Promoter Eddie Hearn admits mistakes were made ahead of Conor Benn vs. Chris Eubank Jnr, but believes his fighter is innocent, writes Elliot Worsell
IT hasn’t been the best month – or, for that matter, couple of months – for promoter Eddie Hearn, though he has had worse times in boxing, he will tell you.
One of those times was when he received a phone call from Robert Smith (of the British Boxing Board of Control) telling him there had been an adverse finding on a Dillian Whyte pre-fight drug test ahead of Whyte’s July 2019 bout against Oscar Rivas. No good time for that, Hearn was, at the moment of the call, on his way to the press conference to do what he does best: sell a fight he now had every reason to believe was in the balance.
Another rotten time for Hearn was when he received news that Jarrell Miller had essentially collected every performance-enhancing drug on the market and proceeded to inject them into every available part of his body before a June 2019 world heavyweight title fight against Anthony Joshua. No good time for that sort of news, either, Hearn, when the call arrived, was celebrating selling out Madison Square Garden and duly preparing for the launch of what he believed would be a fruitful journey for Anthony Joshua in the United States of America.
It’s only Hearn’s experience in these situations – a sad indictment in itself – that allows the promoter to sit here today and call his experience with Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jnr only the third worst time he has had so far in boxing. Five years ago, he says, he may have crumbled beneath the pressure and the criticism and all the decision-making involved. But now, having been here before (if a little differently), he is not only prepared for every eventuality, but also comforted somewhat by the fickle, ever-changing nature of these so-called controversies and black eyes.
While today deemed a villain, Hearn knows things will inevitably shift and soften, both for himself and perhaps Conor Benn.
“The problem he faces now is the same problem he faced when he was in my office (explaining himself),” Hearn told Boxing News on Wednesday. “Whichever way you want to look at it, trace elements (of clomiphene) were found in you. You have to deal with the consequences.
“Ultimately, despite all the ways out he had, he wasn’t prepared to take them – whereas many people would. Anyone who is cheating would either come clean or come up with an excuse as to why that (an adverse finding) happened.
“I believe him. Call me a mug or whatever, but I believe him. I believe somehow it has got in his system without him knowing. I’ve no doubt about that. But, unfortunately, it’s still in his system. As an athlete, it doesn’t matter. It’s still your responsibility.”
Under normal circumstances it would seem unfair to haul the parent in front of the teachers and question them regarding their role in their son’s alleged cheating during an exam. He, after all, was not the one cheating. He didn’t feed him the answers via some sort of wire, nor did he complete the test on his son’s behalf. Yet in this scenario, by virtue of the father telling his son that everything would be okay and that he didn’t, in his view, do anything wrong, there is a greater need, I suppose, for the father to at least be reminded of the way things should be.
That’s not to say Hearn himself was in the wrong, by the way. Morally, you can certainly make the argument, and indeed he will say this argument was the thing that in the end led to the decision to cancel the Benn vs. Eubank Jnr fight on Thursday, October 6. But if you remove from the situation any moral responsibility – and let’s face it, this is boxing – there is an argument to be had, and one Hearn makes with conviction, that he played by the rules (as ridiculous as they may seem) and did nothing wrong at all.
Recounting the events, Hearn said, “We got the result (of Benn’s failed September 1 Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency test), Kalle Sauerland (Eubank Jnr’s promoter) got the result, and the British Boxing Board of Control got the result. From there, we have all the conversations: Sauerland and Eubank Jnr want to know all the information and we have to get a detailed analysis from the lab. We want to know the levels. We want to know this and this.
“I speak to Robert Smith who ultimately says the Board don’t recognise VADA. There was also a UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) test pending which we hadn’t had the results for. It was actually around the same time as that (VADA) test. But VADA’s test came back first. We had to say to Robert Smith, ‘You need to expedite that UKAD test because the argument that he passed all his UKAD tests really doesn’t sit if we don’t get the results back of that test before the fight.’
“From there, all the information from the lab is received and shared with Sauerland and Eubank Jnr and their doctor. The doctor basically says there is no way what is in his (Benn’s) system is in any way performance-enhancing. At that point Chris Eubank Jnr has the right to terminate the agreement. There are two ways this fight can get terminated. One: Chris Eubank Jnr or Wasserman (Eubank Jnr’s promoter) can terminate the agreement. Two: The Board choose not to sanction the fight.
“We speak to Team Eubank Jnr, we get Conor Benn in, and there’s a big furore, tears and everything. They come back and say, ‘We’re prepared to fight.’ I say to Robert Smith, ‘Just to let you know, all the parties have discussed this, and because of the levels and all the science, they’re prepared to proceed. Ultimately, what are you going to do?’”
“In our situation I would much rather have a hearing and get cleared to fight. It almost covers us. No one can moan because you’ve had a hearing and he’s been cleared to fight. So Robert Smith says, ‘He’s with UKAD, and we don’t really take note of VADA.’ Okay, well let’s chase up the UKAD results. We must get that result because that is key.”
After that came the silence. Left not knowing what the Board were going to do, Hearn and everyone else involved in the drama behaved as they would if everything had been normal, as planned. Discomfort was an emotion shared by all.
“On the UKAD test, we find out that the Board received those results about five or six days before they decided not to sanction the fight and didn’t share it with us,” Hearn said. “I’m not saying they had to, by the way. UKAD’s confidentiality is completely different. They don’t have to tell you when you’ve passed a test. They only alert you when you’ve failed a test.
“When the Board decided not to sanction the fight we went to the Board and said, ‘Well, we need to get this UKAD test result. I don’t understand why it has taken so long.’ Then they came back and said, ‘Oh, we got it last week and it was negative.’
“Now that’s quite a key part of Conor Benn’s defence. So seven days later (after failing a test with VADA) he was negative on a test from your governing body. We’re trying to build a story and a case of what’s actually happened here.”
Hearn continued: “After going quiet for five or six days, they came out on the Tuesday night and made their decision. It’s sent to us Wednesday morning and all of a sudden we’re like, ‘Okay, wow.’
“Ultimately, I just feel the Board should have acted quicker or they should have had a hearing to determine whether Conor could fight or not.”
Regardless, with the Board slow to prohibit it but prohibiting it all the same, the fight should have been pulled and the episode should have been over. Yet, so grey were the areas involved, and so great was the apparent need for the fight to go ahead, it wasn’t pulled – at least not immediately. Instead, what we had for a period of about 24 hours was the somewhat terrifying prospect of a fight proceeding with one of the two fighters involved having failed a performance-enhancing drug test, simply because the two fighters still wanted to fight and there was a large sum of money to be made and split from said fight.
It was around that time the story became more than just another in a long line of stories about boxers who failed a performance-enhancing drug test during training. Now it was a story about the price boxers – and, yes, promoters – were willing to pay to ensure a fight still went ahead.
“We’re on the way to the media workout and an hour before, after speaking to the Board during two weeks of uncertainty, we get the letter from the Board and half an hour after that Riath (Al-Samarrai, whose story in the Daily Mail brought the situation to the public’s attention) puts out his article,” Hearn explained. “At that point I speak to Kalle Sauerland and Team Eubank Jnr say, ‘We’re comfortable to proceed with the bout.’
“The Board have f**ked around, they’ve not told us about the UKAD result, and we’ve got a couple of options here.
“The only decision I had to make was whether or not to challenge this in a court of law via an injunction. And a decision was made not to. I thought it was a bad look.”
This look only got uglier, too, with the passing of time. It got uglier for Benn, the man under scrutiny, and it got uglier for Hearn, the promoter many felt was trying to exploit loopholes in order to promote a now-tainted fight.
“I could have kept this fight on, easily,” he said, a statement not to be confused with a boast. “When the Board make their decision, we have to look at the alternatives. I do regret, probably…. because I was extremely pissed off with how the Board handled it, over a period of probably seven or eight hours I was thinking, What do we do in this situation? In terms of an injunction, I spoke to the lawyers and they said, ‘You win easily. He passed a UKAD test.’ If not that, we could go for another commission, which is something I didn’t want to do.
“Ultimately it was decided that evening, by me, that we were not going to proceed with the bout. We had a meeting in the Wasserman office until about midnight and we basically decided it then.
“It cost us a million quid – and the profits from it (the event). There was no pressure from DAZN (the fight’s broadcaster), though. Absolutely not. The information was shared with them, because they were our partners on the show, and it was the same: let it go through the process with the Board and let us know.”
And that’s what happened. It went through a process, the Board made their decision, and the fight was dragged kicking and screaming down a back alley, where by then it belonged, and eventually, like an incapacitated deer, put out of its misery.
“If the Board had sanctioned it, and both fighters were happy to proceed on the scientific evidence, it would have gone ahead,” Hearn said. “But we put it in the hands of the Board. That’s why you have a governing body.
“In that instance, contractually, I can’t cancel the fight. The only person who can is Chris Eubank Jnr. In the event of an adverse finding, he’s got the right to terminate (with no compensation). The only other reason the fight can’t take place is that the Board, who have all the information from VADA testing, decide it shouldn’t take place.
“I don’t think the Board made the wrong decision. The way they made the decision, though, certainly affected the damages we incurred.”
Despite accusations that Hearn has been ducking tough questions, or lining up softballs, if you look beyond the ready meals served up to you by a social media or YouTube algorithm, you will find otherwise. On Wednesday, for example, when sitting down with a handful of boxing writers, he answered every question asked of him, not many of which could be considered softballs. It is important to note, too, that while it is assumed every promoter in his position would have acted exactly as Hearn did during that infamous week in early October, few would have been as willing to then be as visible and candid as he has been in the aftermath. Whether he has been completely honest is another matter. Only he will know that. But one thing you can never accuse him of is hiding, or sulking, or either blacklisting or simply ignoring reporters who ask him challenging questions.
Maybe it’s Hearn’s approachable nature, combined with a love of his own voice, that allows interviewers to feel safe in his presence; safe, that is, to ask questions he might not like. But, whatever is, there are many less accommodating characters in boxing whose petulance lets them get away with avoiding the PED-related questions they should have been forced to answer years ago.