For Matchroom’s chairman this week from hell will likely melt away despite hypocrisy over Conor Benn’s positive drugs test
Eddie Hearn has a canny knack for bustling through crises but it will take some smart moves for the boxing promoter to emerge with his reputation enhanced in any way after a murky few days in British boxing.
It has been a bizarre week with Hearn and his star boxer Conor Benn at the heart of a drug-testing scandal, with some layers of the narrative still mired in secrecy.
Last night was meant to have been a blockbuster, sold-out event at the O2 Arena in London between Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jnr, the sons of two British boxing legends, Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn.
The fathers’ red-hot rivalry saw two grudge fights in 1990 and 1993, drawing unparalleled television audiences, with 17 million viewers watching the sequel, and part three, 30 years on, had captured public imagination and was trending towards record pay-per-view numbers for DAZN, the digital sports broadcaster.
Instead, after the news of a failed drugs test from Benn, through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association in September, the only thing in the London venue last night was tumbleweed.
Things will become more complex in the coming weeks. There are those who believe Hearn, and others involved, could be brought before the Boxing Board for bringing the sport into disrepute, and there is now a web of legalities and silence from the Boxing Board, Benn and Eubank, and the promoters.
For once, even Hearn, sometimes referred to as “Fast Eddie”, has been silent since the muted press conference on Thursday where the Matchroom Boxing chief, and his co-promoter Kalle Sauerland, acting for Eubank, announced the fight was off, but “postponed” to a future date.
We are yet to see if that will ever become a reality. The show, though, must go on for Hearn, one of the great movers and shakers of modern boxing. Next Saturday, he heads to Australia for the next promotion of his burgeoning global empire as Liam Paro takes on Brock Jarvis in Brisbane, live on DAZN.
The circus will move on and with it memories of the heat of this week will fade. But there can be little denying that the bare facts of the past five days – and the dance performed by Hearn – has left boxing facing some uncomfortable questions.
Benn and Eubank, two weight divisions apart, were set for career-best paydays of more than £3.5 million an event reportedly worth north of £25 million. Family legacy, too, was on the line and it was expected to be a vicious fight.
But the event collapsed on Wednesday morning when news broke that Benn, the naturally smaller of the two fighters, had tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug.
The test was taken in September through the Vada and not the UK Anti-Doping agency, Ukad alone being the body sanctioned to oversee drug-testing for the British Boxing Board of Control. Benn had returned a test containing clomifene, a drug that was designed to help women with infertility.
However, it is also widely-known as a masking agent and can increase testosterone levels in men. Benn was not suspended by the Boxing Board, and has claimed he is “clean”. There were no adverse findings in Ukad’s tests, done separately.
“My immediate focus is on clearing my name,” Benn added. The Boxing board does not recognise Vada, which simply tests and reports to the promoter and boxers, which it did on Sept 23.
However, Ukad has now asked Vada for a copy of the test. When Ukad then passes on its investigation to the board, the boxer could be suspended or banned from a resultant hearing. Hearn had some talking to do when the Vada result came out on Wednesday.
Instead of calling off the event, Hearn pushed on, having got the agreement of Eubank to go ahead. “Of course we have both fighters ready to fight. A very unique situation,” he said. But on Thursday, the board issued a statement saying the fight would be “prohibited”.
Still Hearn pushed on, with a legal challenge, still ongoing, with the board. Yet it was different when the American Jarrell Miller tested positive for banned substances ahead of fighting Hearn’s client, Anthony Joshua, in New York in June, 2019.
Hearn took a different approach: “This isn’t tennis, or a 100m sprint, this is sport where your aim is to go in and knock your opponent out.” Hearn added that a “clean athlete is the most important thing”. Former boxer Spencer Oliver, whose career came to an end after a blood clot on the brain as a result of a contest in 1998, and now a renowned pundit on Sky Sports and TalkSport, told Telegraph Sport that if the event had gone ahead it was putting “wealth over health” and that it was “crazy to go ahead with the fight”.
“Benn has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug” which cannot be right “especially when the opponent is a weight-drained fighter,” added the 47-year-old.
That was the view held almost universally and understandably there was an outcry, with Hearn heavily criticised for pushing a loophole and a legal case with the board. How could a contest continue with a positive test for a banned substance? It brought into question any veracity for drug testing in a sport in which a fighter could suffer a fatality in the ring.
Hearn’s promotional empire will move on, and fast, and this week’s controversy is likely to be little more than a footnote should this fight be resurrected. Like a true champion of the sport he dominates, Hearn will emerge from this fight having evaded most of the heavy blows.