Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury edges closer… but what are the pitfalls of making the big fights?

‘When Eddie first signed Anthony Joshua,’ Barry Hearn begins, ‘I would sit down occasionally with AJ and talk.’

One of their early meetings stuck in the memory. ‘People are naturally suspicious about promoters – they’re always viewed to be the bad guys, the gangsters that take all your money,’ Hearn continues.

‘AJ looked at me and said: “What do you really want out of me?”

Hearn’s response was more Al Pacino than Al Capone. ‘I want one per cent of your adrenaline,’ he told AJ. ‘I have enough money but what I don’t have is the adrenaline that goes through your body when you walk into Madison Square Garden or Wembley.’ 

Talks are ongoing to make Anthony Joshua (left) and Tyson Fury’s blockbuster fight for the undisputed heavyweight crown

Barry Hearn, who was a big boxing promoter in the 90s, revealed the sport was the most stressful he’s ever worked in

Those boxes have been ticked. Now his son Eddie is locked in talks with Tyson Fury’s co-promoters – Bob Arum and Frank Warren – over the biggest fight in British boxing history.

It moved another step closer on Monday with the news that WBO mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk is set to fight Joe Joyce next rather than pursue the shot at Joshua to which he is entitled, with the carrot that he would then face the newly-crowned unified heavyweight champion – Joshua or Fury – after that.

Among the issues still left to resolve? Whose name appears first on the poster and who has first pick of the dressing rooms. These are familiar quibbles for the small club of promoters responsible for the richest fights – and those which fall foul of torturous politricks.

‘Boxing has always been a messy, horrible business,’ Barry Hearn says. ‘I have 12 sports… boxing causes more heartbreak, more sleepless nights, more ulcers than any other.’

Here, four men who have spent a lifetime at the helm – Hearn, Arum, Warren and Kalle Sauerland – shine a light behind those boardroom doors.

Barry’s son Eddie is now locked in talks with Fury’s promoters Frank Warren (left) and Bob Arum (right) over the big fight

As Joshua’s fight with Fury edges closer, Kalle Sauerland (pictured), Warren, Arum and Hearn Snr spoke to Sportsmail about the familiar quibbles and politricks that come with making some of the richest fights in the sport

SAUERLAND: Competition is fierce but people sometimes get carried away with their own ego. The idea of a boxing promoter is no different a film producer – you are creating events with characters.

It’s a wacky sport – 50 Cent has been a promoter. People get very turned on by the idea of being a promoter, it attracts all walks of life and you see super-smart individuals fall flat on their faces. Often in boxing, 1+1 = 1.5.

So if you don’t look at it as a life, stay away. Because it can be a nasty game. But it’s also very rare to see someone leave boxing, too.

HEARN: It’s a short-term career for those that participate and other people – TV companies, sponsors – are looking for a quick return on their buck.

Cash is king and the rules haven’t changed – the business has always been messy, it’s now just messy with a lot more noughts on.

Joshua and Fury have agreed to two fights – the first, slated for the Middle East this summer, could be worth £200million. Talks continue between Joshua’s representatives (Hearn and manager Freddie Cunningham), Team Fury (Arum, Warren and management company MTK Global) and their respective broadcasters (Sky Sports/DAZN and ESPN/BT Sport). They have agreed a 50:50 financial split for fight one. But history shows that many hurdles remain.

SAUERLAND: If you want to make a deal in boxing, it’s a quick thing. You’ll often see a lot of hoo-ha and then you sit down and realise they’re sniffing but they’re not there to make a deal. They can f*** you on the date – a Canelo classic! Another classic? ‘It has to be on this network.’ But most of all, when you get an offer in writing first you know that within hours it’s going to be on the back of a newspaper or on social media. When I promoted Nikolai Valuev vs David Haye, I called (Haye’s manager) Adam Booth – who had a reputation as the Dark Lord, a very particular individual. We met in the bar of the Dorchester and over a coffee we made Haye-Valuev. So when you hear about big fights being made, don’t think that it’s so complicated.

Joshua and Fury have agreed a 50:50 split but are aligned with different TV networks and still have hurdles to overcome

Making major fights are often complicated but Sauerland revealed he made Nikolai Valuev vs David Haye in a pub over coffee

ARUM: I’ve done fights where fighters had to wear the same brand of gloves, and it fell apart because they couldn’t agree.

Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao only took five years… it was the most difficult promotion I’ve ever done – every f****** thing was an issue. For example? We were each going to get a certain amount of tickets. And they made a deal with a hotel host to get 50 more. I had to go to the majority leader of the senate – Harry Reid – to intercede!

HEARN: Every fight has its own problems and that’s why the business is so messy. It could be the manager, promoter, trainer, it can be the bloke that works in the petrol station that says to a fighter: ‘You should be on more money.’ How you know Joshua-Fury is so big is because all of that has not been significant. If they were getting £10,000 for this fight, trust me Joshua would want £8,000 of it. There will be some niggle between people that want to look more important than they are. But does anyone want to stop this fight happening? No.

These battles, often driven by ego, are not limited to the fighters, either…

SAUERLAND: For certain promoters, it’s most important that they can go first on Twitter. Others will say: I need to have my brand on every ring corner – 4in big and 9in wide. Small things, but big things for some people. I remember doing Alexander Povetkin vs Eddie Chambers with late and great Dan Goossen. We were going back and forth on the contracts – we were about $20,000 apart. I said: ‘I’ll upgrade you to the Presidential Suite and make sure you have a stretch limo.’ And that was it! I won’t say where my sweet spot is because then everyone will know. But everyone has got their thing. The good news is there’s only six of us, so we know what tickles this one and that one. It’s a little shark tank with the same sharks swimming round.

Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquaio was a notoriously difficult fight to make and took five years to become a reality

Arum said ‘everything was a f***ing issue’ and revealed he had to go to the US senate to intercede over a ticket argument

ARUM: After you’ve been at it as long as I have, you’ve seen everything. I control myself now – you don’t really accomplish anything by throwing a temper tantrum. Maybe the marijuana helps, I use it a couple of times a week. But the best thing is that I don’t get angry like I used to.

Unfortunately, there are some people who are consumed by promotion because that’s all they know. I never read about boxing. I read about philosophy and politics, I’m very active in politics. I did a lot of work to help Joe Biden become president.

HEARN: Complacency has always been the biggest killer. When Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn fought in 1990, Eubank was just a voluntary challenger for Benn’s world title. They didn’t ask for options – a rematch clause or whatever. An unthinkable sin. Bob Arum left the negotiations to others – again dreadful complacency.

I kept waiting for someone to notice. I’ve seen promoters go into dressing rooms, the kid will have gloves on and they’ll say: ‘Take the glove off and sign the options or you’re not having the fight.’ It never happened and as the bell went, I looked at Bob and said: ‘You know you’re f*****?’

He said: ‘Why?’ I said: ‘You’ve got no options mate!’

It’s just a little per cent of your brain doesn’t dot every i, cross every t. I do it again and again and again – that’s in my nature as an accountant.

Rivalry between warring promoters can become particularly messy when one tries to lure a fighter to switch sides…

SAUERLAND: Promoters have cockroach farms. They obviously have to be presentable enough – a suit, tie, nice watch, fancy car – and they are sent to gyms to put their message out.

That’s where boxing gets nasty. You have to work out: what are you working on at the moment that they can f*** up?

To make the biggest fights, rival promoters must often work together. Hearn and Warren have never shared a proper conversation. But few have ruffled feathers like Don King…

Promoters have to find a way to work with each and one of the problems in making AJ vs Fury will be that their promoters Eddie Hearn (pictured above) and Frank Warren have a sour relationship and have never had a conversation

All agree that no one could be as ruthless and hard to work with as Tyson’s infamous ex-promoter Don King (second right)

ARUM: King could be vicious. Other promoters, if you have £100, we’d figure a way to divide it in an equitable way. You’d be lucky if King only wanted 99. It was a different philosophy – grab, grab, grab.

HEARN: He doesn’t have a brain on the same wavelength as any other businessmen I’ve ever met. He sometimes has demands that are completely unachievable on this planet… and he wants all the money.

I remember him saying: ‘Barry, you don’t seriously think I’m going to take less out of this fight than my fighter?’

ARUM: King was essentially too smart for himself – he felt he was the smartest guy in the world. If you think that, you never surround yourself with people and give them real authority. That was his downfall – he only surrounded himself with yes men.

SAUERLAND: I remember being at dinner with him. Barack Obama had just won the right to go for the presidency. And Don was one of his biggest funders. He said: ‘I’m going to call Barack.’

We were in a nice restaurant in Berlin and five minutes later, Barack Obama was on loudspeaker… I’m like: ‘What the f***?’

But the best story of all? Valuev was fighting Jameel McCline in Switzerland and the Swiss knew nothing about boxing.

In the third round, McCline goes down – he’d torn ligaments in his knee. I know it straightway – the fight’s over. I can’t believe this has just happened.

Don stood up: ‘Amazing!’ All you can hear is Don with his flags.

All the journalists are straight to him – he sucks them up likes flies to s***.

He said: ‘Did you see it? The phantom punch from Russia with Loooove! You got to look at the punch back, he hits him and it takes time for it to take that effect.’

I swear to you, Neue Zürcher Zeitung – a conservative broadsheet – their headline the next day? ‘From Russia with love’.

Only once contracts are signed does attention turn to selling the fight.

SAUERLAND: I’m there to provide a platform, to create interest in the fighter. But the fighter also needs to be authentic and get that message out. Some very talented boxers simply can’t crack that nut.

ARUM: Muhammad Ali was a genius. He taught me that whatever adversity you face, use it to promote the event.

When he first fought Leon Spinks, the press was ferocious: ‘It’s a mismatch!’ So Ali took a vow of silence. It became a game and the big story of the fight. The week before the fight he said: ‘I’m finished…’ the press were so grateful to get a word out of his mouth that they didn’t attack the fight. It’s got a huge audience and guess what? Spinks won.

I’m working on a theme for Joshua-Fury. It takes a lot of time. People, particularly in the US, aren’t as aware of the travellers as in the UK or Europe. The whole essence of being a traveller and how they’re bound to each other. We got a taste of it through Peaky Blinders and that story – I’m wrestling with this – of the travellers, and this King of the Travellers. There’s something there that I think I can use.

Arum (centre) revealed he learned from some tricks of the trade on how to sell a fight from the great Muhammad Ali (right)

Frank Warren said he used ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed’s brashness and moved him into magazines and TV to grow his fanbase

WARREN: When I signed ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed, I made my mind up to promote him in a different way – get him out to kids.

At the time, the Ninja Turtles were around and my kids – all kids in those days – were into it. So I moved him into kids’ magazines and television. He was a brash kid, he had an attitude and then suddenly the dads were talking about him.

Another time, we did a gun amnesty in Manchester with the police. We made some tickets available for people who brought guns. I did similar in Albuquerque and fans brought something like 2-3,000 guns. It was great for promotions but also did a service.

HEARN: Promotion is about the creation of personalities. That is really an art form.

(Snooker icon) Steve Davis is my greatest example. Absolutely zero personality, no charisma, boring as hell. How do you sell that? Make him boringly reliable – accentuate the lack of personality to develop a personality. That is a technique that very few people can use. It was probably my greatest gift and remains so. Look at us as an advertising agency as well as a boxing promoter. We’re trying to sell a product for the most money, to the most people. The people that stand out are becoming rarer and rarer – the standards are so high that you can commit to it at the expense of your personality. But boxing is jam-packed with personalities. In my wildest dreams could I invent a Tyson Fury?

Joshua-Fury couldn’t have a bigger or better mixture of characters. I don’t want to be disrespectful to my son, but my dog could sell this fight.

Promoters must also work with colourful and volatile characters. Warren was shot in 1989. In 2000, he brought Mike Tyson over for two fights on these shores…

Promoters have to work with volatile characters – and Mike Tyson caused Warren a headache when he brought him to the UK

Barry Hearn stressed that promoting is about creating personalities but said that Fury and Joshua have bags of it already

WARREN: The first fight really went well but while here he went on a jewellery buying spree (over £2.5m). He didn’t pay for it and that caused a big problem. When he came back that problem got worse – he was a different person, an a***hole. He was used to getting his own way all the time. It was his way or no way.

The first time we wanted to take him out of the back of the airport. The police refused and it was like The Beatles had landed.

The second time the police said he had to go out the back door. He got p***ed about that and everything just went downhill from there.

It all led to a confrontation between me and him. There were stories that I’d been hung out of a window, that I had broken ribs, a broken jaw. All rubbish.

HEARN: Chris Eubank got circumcised three days before a world title defence. He wouldn’t allow them to use any drugs, and had a local anaesthetic for a major operation. His practical reason was: I don’t have any sex for a fortnight before a fight – ‘sex drains the legs’ is the theory. I said: ‘You are crazy!’ He said: ‘Bazza, for what you’re paying me, I’d go in there with one arm… I know you’re worried about me failing a drugs test.’ I was thinking about the pain of taking body shots three days after a circumcision! He looked at me as if I was completely mad. I was stuffing tissues down the front of his protector on the night. It went 12 rounds and every time he took a low blow, I winced. Not him.

Despite all their best efforts, promoters never stray too far from disaster…

WARREN: My very first show, six o’clock at night, somebody told us we didn’t have any gloves. There was a real bum rush and eventually Ernie Fossey – a good friend of mine who became my matchmaker – brought a big suitcase down.

But even when the fights do get made, promoters are never too far away from disaster… Barry Hearn revealed that he was terrified about one of Chris Eubank’s world title defences when he decided to get circumcised three days before the fight

Sauerland said he also had to pay Brian Nielsen (left) early to get a new knee weeks before his fight with Evander Holyfield

SAUERLAND: We’ve had the corner chairs missing – I think every promoter’s had that one. Another classic is ice. not for the cocktails, for the corners!

One really bad one. I promoted Evander Holyfield’s fight against ‘Super’ Brian Nielsen in Denmark – a big, fat sailor type who went two rounds with Tyson. The undercard attraction? Do you remember the song by Aqua, ‘Barbie Girl’? The bald fella – ‘Let’s go Barbie, let’s go party’. That guy against Stig Tofting – he used to play at Everton, a great guy but a lunatic with his fists. I gave Nielsen a big advance because he needed to sort his knees out – he had stiff joints. His agent then said: ‘Brian didn’t really want to just clean them out. So we decided on a knee replacement.’ I said: ‘He’s fighting Evander f****** Holyfield in nine weeks’ time!’ The fight got pushed back luckily but third round, bosh, he’s gone down. It must have been the supersonic knees, he jumped up like he was 21 years old. He fought the fight of his life and it was all good. But I can feel the sweat around my collar again.

Between them, these promoters have had to stay relevant as the world around them has changed…

WARREN: When I first got involved, there was no live boxing on TV, only the main event had music and it was normally some scratchy trumpet fanfare… we changed all that – ring entrances, advertising on the canvas and the ring posts. Even round-card girls.

ARUM: When Ali was fighting, or George Foreman, or Oscar De La Hoya we didn’t have social media. So we had a big staff of publicists and every newspaper in the United States had a boxing writer. Now, when I tell somebody: ‘S*** we haven’t got an article in this paper or that paper’ they laugh. They say: ‘No, we’ve got so many hits on social media.’ We have, I think, an eight-person social media department. That’s how you sell now.

HEARN: The fighters are the governors now – they see every contract and ticket stub. Carl Froch used to spend a week going through the paperwork – he would look at every single invoice. 

He phoned us up once – I think for the second George Groves fight – about a fighter on the undercard.

Groves sent the papers to his accountant, they said it’s okay, he got paid. Froch did it himself. ‘He’s had a cleaning bill for £14.50? That’s out of order.’ I said: ‘You’ve just earnt over £7m and you’re querying £14.50? If it’s a problem, I’ll pay.’ He said: ‘No, no no. But it’s not right is it?’ It’s a different world.

The art of promoting has changed as there was no such thing as social media when Arum had Oscar De La Hoya (right)

Hearn says the fighters are the governors now and revealed Carl Froch used to go through every contract and ticket stub


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