Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has opened up on the fiery confrontation that took place with Anthony Joshua’s dad in the ring, following AJ’s upset defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr.
Hearn spoke to SPORTbible before the release of his new book ‘Relentless: 12 Rounds to Success’, covering his emergence as a promotional force and Joshua’s rise. A big test for both came when the heavyweight suffered a shock KO loss in 2019. Briefly, it looked as though Eddie might join AJ on the canvas, as Robert Joshua gave him a furious earful post-fight.
“There was probably 30 seconds where I thought: ‘Oh no, AJ’s old man’s gonna knock me spark out here!” says Hearn via Zoom.
“Firstly, he was so emotionally charged. Understandably, having seen his son get knocked down, what, four times? I got in the ring, and his dad just came up to me. The first thing he said was about where AJ was staying, the house in New York… Then he was shouting about the food that he was getting from the chef.
“The first thing on my mind was: ‘Diffuse this quickly, because the eyes of the world are on you.’ And his old man is a lump. If he chins me here on worldwide TV, I’m done!
“So I went round the other side of the ring, and he went over to Frank Smith, who works for me, and gave him a bit – and then he looked for me again and came back round. That’s when AJ spotted it.
“He was in the middle of a Sky interview, I was almost hiding behind AJ and he said, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ and by this time the physio had got it, the trainer had got it, the chef got it as well. He was just emotionally charged.
“But in the ring, AJ said: ‘Dad, it’s down to me. I lost.’ And then afterwards, it was all sort of calmed down.”
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending for promoter, boxer and father. Joshua’s rematch with Ruiz in the Middle East was a dominant points victory for the now two-time world champion. But of course before that, Hearn had to run into Joshua Senior.
“It’s quite a funny story, because I never really see his dad,” says Hearn. “The only time I see him is in the ring after every fight and normally he would say: ‘Brilliant, thanks for everything.’ But the very last time I saw him in New York, I said: ‘Listen, he’ll be back’ – but he was still shouting at me.
“Then in Saudi Arabia I went up to AJ’s room, about a day or two before the fight. And I turned round the corner and his dad was there – and it was the first time I’d seen him since the Ruiz fight. I just said: ‘Alright…’ and he just smiled and we had a big hug.”But I have every sympathy. I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch your son in there – and especially to see him lose. He’s a very passionate man, AJ’s dad. I was just over the moon that he didn’t chin me!”
While Hearn has had many big nights as a promoter, involving Carl Froch, Tony Bellew, Dillian Whyte and others, it’s Joshua who has been his biggest success story. An articulate, good-looking heavyweight with an Olympic gold medal might always seem an easy promotional win but it doesn’t always go exactly to plan (see: Audley Harrison). When did Hearn first realise that he’d captured lightning in a bottle, with AJ destined for crossover stardom?
“Looking back, the best thing we did with AJ was to take him all around the country,” says Hearn. “We boxed him at The O2, York Hall, Glasgow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle. That was key to growing the brand of Anthony Joshua.
“But there’s a saying: whether you’re a trainer or a promoter, you’re only as good as the fighter that you train or the fighter you represent. And there is a big element of that as a promoter. It’s been a partnership. He’s an extremely bright man, he makes his own decisions, I’m his mouthpiece a lot of the time, because he don’t talk much.
“I work for AJ, he’s my boss. That’s the way I see it with all my fighters to be honest, but particularly once they get to that kind of level. I’m very passionate about the job that I do for him and I take it very seriously. I’m also very fond of him as an individual. I consider him a very close friend. In that respect, he trusts me with his career – and when you get that trust from a fighter, that’s probably one of the best feelings you can get.”