Fireworks, light shows and a view of London will form the backdrop to Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn’s return to boxing — all from a garden in Essex, England.
As well as the intention to add some glitz to four boxing shows without fans at the cost of £1 million in production costs, Hearn’s decision to hold his events outdoors was driven by practical reasons in a coronavirus-impacted world.
“I feel so much more comfortable doing it outside rather than in a small studio with people sweating and bleeding, PPE or no PPE — it’s a very different feel to it outside,” Hearn said on a recent Zoom conference call.
When thinking about where to host four five-bout events without crowds called “Fight Camp,” Hearn looked no further than the garden of the Matchroom headquarters in Brentwood, Essex. It was also the back garden of the house where Hearn grew up before it was made Matchroom’s headquarters. Since July 24, it has been turned into a temporary COVID-19-secure sports venue.
It’s not Madison Square Garden, the iconic New York fight venue, but Hearn’s own garden venue will host some big fights in August. On Aug. 22, heavyweights Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin meet in a clash that will decide who goes on to face either Tyson Fury — the WBC champion — or Deontay Wilder early in 2021. On the same night, there is an excellent rematch between women’s undisputed world lightweight champion Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon.
Hearn’s first event at the temporary, purpose-built venue on Aug. 1 is headlined by the super welterweight 12-rounder between Sam Eggington and Ted Cheeseman and the promoter hopes it will be “a spectacle” different from previous live boxing events staged in television studios in the U.S. and UK in June and July.
“I’m just not mad on the studio stuff; I was very concerned about the ratings,” said Hearn, whose company is also due to stage an outdoor event in the financial district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Aug. 15 when the main event will be undisputed champion Cecilia Braekhus against Jessica McCaskill.
“We will see what we can deliver for Fight Camp. The whole idea of what I’m trying to deliver is get people excited about the surroundings, environment, and get them intrigued to tune in. It’s not easy. I’m a real non-believer in studio boxing, I don’t think it works and I hope we can bring a different spectacle.”
Frank Smith, CEO of Matchroom Boxing, said that despite all the new COVID-19 regulations, he has found the garden easier than other venues the company has worked with in the UK, which have included Wembley Stadium and the O2 Arena in London, and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
“It’s been fun doing something different,” Smith told ESPN. “It’s actually been a bit easier than going to a venue because we can create exactly what we want on our own doorstep, we don’t have to fit to a pre-existing building and we can make it how the British Boxing Board of Control want.
“The house is out of use during the period of the show, everything we need for the show is being built. The TV production area and changing rooms have been built outside in the garden. We have had to produce facilities where all the lighting and pyrotechnics guys will be. They will be temporary structures and the building started on July 24. When they are done, the venue will be sealed off.
“We have quite a bit of land around the offices to put on a spectacular evening. It will not go dark until 9.30 p.m. so the fireworks are really for the main event. We are putting together big light shows to make it look as good as possible and rather than in a studio where you are restricted by what you can do there. You can see Canary Wharf one way, and the other way where we are filming towards is the house. We’re on top of a hill so it’s a good vantage point, but we are open to the wind and the elements.”
If there is poor weather it will make it challenging for organizers on the night, and it’s not been cheap. Smith reckons production will cost £1m over the four events, and no promoter without a television contract can think of doing something like this.
“It’s a sizeable investment, but it’s what is needed to keep it going,” Smith added.
All the boxers and their teams will stay at a nearby hotel (up to 120 rooms at one time), where there will be a purpose-built gym.
“We have got a structure at the hotel down the road where the boxers can train. We have got a gym and ring there at the hotel too,” Smith said. “It’s cleaned after each session of someone using it and they have to book a slot.
“They are then tested again when they arrive at the Fight Camp. We are testing around 100-120 people each week. We also have areas or zones of the venue where people can be without being tested [outside of the eight-metre zone around the ring]. The company that is doing the coronavirus testing for the Premier League is doing the testing for us, too.”
Matchroom’s first garden event will follow three five-bout shows held at a television studio in east London in July by Hearn’s British rival Frank Warren.
“Our outdoor space is a big advantage and t,hat’s why the British Boxing Board of Control were happy with us because when it’s outdoors it reduces the risk of infection,” Smith said. “The TV people, about 40 of them, will not even see people at the event space because they are the other end of the field. We have restricted our numbers. We have 18 staff in the UK office and eight or nine of them will be attending the show.”
Hearn is keeping a close eye on the weather apps while also hoping for no positive coronavirus tests.
“There could be some rain, there could be some disruption,” Hearn said. “There’s no way everything is going to be easy for us but that’s part of the buzz.
“If we wanted it easy we would have done it in a TV studio and done it low-key. It’s such a big opportunity for Ted and Sam because it will be doing huge [TV] numbers. It’s going to be strange, exciting and nerve-wracking.”