By Jeff Zimmerman
Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn strolled into Dallas ten days ago to kick off the Maurice Hooker (26-0-3, 17 KOs) and Jose Ramirez (24-0, 16 KOs) press tour for their Saturday, July 27th showdown at College Park Center in Arlington, TX to unify the super lightweight division, and like a true pro, he promoted the hell out of the fight for the local media in attendance. After all, Hooker is under his promotional banner and is from Dallas and this is his first fight at home as a champion.
Hooker-Ramirez is a great matchup of two undefeated fighters, however on this day, the buzz was still circulating around Hearn’s now former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and the surprising stoppage by last-minute replacement Anthony Ruiz, Jr. that occurred a couple of weeks ago at MSG in New York.
Hearn, however is no “johnny come lately” to the sport even though he is still a fairly new face to the U.S. boxing scene after signing a massive $1B deal with the streaming service DAZN. He has already been selling out huge venues like Wembley Stadium of 80,000+ in the UK for years and after all, his dad, Barry Hearn, who founded Matchroom Boxing, was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014.
Hearn, at 6’5”, is an imposing figure with Hollywood looks and a quick wit. Like most of the top promoters, he is also part politician. In fact, throw Hearn into the crowded democratic presidential field and watch him jump to top of the heap. Hearn has that kind of charisma and knows how to connect with others.
But nothing could have quite prepared him for what took place at Madison Square Garden with Ruiz’ enormous upset of Joshua and if Hearn still had a hangover from that night it was understandable. After all, this was supposed to be Joshua’s coming out party to the U.S. fight fan and at the “mecca of boxing” no less.
Hearn, though, had to quickly shift gears as he was far from the spotlight of the Big Apple and at Texas Live in Arlington, a stone’s throw away from where the Texas Rangers baseball team plays. He was promoting his WBO champion Hooker, who sits on the opposite end of the worldwide popularity spectrum from Joshua.
“It’s a great style matchup. As fans, we always want both champions to fight each other,” said Hearn. “Of course, Maurice Hooker is from Dallas and Jose Ramirez has huge Mexican support. It’s going to be a really split in the arena, College Park Center, Arlington, TX July 27.
“For a long time, I have been wanting to make this fight, but with Jose Ramirez on ESPN and Maurice Hooker on DAZN, it’s quite unusual for two champions to come together, but we got it and I can’t wait.”
Although Arlington has never been known as a fight town like Fort Worth where new hall of famer Donald Curry became champion as well as 2x champion Paulie Ayala or what Dallas has become with Hooker and of course pound-for-pound great IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., it has hosted boxing before.
“I just like this arena. I think it’s a great arena,” Hearn said. “I holds like 7,000 which I think is a perfect amount for this fight.
“I remember seeing a Crawford fight here and thought it was great. I’m excited to see it. Hopefully the town, Arlington and Dallas get behind this fight, not just because Maurice Hooker is fighting because he is from Dallas, but it’s a great fight.”
Hearn knows he has his work cut out with Hooker to reach star level.
“He has to work harder, because he hasn’t had the build,” Hearn stated. “He hasn’t had the stardom, the big promotion push from the debut, so it’s harder for him, so he has to do more outrageous things. That’s why unifying here against someone like Jose Ramirez will put him on his way.
“It is quite unusual that someone has worked from the small, local shows up. He’s one of those guys that really has got to be motivated to perform at his highest level.”
The fight with Alex Saucedo really showed Hearn what Hooker was all about.
“I was there, and it was a great night for us. I must say when he went down, I wasn’t sure he would go on to win the fight, but the way he got up was incredible and we’re excited, I believe, to see him become unified world champ on July 27th.”
Hearn sees Regis Prograis as a potential opponent for Hooker, however knows he must be on his A game against Ramirez first.
“If he beats Josh Taylor. I think you can have another unification fight there and then the winner will be undisputed,” Hearn explained. “That’s a great opportunity to make one champion in the division, which is what we all want. When he boxed Terry Flanagan in the UK, when he boxed Saucedo, that’s when you get the best out of him. And other times he may be a little bit flat. This fight will get the best of Maurice Hooker. He’s a very dangerous fighter and it’s going to be interesting to see if can come through.”
Hearn is keenly aware what Mexican fans mean to boxing.
“The Mexican fanbase is very important no matter where you are in America, Hearn said. “We saw it with Any Ruiz last weekend and July 27th is the same. Maurice Hooker is hugely popular in Dallas, but Jose Ramirez is popular to that community globally, so he is going to bring in a lot of support, so it’s a really big fight for the area.”
Hearn is bullish on where boxing is compared to the days when the “4 Kings of Boxing” of Leonard, Duran, Hagler and Hearns ruled the sport.
“What you had back then was huge coverage from individual, mega broadcasters. Now obviously it’s very fragmented, but there’s more money, more interest than ever,” said Hearn. “Obviously we are coming off the back of a huge event at MSG although Joshua didn’t win, the noise that it has created across the country has been incredible. So, it’s hot times for boxing, so we got to keep it going, we got to keep making fights the fans want to see.”
And although the Joshua’s loss is still fresh in his mind and will sting for a while, Hearn was pleased with the overall promotion.
“You always want your guys to win,” stated Hearn. “We were devastated to lose, but you always want to put on a great show and promote the sport and that was a great show, and everybody is talking about it, so we won in that respect, but we lost inside the ring, which hurts. He’s got to work hard to try and put that right.
“We knew it would be a tough fight, he was the favorite, he was supposed to win that fight. That’s why boxing is a great game, because you just never know.”
On whether there’s been any word from Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller since the fallout from the drug testing and Joshua’s first opponent before Ruiz, Hearn was quick to respond.
“Hopefully not,” Hearn smiled. “Well if he was in the ring, maybe we would have won the fight. I always said Andy Ruiz would be a tougher fight than Big Baby Miller. He is going to have to serve his time, his ban and see what happens with his career.”
Hearn also shared his thoughts on Deontay Wilder and what could have been.
“If a fighter wants to fight it generally happens,” said Hearn. Wilder’s team wouldn’t let him take that fight and now he is kicking himself. He could have made a lot of money. Maybe he could have beaten Joshua or maybe Joshua would have won. But this is why Hooker and Ramirez is a great example of that, if two fighters want to fight, they push to make it happen.”
Hearn is optimistic he can make fights with Al Haymon and others just like they are doing with Top Rank where he represents DAZN and Top Rank calls ESPN home.
“As a promoter, it’s difficult, you always want your best talent to stay with your networks,” explained Hearn. “It’s not that you’re being harsh, it’s just business. But generally, if there’s enough money, things will get done.
“If there’s enough money in Crawford against Spence, I think you will see that as well. There isn’t at the moment, I don’t think either guy is big enough to create that kind of money yet. So, I think there is more precedence now for making big fights than ever.”
Hearn happily spoke one on one to the Dallas media who got their first site of the larger than life man, who fit nicely into the Texas landscape where “everything is bigger.” He did his yeoman’s work hyping up Hooker and Ramirez and was now in a hurry to do a quick check of the venue and then head back to the scene of the crime, New York City, for another media day.
And with the site for the heavyweight rematch between Joshua and Ruiz still up in the air, perhaps Hearn sees the potential for a “new Wembley” just around the corner.
“Maybe we bring Joshua Ruiz to Dallas Cowboy Stadium (AT&T Stadium), you never know.”