EXCLUSIVE — In the first full year out of the pandemic, boxing fans around the world enjoyed and endured a rollercoaster 2022. One man at the centre of it was Eddie Hearn, who put on events across five different continents.
From fight-of-the-year contenders to blockbuster events that didn’t quite happen, he saw it all. Despite the sport recently being rocked with a failed drugs test and breakdowns in megafight negotiations, 2022 still delivered in spades: Katie Taylor drove women’s boxing into the mainstream consciousness at Madison Square Garden, while superb British shows from every promoter sold out week after week.
The Sporting News takes a look back with the Matchroom Boxing chief, who relives the 10 fight nights that defined 2022, and also reveals what’s on his Christmas wish-list…
Amir Khan vs. Kell Brook
February 19 | AO Arena, Manchester | Brook wins via KO6
After years of trash talk and failed negotiations, Bolton’s Amir Khan and Sheffield’s Kell Brook finally settled their differences in the ring. The feeling for some critics of it being too late was justified, though, as Brook was ultimately far too good for the 36-year-old Khan, who announced his retirement soon after. Hearn once promoted both men.
Eddie Hearn: I was disappointed that we never got a chance to do it when they were in their heyday, but it was still a big all-British fight. I was promoting Kell Brook for so many years, chasing that fight, and ended up promoting Amir Khan at the end of his career.[They were] two great fighters. It did happen too late and Amir was a shade of the fighter that he once was, but at least we got to see it and it was a good way to kickstart a year of boxing globally.
With Amir, you could tell by that performance that it was definitely the right time to hang the gloves up. He got dropped by a jab in that fight and he just wasn’t the same.
You could see him even walking to the ring that he just didn’t have the confidence in his eyes that we’re used to seeing from Amir Khan. I think Kell Brook will return, though. I think he actually looked good in that fight, so he’ll be back.
Amir Khan is a British boxing great — there’s no doubt about it. The way that he rose the profile of British boxing globally… he boxed all around the world in big fights, against Danny Garcia, obviously Canelo Alvarez, that great fight against Marcos Maidana. Amir Khan is without doubt a British boxing great.
Josh Taylor vs. Jack Catterall
February 26 | OVO Hydro, Glasgow | Undisputed 140lb title | Taylor wins via SD
Josh Taylor helped set a new trend of undisputed champions in 2021, and after capturing all the belts against Jose Ramirez, he was set for a homecoming party in Scotland. Unfancied Jack Catterall had other plans, putting on the performance of a lifetime. It should have been enough for victory for the Englishman, but on another dark day for scoring on British soil, Taylor was handed the points win.
EH: Any sport that involves judging, you’re always going to get difference of opinion. It’s subjective. But too many people felt that Jack Catterall won that fight, and you just can’t ignore that the decision was wrong.
It was a weird fight, actually. Catterall won the first six rounds and coasted, then lost some rounds in the end. But he did definitely win the fight.
It left a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of fight fans, because they just felt that the wrong man won that fight. It wasn’t just a 10-round fight — it was every belt in boxing that Jack Catterall was robbed of that night.
And it’s what comes with it — the difference between going and being a challenger again, or being undisputed champion, and making millions and millions of dollars in marquee fights. That’s why I particularly felt that wasn’t fair.
Leigh Wood vs. Michael Conlan
March 12 | Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham | WBA 126lb title | Wood wins via KO12
Leigh Wood became an unlikely titleholder during the pandemic by beating Can Xu at Matchroom Fight Camp, leading to a matchup with fiery Irishman Michael Conlan in his hometown. In an instant classic, Wood recovered from being dropped in round one and firmly on the back foot to send Conlan out of the ring with one of the most spectacular late knockouts ever seen.
EH: We [split the arena halfway round] deliberately. We let the Irish fans go on one side and the Nottingham fans [on the other]. It was just the most magical occasion, one of the most magical atmospheres, and one of the best fights I’ve ever seen live, and one of the most dramatic endings.
Leigh Wood looked like he was gone in the first round. He found a way back, then even late in the fight didn’t look like he was going to turn it around.
Then in the last round, just knocked him out and it was it was one of the most magic, magical nights. It could win ‘fight of the year’, it could win ‘atmosphere of the year’, it could win everything! It was a really special night.
Leigh Wood ended up obviously getting injured and then was going to go on and fight Mauricio Lara at the back end of the year. He’s had an unfortunate year waiting on Leo Santa Cruz, waiting on the injury as well. Leigh Wood is an unbelievable Cinderella story, the way he’s turned his career around. All being well, next year, we could see him fight at the City Ground against Josh Warrington.
Tyson Fury vs. Dillian Whyte
April 23 | Wembley Stadium, London | WBC heavyweight title | Fury wins via KO6
Mandatory challenger Dillian Whyte — usually promoted by Hearn — waited 1,634 days for his world title shot, and it finally came against Tyson Fury. The build-up was messy, as Whyte refused to attend press conferences, disputed image rights and kept uncharacteristically quiet, with the pay-per-view sales not dictating his purse on this occasion. He left the public baffled by starting the fight as a southpaw, before putting in a poor display as Fury cruised to a successful defence.
EH: It was strange [not being involved]. I’ve never had a contract with Dillian White and he’s just chosen to work with us over the years. I felt like it was a mistake to not have us more involved.
I think he looked lost: he looked lost in the promotion, he looked lost on the ring walk. Sometimes you need those familiar faces — those people that know the sport and the business inside out.
He took a shot against Tyson Fury, but it was a poor performance from Dillian Whyte. I’m not taking anything away from Tyson Fury, though, who is a fantastic fighter. There’s a difference sometimes between world level and elite level, and Tyson Fury showed the levels that night.[When he came out southpaw], I was wondering, ‘what’s going on?!’ He did quite well in that round — maybe he should have stayed southpaw! It was an interesting tactic. Fury looked confused. We all were!
Always [I look at stadium shows and think how I’d have done them better]. But it was still a great show, a great spectacle. Although we started that trend of big stadium events, I never feel bad if someone else does one. It’s great for British boxing and that was a big spectacle.
MORE: Tyson Fury relives his ‘Sweetest Victory’ with The Sporting News
Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano
April 30 | Madison Square Garden, New York City | Undisputed 135lb title | Taylor wins via SD
Two generational fighters who have changed the game met at the mecca of boxing for all the marbles. Jake Paul lent a promotional hand, but he wasn’t overly needed in the end. Katie Taylor and seven-weight queen Amanda Serrano lived up to the hype by putting on arguably the greatest ever women’s fight in what was its biggest ever event, with the Bray Bomber emerging victorious to further cement her legacy.
EH: Everything [went perfectly]: the build-up, the hype, the ticket sales, the viewership, the actual fight itself. You can build a hot fight and you can hype a fight, but then at the end of the day, if it doesn’t deliver, it doesn’t really matter.
That didn’t just deliver as one of the fights a year, the owners of Madison Square Garden said ‘this is probably the greatest fight with ever had in our arena’. You’re talking about Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier and some of the biggest fights in history. So that was a monumental night, one we’ll never forget.
That was the night that women’s boxing got what it deserved. You’ve seen other big fights since then: Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall, Alycia Baumgardner vs. Mikaela Mayer, Chantelle Cameron vs. Jessica McCaskill.
You’re seeing big unification and undisputed fights all the time [because of it]. Now we’ve got momentum, but we want to take it to the next level. Now we’ve done 20,000 at MSG, we want to do 80,000 at Croke Park.
Canelo vs. Dmitry Bivol
May 7 | T-Mobile Arena, Paradise | WBA (Super) 175lb title | Bivol wins via UD
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez became the undisputed king at super-middleweight by cleaning up in a busy 2021, and he was already the biggest superstar in the sport. That wasn’t enough, though. The Mexican placed a nine-year unbeaten run in jeopardy by taking on light-heavyweight phenom Dmitry Bivol, who put on the first of two clinics in 2022.
EH: He was underrated by the casual fanbase, but not by the people in boxing. We always knew that Dmitry Bivol has been crying out for these opportunities for years and years -— he got it and he proved how great he was.
Canelo also proved how great he was, because he took a crazy risk, one he didn’t have take, but he wanted to challenge himself. Bivol was too much for him that night. Although I don’t think it was a great performance from Canelo Alvarez, it showed how special Dmitry Bivol is.
He’s his own boss and he wants challenges [so I didn’t want to discourage him from taking the fight]. He felt that he’s been through the super-middleweight division and he wanted something that was a bigger challenge. Maybe he bit off more than he can chew that night, because Dmitry Bivol was fantastic.
MORE: Dmitry Bivol named The Sporting News’ Men’s Boxer of the Year
Oleksandr Usyk vs. Anthony Joshua 2
August 20 | King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah | Unified heavyweight title | Usyk wins via SD
After dropping his unified crown to genius Oleksandr Usyk in 2021, Anthony Joshua was on a revenge mission in Saudi Arabia that many thought he couldn’t complete. In the end, they were right, but not in the manner expected. Joshua was a changed man under new trainer Robert Garcia, drastically improving to ensure he was on top through nine rounds. But Usyk found another several gears and came back with a barely believable finale to retain.
EH: I felt good [about Anthony Joshua under Robert Garcia]. He knew that he got a lot of things wrong in that first fight, and he worked to put it right in the second fight. It was a much better performance. By the end of round nine, I thought he was going to win the fight.
And then, just the most incredible performance from Usyk over the championship rounds. In 10, 11 and 12, I thought he was spectacular. He showed why is the pound-for-pound No.1. It was a great performance.
AJ was hard on himself, because I thought he boxed very well in that fight, and he lost to a true great. He did 24 rounds with the pound-for-pound No.1, and the second fight he could have won.
The first fight, he wasn’t really in it. Usyk won by three rounds but it was still a poor performance. The second fight was a good performance and just a masterful set of closing championship rounds from Oleksandr Usyk.[Usyk’s engine is] unbelievable. You go back to the stool at the end of the night and I’m thinking, ‘we’ve got this, Usyk is bashed up and he’s hurt’. To choose to come out on the front foot and throw as many punches he did [makes him] a special fighter.
MORE: Anthony Joshua changed the game, but the game didn’t change him
I’ve not [experienced anything like the post-fight press conference]. Not from a character like Anthony Joshua. The last thing he ever wants to do is cry or break down, because he feels like he’s got a responsibility to be a role model.
Actually, funnily enough, that was exactly what a role model should be doing: showing people your frailty, showing people that you’re gonna struggle sometimes. That was a good thing for him, because he let that emotion out that he’s been holding in for many years. That was a real key moment for him to get over his defeats.
Canelo vs. Gennadiy Golovkin 3
September 17 | T-Mobile Arena, Paradise | Undisputed 168lb title | Canelo wins via UD
When broadcaster DAZN entered the boxing game in the US in 2018, two marquee signings made the goal clear: the Canelo vs. GGG trilogy. A global pandemic, plus the usual difficulties with boxing negotiations, meant it came a lot later than fans wanted. The glitz and glamour of the occasion was still there, but once the two men got in the ring, Gennadiy Golovkin found his shot at avenging two controversial decisions had already been taken by father time.
EH: The reason [I signed Canelo was that this fight] is always going to be one of the biggest in boxing: two modern-day greats [who had] two tremendous fights.
The third was a good fight, wasn’t as spectacular as the first two, but it closed the trilogy, which is always important. Canelo Alvarez got back on the horse with a big win to remain the undisputed super-middleweight world champion.
That was pretty special, to sell out T-Mobile Arena in Vegas and have the arrivals at the MGM Grand. These are things that you don’t see British promoters doing. It was a special event for us.
MORE: What next for Canelo and GGG?
Chris Eubank Jr. vs. Conor Benn
October 8 | The O2 Arena, London | Fight postponed
Three decades after their fathers put on the most high-profile set of bouts in British boxing history, Conor Benn wanted to restore family pride against Chris Eubank Jr. However, three days before the scheduled fight, the British Boxing Board of Control announced they would not sanction it, following a failed drugs from Benn. A dramatic 24 hours ensued, as Benn protested his innocence and Eubank Jr. was comfortable proceeding. After much public pressure, Hearn and co-promoter Kalle Sauerland called it off.
EH: I was so happy [with the build-up]. We sold out in a couple of minutes — the biggest grossing gate ever at The O2 Arena. It was one of the biggest British fights of all time, and it was just a crushing blow [to call off the event]. A big blow for Matchroom, for DAZN, for British boxing.
We were looking forward to it so much. It was a dark time for boxing, for Matchroom, for me personally, but we’ve come through the other side and we try to do the right things.
I didn’t [legally have to cancel it], but I feel that we got a little bit f**ked really, because the British Boxing Board of Control had the information as long as we had the information. They took weeks to make a decision. We’re waiting for them to make a decision, and we can’t contractually cancel that fight.
They say they won’t sanction the fight on the Wednesday, we have a choice to go with another commission or to legally challenge that. We chose not to, but we also got the criticism of waiting three or four weeks, whereas we didn’t wait forever. We waited for the board to make their decision. The board didn’t get any stick — we got all the stick. That’s a common trend we accept in our position, that we’re going to get the blame for a lot of things.
Unfortunately, God didn’t allow that fight to take place, but I believe he will one day. When he does, it’ll be special. We’ll get there. I believe Conor Benn will be back. It is a bigger fight now.
It will always remain big until they settle the score, and they will. But obviously, we have to wait to see what comes out of the investigation. It can be [in a] UK stadium, an international stadium, anywhere. It’s a massive fight.
Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall
October 15 | The O2 Arena, London | Undisputed 160lb title | Shields wins via UD
The self-proclaimed ‘GWOAT’ touched down on English soil in September to take on fellow undefeated champion Savannah Marshall in what was quickly becoming a bad-blooded all-female card that got the pulses of fight fans racing. The death of the Queen meant the event was postponed by a month, but Claressa Shields’ preparation still looked spot-on come fight night, dominating Marshall in a sensational points win.
EH: That fight probably doesn’t happen [without Taylor vs. Serrano], Baumgardner vs. Mayer doesn’t happen either, because the pressure is on ESPN to get involved.
All these people have come to the party so late — we’ve been doing it for six years. But now it’s trendy! It’s rating, because of all the work we’ve done.
That was another great fight. An example of the best fighting the best, delivering for the fans. I underestimated Shields. But then I started talking to people who I know who know boxing, and they said, ‘no way that Marshall beats Shields’. And they were right. Shields was levels above.
MORE: Claressa Shields named The Sporting News’ Women’s Boxer of the Year
What are the goals for 2023?
EH: Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury [is my No.1 wish for 2023]. It’s maybe more important [than the belts for me], but he also wants to become a three-time world heavyweight champion.
There’s so many fights I want to make:
- Leigh Wood vs. Michael Conlan 2
- Dillian Whyte vs. Deontay Wilder
- Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano 2
- Felix Cash vs. Ammo Williams
- Joshua Buatsi vs. Callum Smith
- Callum Smith vs. Dmitry Bivol
- Canelo vs. Dmitry Bivol 2
- Canelo vs. John Ryder
- Julio Cesar Martinez vs. Sunny Edwards
- Bam Rodriguez vs. Julio Cesar Martinez
- Chocolatito vs. Juan Estrada 4
- Joe Cordina vs. Shavkat Rakhimov
There’s fight after fight! We’re building a fantastic global schedule right now.