January isn’t the only month in early 2021 within which ESPN won’t televise live boxing.
Bob Arum informed BoxingScene.com that the network’s decision-makers have opted to skip boxing programming in March as well. The primary strategy behind that decision is to avoid airing boxing opposite men’s college basketball postseason games during that month, most notably the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re not doing anything in March because of ‘March Madness,’ ” Arum told BoxingScene.com. “And then we should have maybe two shows in April. And then from May through the end of July, we’ll have eight or nine shows, basically three a month.”
Loading up on boxing programming later in the year is fine by Arum because the 89-year-old promoter hopes at least some fans can attend cards in most states by the time ESPN begins televising or streaming approximately three cards per month on ESPN or ESPN+, the network’s $6-per-month streaming service. The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted Arum’s company, Top Rank Inc., to staging shows at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, without fans in attendance, since it brought boxing back to U.S. television June 9.
ESPN was supposed to televise or stream three Top Rank cards in March last year, but each of those shows were canceled due to the coronavirus crisis. Top Rank has had an exclusive content agreement with ESPN for the past 3½ years.
“We didn’t discourage [ESPN] from doing that [skipping shows in March] because we hope that as you do shows later in the year that the coronavirus will be behind us and we can start doing these fights with spectators,” Arum said. “Because without that, it’s horrendous. Without gates, it’s really hard economically.”
ESPN will air its first Top Rank show of 2021 on February 13 from an undetermined MGM property in Las Vegas.
The main event of that show will match American Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) against Russian Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) in a 12-round fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title. In the co-feature that night, Richard Commey (29-3, 26 KOs), a former IBF lightweight champ from Ghana, will meet Dominican contender Jackson Marinez (19-1, 7 KOs) in a 10-rounder.
The following Saturday night, February 20, ESPN will televise the rescheduled Miguel Berchelt-Oscar Valdez fight for Berchelt’s WBC super featherweight title. The Berchelt-Valdez card also will take place at an undetermined MGM venue in Las Vegas.
ESPN’s live boxing telecasts will begin about a month later this year than in 2020. The network aired and streamed cards on back-to-back Saturday nights during the first month of last year, on January 11 (ESPN) and January 18 (ESPN+).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.