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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Alex Lawson

Frank Smith: the Matchroom boss and Anthony Joshua promoter on his bid to avoid becoming ‘bitter old man’ of boxing

Frank Smith, in a suit but no tie, leads against a decorative iron pillar at an attractive white-painted building
Frank Smith met Eddie Hearn, the chair of Matchroom, when he was 14 and pestered Hearn for a job. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Boxing fans hooked on Tyson Fury’s Kardashians-style Netflix series could soon have another show to get excited about – starring Frank Smith, the boyfriend of Emily Eubank, who is daughter to eccentric former pro Chris Eubank and sister to current middleweight Chris Jr.

Smith is chief executive of the boxing arm of Matchroom Sport, the multisport promotions empire built over four decades by Barry Hearn and now chaired by his son, Eddie. A familiar media personality, Eddie Hearn is known for his David Brent-isms, and Smith’s carefree motormouth would lend itself well to TV.

Box to Box, producer of the behind-the-scenes F1 series Drive to Survive, is pitching a show to Netflix, where it is under consideration. Will it feature Smith’s domestic life too? “My girlfriend retired from her At Home with the Eubanks days when she was seven years old. So I’m not sure we’ll get her back in front of the cameras,” he says.

When we talk, Smith has just landed from Malaysia, the last stop on a five-week world tour attempting to secure big-money rights deals and fights for his stable of boxers, which boasts current and former world champions including Katie Taylor and Anthony Joshua. His “surreal” life means he spends time at boxers’ mansions and with celebrities such as Ed Sheeran.

Staging contests can be unpredictable, with hyped matchups often postponed, but the rewards are evident: a mooted sale of a stake in the group could value it at £800m. Any deal could cause contention between Barry – the Essex boy who transformed the fortunes of a string of unfashionable sports and has long resisted outside investment – and his son, whom Smith calls the “best salesman in the world”.

But Smith now hopes to make the business less reliant on its founding family. “We’re very much built around the brand of Eddie. Now it’s about taking it beyond that and building Matchroom into a global powerhouse.” He cites the deal, announced on his global tour, with the Japanese communications conglomerate Rakuten to stage a trio of fights over the next three years. It was the first big contract negotiated and fronted by Smith, who readily admits he is more of a spreadsheet addict than a boxing aficionado.

At 31, Smith has already spent more than half his life in the Hearns’s orbit. He met Eddie at 14 and pestered him for a job. After landing work experience, he almost missed his formal interview for Matchroom – forgetting his wallet and tearfully receiving his fare from a businessman at Chelmsford station.

Although he now draws up multimillion-pound contracts and stages glamorous shows, he still leans into the image of a whippersnapper errand boy.

In the hard-knocks arena of boxing banter, this has rubbed up against several people, including the veteran promoter Frank Warren. (“You really are a number two in every way,” he said of Smith last month.)

“We don’t always have the best relationships in boxing,” says Smith understatedly, later referring to Warren as a “deluded old dinosaur”.

One career-defining fight was supposed to happen last year between Matchroom’s Conor Benn, son of Nigel “Dark Destroyer” Benn, and Chris Eubank Jr, emulating their fathers’ famous bouts in the 90s. It broke the ticket sales record but was postponed at the last minute after Benn failed a drugs test. (He was later cleared.)

What does Emily think about that matchup? “I will always say to one of our fighters [who is obsessing over details], ‘Don’t worry about all that. Just go in there, get paid a load of money and knock him out’. Obviously here it’s my brother-in-law,” says Smith. “My missus was saying ‘you’re an idiot’.”

Smith believes the bout will eventually happen, as will Joshua’s long-mooted fight with Fury.

How does a chief executive plan for a business given relentless uncertainty around its biggest revenue drivers? Matchroom is involved in several sports but Smith says: “Boxing is the toughest business to plan and budget for. Someone pulls out injured … it’s a swing from making money to losing money.

“Every other sport we’re involved in … if a player pulls out, the tournament goes ahead. The world darts championships sells 90,000 tickets in a few hours, eight months in advance, and you don’t know who’s playing. With boxing, it’s near impossible. But we’re working with [streaming service] DAZN, with their subscription mechanics, looking at trying to announce five or six months in advance, which we never would have done in the past.”

Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn stand side by side, unsmiling, in front of a large poster saying “Born rivals: Eubank Jr v Benn”
Chris Eubank Jr, left, and Matchroom’s Conor Benn were due to meet in a highly anticipated clash last year. Photograph: Steven Paston/PA

Matchroom has made a conscious decision not to push into “influencer boxing”, despite huge crowds and online audiences for fights such as the one between rapper KSI and FaZe Temperrr, a professional Call of Duty player. “Our passion is professional, high-level sport,” says Smith. Why hold back? Is the issue credibility? “That was a key reason. They’re two difference audiences. There is a huge market for it – everyone gets frustrated about this influencer boxing, but it’s two separate things. And if in the long term it can grow the sport, that’s only going to benefit the investment in the sport.”

In its last published accounts, Matchroom Sport recorded a near-doubling of annual profits, to £42m, on turnover of £213m. Talks with private equity firm CVC, which has a string of sports investments, to take a minority stake fell through this year, but management are still considering the deal, with further international expansion the ultimate goal.

“So many people in this position need or want money. We don’t need that,” says Smith. “We’ve always had a large amount of money in the business to be able to grow on our own – we’re not going to make a bad decision.”

He says the “high intensity” of his globetrotting existence means he’s unlikely to spend more than another decade in the sport. “I just don’t want to be like these bitter old men in boxing … [Hopefully] in 100 years, Matchroom is still going and you’ve got even better versions of ourselves.”


Age 31
Family In a relationship with Emily Eubank.
Education “GCSEs – no university.”
Pay Undisclosed. Has equity in the business. “If I put in the work, I get the value.”
Last holiday Portofino, Italy.
Best advice he’s been given “Use your ears more than your mouth.”
Phrase he overuses “What will be will be!”
How he relaxes “Walks along the beach in Brighton.”

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