At some future point, I'll likely bow away from boxing writing for a period of time (so long as my health permits me to go back to the wider world). I don't want to leave these warriors and hustlers forever, but I never intended to stick to this topic exclusively anyway.
You know Danny McBride, former star of HBO's "Eastbound & Down" and "Vice Principals"?
I reviewed his first movie (you've likely never seen it) 11 and a half years ago -- was a short review and not particularly well-written, but that's not the point (nor is the fact that on Metacritic I was the most negative reviewer of the 22, just barely edging out the Chicago Tribune's writer, a ranking of which I'm proud).
That said, some boxing people are more soulful and understanding of each other than anyone outside the boxing bubble. There's tremendous love here (its counterpart is perhaps desperation) -- maybe not enough to overcome the darkness but enough to make an exit uneasy.
I am an intermittently happy captive. Perhaps that describes you also.
And of course, I always knew boxing was a murky biz. But this is a helluva morass these days, even if it's not of historic proportion (putting aside the ultimate tragedies fighting can lead to -- because this ain't even about that).
It's about Eddie Hearn, the Matchroom Boxing promoter (read, beneficiary of a father's lucrative darts business) -- who may better me by a single inch in height but seems to fall ever shorter when it comes to morality.
Credit here to writer Paul Magno for discussing some of the following first.
Sure, Hearn let Dillian Whyte fight despite the heavyweight failing a doping test, putting the opponent's life at risk.
Sure, Hearn is taking Saudi money without even addressing the whitewashing of the Khashoggi killing -- except to complain that he's being singled out unfairly, and hey, you Writer, why didn't you effing cry foul during the Formula E races and the WWE events?
(Of course, moral people did do just that -- John Oliver ripped WWE for taking the Kingdom's bloody-money for an event called "Crown Jewel" just after the murder; also, I've said this before but it bears repeating: the Matchroom Boxing-DAZN heavyweight fight is not a different entity than the WWE shows or the Formula E races.
The sports events in Saudi Arabia are all handled by a marketing firm called Hill+Knowlton. They signed a deal in 2018 with Saudi Arabia essentially to stage all these events. They bring entities on board with a single game plan (put Westerners on the stage, hide the saws and hydrochloric acid). Hearn's event isn't disparate and deserves the same scorn John Oliver had for the WWE's move.
Also, one more quickie -- why does Hill+Knowlton think that having its own in-house "writer" pen an article about the match will make it seem normal? How fucking condescending is that -- the presumption that we readers won't know the difference between advertisement and journalism? And if we do fail these days to make that distinction, how awful, then, for this team of marketing hacks to further the cause of misinformation, to muddy these turbid waters more with faux-articles (#AgitProp)?)
And now, for the reason Eddie Hearn is getting it -- one he actually cited long before I began writing this, in an interview earlier this year with Gareth Davies, whom I enjoy bantering with at fights, even if that's an implicit endorsement of his wardrobe and mien (kidding, GAD, mostly).
"I grew up thinking I was a hard nut, and in Brentwood School I was," Hearn said. "Anywhere else I was a pansy."
Fast-forward to fall 2019:
Hearn trying to retain an opponent in Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. who won't take a drug test and then defying America's foremost fight commission in Nevada by trying to move the fight and retain the opponent.
His announcing loudly on video that if you get good numbers -- readers, viewers, sperm count -- whatever -- he'll pay for your hotel room and transport in exchange for your coverage -- the same way he has with ESPN's Dan Rafael (per Eddie's own smug words) -- not only are these bizarrely candid admissions, they're quite possibly suggestions of violations of America's Muhammad Ali act (we need better legislation and a national commission, but that's the law we have for now, so we might as well enforce it).
When record companies paid radio hosts to spin their tracks -- or rather, when that practice finally came to the attention of Congress in 1959 -- a House Subcommittee opened a governmental investigation that took years. And here we have Hearn smiling his ass off, admiring his own dimples (though he can't see 'em he knows they're there), telling the world essentially what Congress had to pry loose from his musical counterparts with difficulty.
That he's an incorrigible grifter-gifter of previously undeclared and probably illicit encouragement.
(That said, if he's going to continue offering these handouts, he's right: the writers have to learn to say no. It's ultimately on them.)
And for the record, I've had lunches on promoters (and tried to disclose as much whenever necessary). At a dinner some years back, I insisted on paying but had the check snatched from my hand by a drunk promotional outfit person (it's a good story for another time).
I've taken lots of freebies -- I love the Moleskine notebook the World Boxing Super Series handed out.
But obviously, as in the case of declaring items at customs, there are certain lines drawn and accepted. Some things can be taken if declared. And some things can't be brought into a country period.
What I know for sure is that only a few types of people would proactively pronounce their smarminess -- an evil, irrational dude, a dummy, and a prince. I dunno Eddie well, but I'm gonna say he's the third -- the guy who always got by. Or in his own words: "I grew up thinking I was a hard nut, and in Brentwood School I was."
I've no personal animus. But right now, I'm tired of people doing bad things and conceding as much without repercussion. That's Trumpian, and it's time for my very modest bi-annual rebellion.
Staying with Eddie:
His senior partner -- DAZN and Matchroom being basically a merged company right now -- and no, Eddie never disclosed ownership stakes in anything -- is Len Blavatnik, a notorious oligarch whose wealth stems from the privatization of Soviet public companies and also the plundering of Kazakhstan's money (literally).
Len Blavatnik and his brother, Alex, both have opened off-shore firms (where they've likely stored some not-so-allowed items, but I can't say that for sure, of course). Len opened a firm in the Cayman Islands and Alex chose the Bahamas.
But here's the fun part of digging into even the richest and most powerful dudes: they're still human to a hilarious fault.
The Cayman firm Len opened 21 years ago (he has since closed it) was named "ZZZ-El Porteño." I still can't tell you what the sleeping Z's were about, but "porteño" means a man from Buenos Aires -- its usage apt because one of Len's Cayman partners, real estate developer Alan Faena, does indeed hail from Buenos Aires.
Also, Faena insists on wearing white nearly always. It's pretty amazing.
To repeat -- I can't tell you what's in Len's account nor can I say why Eddie -- whom I'd love to have a heart to heart with, honestly, if he'd be down for that, so we can see each other as humans and not antagonists, so I can try to understand him and vice-versa -- has chosen this past week to announce that rules are for suckers.
He isn't wrong -- rules are for suckers far too often in the end. There's still tremendous nobility in working to apply them in every case, though. You never know which one might end up rewarding the little guy -- the honest one.
And obviously, this DAZN discussion is just a small part of a wider boxing issue. We be some dirty folks -- myself included. Do you have any idea how many fragrances I stole from the Esquire fashion closet in the summer of 2005?
The origins of MTK are more problematic than I know how to handle.
Rising featherweight Mick Conlan seemingly opened a corporation in Malta just after turning professional in 2016. Maybe that's used for good -- maybe not -- I don't know.
But speaking of that Faena-colored edifice in which Orange Baby resides: Some days you feel like it's enough. No more crooks, no more sleaze -- not without some reply in some way.
Come at me, Brentwood. Maybe we can emerge better -- both of us -- for having had it out (verbally).