Boxing will proceed as planned this weekend in Dominican Republic, with the testing protocols in place well indicative of the state of emergency still active in the Caribbean nation.
Junior bantamweight contender Norbelto Jimenez will collide with countryman Eliezer Aquino atop a six-fight card this Saturday, airing on ESPN platforms live from Coliseo Carlos ‘Teo’ Cruz in Santo Domingo. The venue will remain closed to the public and will be completely sterilized beginning Thursday morning.
The event, presented by promoter Belgica Peña’s Shuan Boxing, will follow the strict COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) guidelines implemented by the World Boxing Association (WBA), who will have two regional titles at stake on Saturday.
All participants will be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday, remaining isolated until they receive their test results. Once a test comes back negative, said participant will be permitted to enter the designated hosting hotel where they will remain quarantined save for the pre-fight weigh-in and fight night itself.
Long before the WBA finalized its own testing policies, the event handlers were already taking the necessary precautions to ensure a healthy environment every step of the way.
“Everything came up after watching an interview of Gilberto Jesús Mendoza (president of the WBA) with ESPN Knockout where we saw that we had the opportunity to develop it in our country,” noted Peña, who signed both boxers to the rematch well before the initial outbreak of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “[From the beginning], we put the boxers to work in isolation. We secured a careful health protocol which we shared with the WBA and they strengthened it in order to ensure the safety of the boxers and everyone involved.”
Jimenez (29-9-5, 16KOs) challenged for the WBA 115-pound title last June, dropping a hard-fought 12-round decision to then-unbeaten Kal Yafai on a DAZN-streamed card from Providence, Rhode Island. The loss ended a 30-fight unbeaten streak for Jimenez, who stumbled out to a 2-8-1 career start before securing better handlers who steered his career in the right direction.
The hard-luck contender rose to international prominence in his first title bid, fighting to a 12-round draw with Kohei Kono in their New Year’s Eve 2014 title fight in Kono’s hometown of Tokyo, Japan. His second title shot versus Yafai snapped an eight-year, 30-fight unbeaten streak which included three draws—one of which was a five-round technical draw with Aquino (21-4-1, 14KOs) in their May 2013 clash.
That said, he remains in search of his first win in nearly two years, having most recently fought to a 10-round draw with Aliu Bamidele Lasisi this past March in Dubai.
Aquino’s career hasn’t quite flourished since his first meeting with Jimenez, at which point he was still unbeaten. The 13-year ring veteran—who turns 33 in June—is just 7-4 since that night, including a 7th round knockout at the hands of Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez, who was unbeaten at the time of their November 2015 clash and would go on to win a bantamweight title.
Unlike Jimenez, Aquino will enter the rematch on the heels of a win, having scored a 3rd round stoppage of Jorge Barreto last November in Santo Domingo.
Of course, their second go will take on a far different look than was the case seven years ago.
Both have done their best to prepare under restricted circumstances. The nation has remained under strict curfew since March 19, with modifications made on May 18 but with the order extended through June 1. The policies remaining in place are well justified, as Dominican Republic has produced nearly double the number of positive COVID test cases (15,264) from the 8,480 test cases that existed when the show was formally announced just three weeks ago.
Despite the external risks, event handlers aren’t seeking any shortcuts in order to proceed with the first show in country since February 22.
All 12 boxers will be taken the venue in separate cars in lieu of typical shuttle service and will have their own dressing room once on site, given the significantly reduced number of personnel on hand. The show will remain limited to in-ring participants, their immediate team members, and essential personnel among the promotional team, local commission and broadcast team.
All on-site parties are required to wear masks at all times, save for the boxers once they are in the ring. The only participants permitted in the ring at any point in the evening will be the boxers and the assigned referee. The “ring” announcer will instead serve as the house announcer. Such duties will be performed from ringside, remaining isolated from the ring as will the onsite broadcast team.
Saturday’s show will air on ESPN Deportes in the United States beginning at 11:30pm ET and locally, and on ESPN Knockout elsewhere. The main event and chief support will be feature WBA regional titles at stake.
“The WBA is focused on getting the activity back on track and for that reason we are supporting several promoters around the world,” notes Mendoza. “However, the most important thing is that boxing returns in a safe way.
“That is why we created the most complete health protocol to serve as a guideline for those who have the possibility of doing boxing. Most importantly, the well-being of the athlete is paramount, and that is where all our efforts are focused on.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox