time, we told ourselves, and they will deliver. The action will start.
Then it happened. Midway through the press conference, as we were finishing overpriced ice creams purchased during the interval, a stagehand signalled from the back of the room, Hearn clocked it, the lights dimmed and Act Three was all of a sudden upon us.
INT. THE DORCHESTER HOTEL, LONDON – DAY
Sat at the top table, EDDIE HEARN, 38, watches intently as WBO world heavyweight champion JOSEPH PARKER, 26, addresses a gathering of journalists in a hotel ballroom.
PARKER: We’re a team, so I back my promoter and what he’s been saying. I guess this is the way he’s trying to promote the fight.
Hearn continues to watch as DAVID HIGGINS, Parker’s promoter, age unknown, licks his lips and prepares his own speech. Higgins, from New Zealand, is a man of mystery. On one hand, he appears a nervous wreck; on the other, he exudes surprising composure in the face of ridicule. He speaks well. He has plenty to say. When focused, he often makes sense. In terms of demeanour, he is part Ricky Burns and part Mr. Burns.
HIGGINS: I think without the noise we made we certainly wouldn’t have the fight on fair terms. I think both parties compromised. The deal was fair to both. We’re not complaining. But I also think the things we’ve been saying are accurate. Trash talk is using swear words and so on…
Hearn, fed up of staring at Higgins, is about to interject. He smiles playfully.
HEARN: You might as well say them while you’re here.
HIGGINS: Oh, yeah. Well, I think there are some mental weaknesses on display because when Parker talked about him being dropped AJ felt he was being demonised, which I felt was a strong response to a factual analysis of strengths and weaknesses. I think he showed being rattled as such. Perhaps. And then there is the questionable chin. We’re not saying he has a glass jaw but we’re going to find out on March 31. Maybe I’m wrong. That’s the beauty of boxing.
Hearn pulls back in his seat, shakes his head.
HEARN: You can’t say what you’ve been saying and then, when you’re five feet away from him, let your bum deceive you.
Higgins, momentarily rattled, pats Hearn on the back.
HIGGINS: Eddie, what have I just been saying?
HEARN: No, you said he might have some mental weaknesses. You (previously) said he has mental weaknesses. You said he is mentally weak.
HIGGINS: He is mentally weaker than Joseph Parker.
HEARN: You don’t do what he is doing and be mentally weak. You don’t walk out in front of your home city and win gold at the Olympics. You don’t walk out in front of 80,000, empty your tank, get up off the floor, and stop Wladimir Klitschko, if you’re mentally weak. You also said he has a glass chin. “We’re going to break his glass chin.” Don’t tell me. Tell him. He’s here.
HIGGINS: Okay, I’ll give you a small concession. He’s mentally tougher than most people. But he’s mentally weaker than Joseph Parker. In terms of chin, he’s got a better chin than me. But not as good as Joseph Parker.
HEARN: The fact is, when it comes down to it, you don’t really believe. I’ve heard you all saying, “Someone’s getting knocked out in this fight,” and, “It’s either me or him.” That’s not the same feeling on this side of the table. This is 100% the same as what we do every time. Win. Knockout. It’s not a case of thinking we might get knocked out or we might get hurt. We don’t. We win this fight. You can’t say one thing and then when you get here try and build the fight. Do you truly believe you’re going to win? Do Team Parker truly believe you’re going to win the fight?
HIGGINS: Honestly, I believe it’s the destiny of Joseph Parker to win the fight and make history.
HEARN: The answer’s “no”.
The crowd LAUGH. A few even APPLAUD.
Turns out that wasn’t Act Three, by the way. It was just the start. Shortly after the press conference, an image of Hearn and Higgins assuming the Gloves Are Off position – separated by a table, doing their utmost not to upend said table – started to circulate and revealed the promoters, as well as the fighters, would this time be the subject of an episode on Sky Sports.
It was an image condemned by a few. Promoters, they said, had no right to be stealing limelight in this way. They should be seen and not heard. Or heard and not seen. Or not seen or heard at all.
Admittedly, seeing Hearn and Higgins sat opposite one another about to film an episode of The Gloves Are Off was a bit like stumbling upon one of those documentaries about old blokes chatting up sex robots. You try, to the best of your ability, to be a mature adult and understand why this kind of conversation might be filmed, but still it’s jarring and confusing and somehow a little too progressive. Unsure how you’re supposed to feel, you ask yourself, isn’t this the job of the boxers? Shouldn’t they, the lead actors, be reading the script and performing the play?
But is it also not the job of a promoter to promote? And if that’s the case – and it is – surely all promotion is good promotion. This is 2018, the age of self-promotion. A boxing promoter mindful of overexposure, left trailing behind YouTube sensations and Instagram influencers, is no promoter at all.
It’s one big shameless selfie, but needs must. Gone are the days of flyers taped to phone boxes and single-page adverts in newspapers. Gone are queues outside the box office. There’s a misconception, too, that promoters are event organisers and should go about their work quietly, diligently, focusing not on interviews and tweets but on hotel bookings and labelling seats. The business, in reality, doesn’t work like that. Promoters promote; they employ staff to do all that other stuff. Left to create, promoters can then assume the role of a walking, talking billboard for their fighter. (And if the billboard isn’t bright, loud and eye-catching, what’s the point?)
Eddie Hearn, the promoter, in no particular order, promotes himself, his events, his fights, his fighters, his television broadcaster and even the darts. Some say he does it better than anyone else. Some hate him for it. Some have even accused him of doing too much promoting (see David Haye’s Hearn rant ahead of his 2017 fight with Tony Bellew). Too much promoting? It’s like saying the man at the market stall does too much shouting.
David Higgins, meanwhile, is refreshing for the simple reason he eschews promoter clichés and is anything but predictable. Without realising, he does things that seem ridiculous but are actually quite enterprising and effective. He’s the Paulo Wanchope of promoting; the Carlos Maussa of promoting. It shouldn’t work, yet, more often than not, it does. He’s captivating to listen to in a way all promoters should be but typically aren’t. Some listen to laugh, but at least they listen. When, at a press conference, he delivers the line, “I think it’s important that I clarify a few things…” people in the vicinity react as though he has just held up a rucksack, shaken it a bit, and told everybody to hit the deck. But they remain curious all the same.
A promoter who backs his man to the hilt, Higgins is simply enjoying the ride. He’s the everyman. Someone you can root for. Best of all, Higgins, I’d suggest, is the only promoter ballsy or crazy enough to not only comment on Anthony Joshua’s weaknesses when sat five feet away from him but, if it came to that, actually trade blows with a man three times his size in the name of “factual analysis of strengths and weaknesses”. He’d do it. I know he would.
Which brings us to the main event. The real main event. Eddie Hearn vs. David Higgins. (For the purpose of selling this fight, I will refer to Eddie Hearn henceforth as Eddie Hearns, on account of that being a stronger fighting surname. David Higgins will remain as David Higgins.)
On paper, they are mismatched in every conceivable way: height, weight, reach, dress sense, hair, general suaveness. In fact, it could be argued ‘Hitman’ Hearns has cherry-picked ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and sees the New Zealander not as a legitimate rival but a valuable commodity he can utilise, someone who will bare his a**e for the benefit of the promotion and hold the pose long enough for everyone to get a decent shot. This, rest assured, is not Eddie Hearns vs. Frank Warren. This is not a grudge match. There is no beef. Instead, Hearns and Higgins, as rivals, are wonderfully compatible. When together, Hearns can keep him at bay, control him with his jab, and allow Higgins to go to work, do something unorthodox, do what he does best, but only when Hearns, the more powerful man, says it is time to do so.
Worry not, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Eddie Hearn and David Higgins in the coming weeks. While the fight they’re attempting to promote does, in a sense, sell itself, this no longer seems good enough in a time of social media, churnalism, The Gloves Are Offand pay-per-view boxing. It always needs to be bigger, better, louder, more obnoxious, more obscene. And it will be. If Joshua and Parker, low-key and likeable world heavyweight champions, can’t fathom a way to turn this crucial unification fight into something monstrous, controversial and must-see, you can bet your hard-earned £19.95 that someone will on their behalf.
It’s promotion. They are doing their job.