When Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn and officials from the newly launched sports streaming service DAZN gathered media in New York in May to announce an eight-year, $1 billion deal under which Hearn would supply it with top-level boxing content, the promoter was bold in his declaration.
"This is open season for fighters in the U.S.," he said. "If you're out there, if you don't have a promotional contract, if you're a world-class fighter, we want you. If you're a world champion no more fighting once a year. No more waiting on your date. We've got the dates, the money and the platform to give you regular championship contests."
Then Hearn found out that it was a lot easier said than done in terms of securing commitments from the top fighters he went after, namely the best guys from Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions stable, none of whom were contractually tied to a promoter.
But the likes of Deontay Wilder, Errol Spence Jr., Mikey Garcia, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Jermell and Jermall Charlo, and Adrien Broner all turned down his overtures and offers, leaving Hearn to reign in his desires.
That meant resorting to co-promotional deals to work with other quality fighters that might not be as well known, and he got some of them: light heavyweight titlist Artur Beterbiev, junior featherweight titlist Danny Roman, heavyweight contender Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller, junior welterweight titlist Maurice Hooker and junior lightweight titlist Tevin Farmer. Hearn also outright signed middleweight contender and former two-time junior middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade and former welterweight and junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas as well as a few amateurs he plans to build over the next few years.
So it is with those fighters as the cornerstones Hearn will begin putting on the 16 annual American-based cards he owes DAZN -- in addition to a similar number of cards he promotes every year in the United Kingdom with his strong British stable that the service will also stream in the United States.
The first United States-based card will be headlined by Vargas taking on fringe welterweight contender Thomas Dulorme in the 12-round bout on Saturday -- with the main card beginning at 9 p.m. ET -- at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
Hearn said he knew securing top talent would be an uphill battle. He faced tremendous backlash from other promoters when Matchroom became very aggressive in the UK market about five years ago. Now Matchroom is the unmatched leader of boxing there thanks to his broadcast deal with Sky Sports and his promotional ties to superstar unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua, whose knockout victory of Alexander Povetkin on Sept. 22 headlined the first DAZN card, which was streamed in the U.S. from London. Hearn figured he'd face similar resistance in America, and he has found it.
"I knew it would be difficult (to sign the top fighters) but when you look at our roster at the moment -- and we've really only been in the marketplace for three months -- we've already got five, six world champions," Hearn told ESPN. "We don't care who we're working with. The plan is to deliver great fight nights for DAZN. What you're seeing is deep, deep cards. I see other people putting on cards and they're not as good."
The first effort boasts a solid card with the Vargas-Dulorme headliner plus Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs) in a title defense against Callum Johnson (17-0, 12 KOs), Roman (25-2-1, 9 KOs) defending against Gavin McDonnell (20-1-2, 5 KOs) and Miller (21-0-1, 18 KOs) facing faded contender Tomasz Adamek (53-5, 31 KOs).
Hearn knows it's not a mega card, but he also knows Rome wasn't built in a day.
"I know Vargas-Dulorme is not your Mikey Garcia card, but then you throw in two world title fights on the card with Beterbiev against Johnson, Danny Roman against McDonnell and Jarrell Miller in the mix as well and then you switch to Oct. 20 in Boston (with Andrade in the headline fight)," Hearn said, adding that, "We're talking to a dozen big names (about signing)."
Vargas (28-2-1, 10 KOs), 29, of Las Vegas, was the one Haymon-advised fighter to take an offer from Hearn and said he is excited about the new endeavor. He has promoted the new service about as hard as he has trained for the fight with big underdog Dulorme (24-3, 16 KOs), 28, of Puerto Rico.
"I'm blessed to be in the position I'm in," said Vargas, who is coming off a disputed draw with Broner in April. "The minute Eddie Hearn contacted me and we began negotiating, it gained my interest. He has his new platform and he explained what his future plans were for that platform and he made me a believer. And he's going to make everyone else a believer."
Vargas said he was taken with Hearn's sales pitch -- not to mention the money he offered.
"He just explained to me his future plans. He has an idea, he has goals. He has them lined up," Vargas said. "He has certain ideas lined up just for me and for every one of the fighters in his stable. There's a plan he's willing to execute to take them to the top. I'm looking forward to giving my fans great fights and becoming world champion once again.
"Financially, it was a good deal, definitely. It persuaded me to move in this direction and his plans made sense."
Vargas hopes a strong performance against Dulorme, a former junior welterweight world title challenger who hasn't fought since losing a 10-round decision to Yordenis Ugas 14 months ago, will move him a step closer to a mandatory title shot against Shawn Porter, though that fight would likely still be a ways off.
"We are building something strong and I'm en route to becoming a world champion once again. The WBC (title) belongs to Shawn Porter, but I look forward to challenging him very soon, in the near future," Vargas said. "Then again, I'm not looking past Thomas Dulorme. He's a tough task and I have to make sure that I come out victorious and continue my path to success. He's a tough fighter and I know I have to be on point, every minute and every second of the fight.
"Thomas Dulorme is a fighter who always comes to give a show. He's a tough, rugged fighter who fights with his heart. What I mean by that is he leaves it all in the ring whether he wins or loses. He's going to try to put me to the test. The thing about him is once you give him an opportunity he has everything to gain and nothing to lose so for that reason I need to make sure I prepare properly."
Hearn said if Vargas wins he is ready to deliver bigger fights to him.
"We're moving into the market as new players. We're not ESPN. So people want to see it, people want to feel DAZN, and the energy and the production and the look and the feel," Hearn said. "And once we're up and running we're gonna be just fine."