Promoter Eddie Hearn says his new partnership with Abu Dhabi will encompass multiple boxing events in the capital each year, with the sport’s most prominent stars such as Saul “Canelo” Alvarez or Anthony Joshua potentially competing in the capital.
A long-term collaboration was this week announced between Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, which kicks off in November with the world title bout between WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol and mandatory challenger Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez. Both fighters are undefeated, with Bivol 20-0 and Ramirez 44-0.
The November 5 event at Etihad Arena, the first of a new “Champions Series”, will feature several championship fights, including an IBF junior lightweight bout between champion Joe Cordina and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov.
Meanwhile, WBC and IBF women’s junior welterweight title-holder Chantelle Cameron will defend against undisputed welterweight champion Jessica McCaskill.
Speaking to The National, Matchroom Sport chairman Hearn detailed far-reaching plans for boxing in Abu Dhabi, while also explaining why the emirate represented the ideal place to continue the sport’s expansion.
“We want to build relationships with partners that have a long-term plan,” Hearn said. “There’s the perception, particularly among fighters, that coming into the Middle East means your purses treble. That’s got to stop, because it will stop the regularity of bringing big-time championship fights to the region.
“We want to actually have a chance to build long-term relationships from grass roots up to the elite level of the sport. One of the first things DCT said to me was that they’re most interested in building long-term partnerships. That was music to our ears. Because doing one-off shows is good, but you can’t actually build anything.
“We want to build from grass roots-up participation to the elite training-site performance centres. But that takes time, takes two-three years to start seeing results.
“So here, yes, we've got November 5, but then we go away and start looking at early next year building four-five events here a year. That's the plan.”
Asked how feasible that annual commitment would be, Hearn said: “Very. It could be anywhere from three to five [fights], it’s fight dependent. But there has to be some kind of regularity, like London, like New York, like [Las] Vegas.
“You don’t do one a year. You’re going to have five or six major fight nights a year [including UFC] if you want to build this as a fight destination. That's quite special to have world championship boxing mixed in with UFC and NBA.
“It’s pretty special what they’re building here. They’ve come in with really good fight, and a really good card.
“Sometimes you get a bit of a joke fight that makes a lot of noise. But they’ve come in with really good fight for boxing, and I feel like this fight, this card, shows their ambition of what they’re trying to do.”
Hearn said both Matchroom and Abu Dhabi were intent on delivering a top-class card in November to begin the partnership on a strong footing.
“It’s got to always be the way,” he said. “You look at this card already; we’ve only announced three fights: Bivol-Ramirez, Cordina-Rakhimov for the world title, McCaskill-Cameron for the undisputed world title. And there will be two or three others as well.
“The first one is so important because you want everybody in that arena to go, ‘Wow, what a night’. And you will with these fights. They can’t miss. They can't fail.
“You've got 20 and 0, just beat Canelo, against 44 and 0. The other two fights are sensational fights as well. Everybody who buys a ticket or that tunes in on DAZN, you want them going, ‘Wow when’s the next one? When’s the next Champions Series?’
“And then you announce February or March we’re back, and here’s the card. And ‘wow’ again. We want to leave here with people asking when are we coming back?”
Hearn said the original plan was to match Bivol against rising British star Joshua Buatsi, but that the WBA ordered the bout against Ramirez. The Mexican is a former WBO champion at super-middleweight and has won all five of his fights since moving up to 175lbs.
Bivol, who has held the light-heavyweight belt since November 2017 – this marks his ninth defence – comes into the clash off the biggest win of his career to date: the unanimous-decision victory against pound-for-pound No 1 Alvarez in May.
Hearn said, should Bivol win in November, the plan would be to either rematch Alvarez or take on unified light-heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev for the undisputed crown. Hearn said Abu Dhabi could be in the frame for Bivol-Alvarez 2.
“Do we bring Canelo Alvarez against Bivol here in May? That’s the kind of fight we could do,” he said. “Not every fight will be like that, but they’re going to want to bring in the biggest fights in the world at some point as well.
“[Bivol-Ramirez] is one of them. But I’m talking [former world heavyweight champion] Joshua, I’m talking other heavyweights, I’m talking Canelo Alvarez. That's the longer-term plan: to sprinkle in a couple of those with a consistent boxing schedule.”
Hearn, who aims also to use Abu Dhabi to develop a business hub for Matchroom in Middle East, said both he and DCT are committed to developing boxing within the UAE at all levels.
“Ultimately it entails finding talent from Abu Dhabi and from this country,” Hearn said. “Because that’s the way you’re going to build the sport to new levels.
Gallery: Bivol beats Alvarez
“Yes, we can bring over Canelo, we can bring over Joshua. But once you start building stars from here it changes the game completely.
“It's going to take time, but once you unearth talent from here and you start getting them into the performance centres and into the elite-level championship fights, you’re going to be filling arenas – the Etihad – with a championship fight with a local fighter. That is when the sport will go to new levels.
“That is when it will start inspiring the next level of grass roots; younger kids who, rather than just saying, ‘I know Canelo, I know Joshua’, you’ve got one of your own.”
On the matchup between Bivol and Ramirez, Hearn said: “Before the Canelo fight, this was a 50-50 fight, everyone in boxing said it's a great fight.
“Because of the victory against Canelo Alvarez, you have to make Bivol a favourite. But Zurdo is 44 and O. It's not like he's never done it. He's already won a world title at super-middle, so you know he's a world-class fighter.
“This fight will be all-action. Because Zurdo fights at a fast pace; Bivol will be full of confidence after the Canelo fight. I think he's the best light heavyweight in the world. But Zurdo is massive, I can't believe he used to make 168 [lbs]. He’s huge. So it’s brilliant fight.
“But there's a lot of pressure on Bivol, because obviously you’ve got the Canelo rematch, you’ve got the Beterbiev fight for undisputed. Two options. Canelo wants the rematch desperately; he wants to try to defeat him after getting defeated.
“But Dmitry also wants to be undisputed. That’s one of his aims. He’s become a big star through that victory in May.”