Eddie Hearn believes Abu Dhabi can become one of the world’s lead destinations for elite-level boxing, rivalling Las Vegas and New York as a must-visit venue for fight fans.
As Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and partner the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi prepare for the headline world title bout between WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol and challenger Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, the promoter says it is just the start of an exciting journey for the capital.
"It’s not a traditional stop on the fight fans’ global map, who go to big events in Madison Square Garden and Las Vegas," Hearn told The National. "In time, the aim is to make sure Abu Dhabi is known as a destination of major, big-time boxing."
The November 5 event, the first in the new partnership's “Champions Series”, takes place at Etihad Arena and will feature at least one more world title fight – the undisputed encounter between WBC and IBF women’s junior welterweight title-holder Chantelle Cameron and undisputed welterweight champion Jessica McCaskill.
Hearn hopes the occasion will light the touchpaper for Abu Dhabi, with the real possibility of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Anthony Joshua or Katie Taylor competing in the capital next year.
Hearn said that while Matchroom are determined to ensure the inaugural event is a success, there have also been discussions regarding the 2023 schedule.
“We want to make November 5 count and we want to make sure we execute it in the perfect fashion,” Hearn said. “At the same time, boxing is a sport that requires planning. So if you’re looking to stage major fights in January, February, March, April, now is the time to start securing those.
“There’s a number of conversations ongoing with DCT and Eleven - our partners out there - about some major fight nights and major names, and building an active schedule for boxing.
“I think that’s very important. I’m not really a believer in, or a fan of, one-off events if you actually want to build the sport in the region. To promote, educate, inspire people from grassroots, to increase participation, you need people to become familiar with the sport and you do that by creating a solid schedule of events over time.
“November 5 is the beginning: tremendous card, people will watch, people will love it, people will become inspired, and then you move to the next one. This is a tremendous main event and card, but also there’s the ability to bring some bigger names, the likes of Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez and Katie Taylor and other members of our stable to Abu Dhabi. And I think that’s something the focus will be on.
“Our reasoning behind entering this agreement with Abu Dhabi and DCT is to create a long-term plan for boxing in the region, and those discussions are ongoing.”
Hearn said that, since the partnership with DCT was announced on August 31, he has spoken to a number of elite-level boxers regarding fighting in Abu Dhabi, with the response “all positive”.
“As a fighter that’s about creating a legacy,” Hearn said. “Fighting in these countries, in these regions, is very important in creating the legacy of the career.
“Canelo Alvarez really wants to have a fight in the Middle East; Anthony Joshua obviously had two fights already in Saudi [Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019 and Oleksandr Usyk in August]; Katie Taylor, an icon of the sport, more than open to fighting over there.
“So we’ve got the ability to make the biggest fights out there, and I expect to see some of those names in Abu Dhabi next year.”
Arguably the sports most bankable star, Alvarez is expected to next face the winner of Bivol-Ramirez. The Mexican, who last month defeated Gennady Golovkin in their trilogy clash, was beaten by Bivol earlier this year, when he lost via unanimous decision to the champion having stepped up yet another weight class. It represented the second defeat of Alvarez’s remarkable 62-fight professional career.
Alvarez, the undisputed super-middleweight champion, said after the Golovkin victory that he would need time away from the sport to have surgery on his left hand, with either May or September the target for his return.
Hearn said he thought the former was more likely, and that that could open the door for a Bivol rematch in Abu Dhabi.
“I think it’ll be May,” Hearn said. “He talked about September, but I think he’ll have that hand operation and he’ll be ready to start training towards the end of the year, which would give him more than enough time.
“He wants to fight internationally; it’s a big part of his plans, whether that’s the UK, the Middle East, Australia, Mexico. But I’ll even do my best to bring him over for November 5 and see if he can be ringside for that fight. Because that’s the one he wants.”
Asked what it would take for that fight to land in Abu Dhabi, Hearn added: “Obviously it’s expensive. You’ve got a guy there who does $20-million gates in Las Vegas every time he fights. And prime-time USA hitting huge hundreds of thousands in terms of pay-per-view buys.
“So, the deal has to be right for everybody. But he wants to make it happen. And I think, if he comes to Abu Dhabi on November 5, he'll really enjoy what he sees.”
Hearn said a full announcement on next month’s card would come in due course, with a “big heavyweight fight” and a number of bouts featuring regionally based fighters on the bill – a priority objective of the partnership.
The Matchroom Sport chairman added that ticket sales for November 5 were “moving well” following their release last month.
“We need to focus on educating the community within Abu Dhabi about boxing, and getting people used to major fight nights, major boxing events, in Abu Dhabi,” Hearn said. “And it will take time. They’ll see the quality like this, but like anything, you go from 8,000-10,000 [attending], to 12,000, to 15,000, and so on.
“And, really, it’s about making sure people are aware of how good this event is and also making sure, when the event is done, they leave with an understanding of how enjoyable the night was."
On the lengthy agreement with DCT, Hearn said: “That’s the reason why we entered into this partnership: to create a long-term, sustainable, programme and calendar for major boxing events in Abu Dhabi.
“From grassroots to the elite end of the sport, to increasing participation within amateur clubs, to producing future great fighters from the region. But also filling the [Abu Dhabi] event schedule, which is second to none, with major world-championship boxing - and that all begins on November 5.”