Barry Hearn Said What?

By Johnathan Lee Iverson on May 1, 2019
Barry Hearn Said What?
“Matchroom Sport has a fight by fight arrangement with Dillian Whyte. Isn’t that weird?”

“When I was running boxing, it was much easier,” Hearn said, as Whyte giggled nervously. “We were slave traders!”

In the standup classic, Delirious, Eddie Murphy performs a hysterical bit in which he impersonates his father at the family barbecue. He’s drunk, territorial, and brutally honest as he excoriates his family members. The bit is legendary, as most great comic bits are, because in them rest an almost universally relatable truth. Most have that one family member whose unadulterated candor distresses others within the family while eviscerating their facades. Some may call it raw, even crude, but no one will ever call it dishonest.

Barry Hearn, the legendary sports promoter and founder and chairman of Matchroom Sport was recently on hand to announce what promises to be an explosive heavyweight showdown, this July 20th at London’s popular O2 Arena, Dillian “The Body Snatcher” Whyte (25-1, 18 KOs) vs. Oscar “Kaboom” Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs). From the outset, Hearn’s personality and promotional gab were clearly the most dominate feature of the entire press conference. Witty and unfiltered he laid out a rather unapologetic assessment of the sport of boxing as he sees it, even taking a jab at lineal heavyweight champion, Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury in the process, for his next bout against Tom Schwarz. “Tyson Fury is the best gypsy boxer in the world, isn’t he? The king of the gypsies who’ll fight any man whatsoever? Ah, his next opponent’s ranked number 93 with BoxRec,” said Hearn.

Not only was the elder Hearn entertaining, but insightful. “The days of the casual fan have replaced the days of the traditional fan. You look around the crowd and you see an entirely different demographic now,” said Hearn. His ears are clearly to the ground and he is keenly aware of the shifting dynamics of broadcasting the sport. “What we’ve seen is the emergence in America of a three-way, to the death fight-out—a shootout, amongst broadcasters to perhaps dominate professional boxing, in particular the heavyweight division,” he said. “On the one side, obviously PBC and Al Haymon, next…ESPN and their Disney money. Then DAZN, the new streaming service making waves around the world.” So, where does this leave Sky Sports?

“In any business you need supply and demand. We have the demand!” declared Barry Hearn. “A few people come, a few people try, no one has the sustainability or the resource to outcompete with Sky Television nor can they outcompete with Matchroom Sport. We’re a different type of company. We’re long-term players.”

However, amidst the candor and jovial commentary, despite an otherwise superior performance, the figurative drunk uncle managed to stumble in and nearly crash the festivities. “Matchroom Sport has a fight by fight arrangement with Dillian Whyte. Isn’t that weird?” he asked rhetorically. “He’s not tied up like the slave contractor of yesteryear. When I was running boxing, it was much easier,” he continued, as Whyte giggled nervously. “We were slave traders! We had these guys and they were working for us and we was the boss. The pendulum has swung. Now I have to say, ‘Mr. Dillian Whyte.’ I have to be respectful.” Hearn smiled, as Whyte continued to giggle nervously.

Comments such as these extracted a part from the entirety of the actual press conference, likely come across as bigoted, particularly to those who are uninitiated in and around the sport of boxing. The culture in which we live where outrage is currency and lives and reputations are mangled beyond repair, due to a sound bite would call for cyber blood. Yet, sound bite intellectualism short-changes all concerned and serves no purpose but to fuel premature and uninformed reactions. Admittedly, my first encounter with Barry Hearn’s comments was via a tweet. Almost instinctively my stomach turned and my blood began to boil, as it seemed to be the case for those commenting on the tweet. When you’re a part of a group of people who experience an almost never-ending assault to their existence, no one in their right mind would question such a reaction. However, I had an added advantage that most tweeting did not. I know a thing or two about the culture of the sport of boxing. Therefore, as I allowed my blood pressure to lower I decided to watch the entire press conference or at least a healthy portion of it.

All are entitled to their opinion on the matter, but as for me, as crude as it may have come across, as burdensome as it was to hear a reference to slavery with strapping black men present, black men who are preparing to brutalize one another for our entertainment, there simply was no lie to be found. As off-putting as those comments may have been, I defy anyone associated with or a studied fan of the sport to say, it ain’t so. The real surprise is to hear a promoter actually admit it. I have yet to watch a documentary or stage show featuring heavyweight legend, Mike Tyson, in which Don King isn’t referred to as the lowest, most vile forms of living organisms. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. once referred to a $12M, six-fight deal with HBO Boxing as a “slave contract,” not his association with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions. This might explain Mayweather’s tendency to flaunt his liberty, along with a few dollars. Perhaps, it’s the optics of a white male saying what we all know to be the reality in the sport whose participants are overwhelmingly people of color. However, we all should be mature enough to accept the truth, no matter who says it, even if it’s the drunken uncle.

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  1. tlig 04:25am, 05/11/2019

    Mayweather didn’t routinely refer to his Arum association as a slave contract. He compared an HBO offer to him of $12.5m to one Naseem Hamed received from the same broadcaster (reportedly $48m) and concluded it was a slave contract. A foolish thing to say at the time and one that garnered enough bad publicity for him to not repeat it again in public. I’m not amongst those criticising the senior Hearns as I personally didn’t see anything wrong in what he said, but you need to get your facts right. Cheers

  2. Bruce Kielty 09:09am, 05/04/2019

    This article is one of the many reasons that boxing.com is on my must-read agenda.  There is substance given to the issues, not just fluff or pr crap.

  3. The Tache 06:45am, 05/04/2019

    Fair enough, but I still believe the word slavery is not so loaded in the UK. For example, a common saying is ‘what did your last slave die of’ meaning do something yourself rather than me doing it for you. It doesn’t (for most people) automatically get related back to the slave trade, plantations etc.

  4. The Barker 01:37pm, 05/03/2019

    @The Tache, I can assure you Lennox Lewis doesn’t see it that way.

  5. The Tache 04:11am, 05/03/2019

    You have to remember that Britain doesn’t have the same history of slave owning that America does. Britain’s slaves were all in the colonies so the average man would have no knowledge or interest in the whole affair. Therefore the word is not so loaded over here. Sure, it will trigger the leftist media and twitter but when Hearn says boxers were like slaves he means all boxers, not just the black ones. Besides, if it wasn’t for Jamaica being a former colony then Whyte wouldn’t have been able to emigrate to Britain so easily anyway.