Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is confident that his staff and the Nevada State Athletic Commission have prepared properly for the return of major boxing to the United States for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world in mid-March.
It happened just a few days before Top Rank was due to put on featherweight world titlist Shakur Stevenson’s first defense against Miguel Marriaga at the Hulu Theater in New York on March 14, forcing the card to be canceled as well as fights around the world in the ensuing months.
But now Top Rank will be the first promotional company to put on a televised boxing card in the U.S. since, although there is a non-televised club card slated to take place on Saturday in Topeka, Kansas.
To do so, Arum outlined the some of the details and costs associated with bringing fights back, which will begin on Tuesday (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 7 p.m. ET) with a six-fight card that will take place without spectators in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Conference Center Grand Ballroom, which will be the site of all of the upcoming Top Rank shows.
“This is not an easy job. It seems like it’s easy but my people, Brad Jacobs, Todd duBoef, really have been working for months on this – getting the protocols in shape, the testing, working with the Nevada commission, and its medical staff,” Arums said on Thursday on a teleconference with boxing media to discuss the event, which will be headlined by Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs), of Newark, New Jersey, taking on Felix Caraballo (13-1-2, 9 KOs), of Puerto Rico, in a 10-round nontitle bout at junior lightweight.
“This is something that nobody, at least on our end, had any experience with,” Arum continued. “So, it’s really been a work in progress and it continues to be a work in progress.”
Arum outlined some of the special measures being undertaken to avoid as best as possible any transmission of the coronavirus.
“Guys come into Vegas to get into the bubble, which is a special floor at the MGM,” Arum said. “They have to be tested, they’re in the bubble. They got to be escorted to a place to shake out, to train, a place to eat. We have a special dining room set up in the convention center. All of this is something that none of us is used to. We’re not starting out with title fights, but we’re going to have them before long, by the third week (we’ll) start doing world title fights because there are other issues with the organizations which we’re working out. So it’s one step at a time.”
The first title bout of Top Rank’s series of cards is due to take place June 23 when Andrew Moloney is due to make the first defense of his secondary junior bantamweight title against Joshua Franco.
“It’s not easy and it’s not inexpensive,” Arum said of an undertaking that will include at least 10 cards between June 9 and July 16. “For example, testing, just the testing for coronavirus for each event will cost us in excess of $25,000. Just the testing. Plus the rooms, the special security, the meals in the dining room in the convention area.
“This is a very, very large undertaking, but obviously it has to be done. We’ve got to get boxing started up. We’re probably going to be doing this for three months, for June, July definitely and then in August, and hopefully by September we’re going to start getting back to doing events with spectators with a limited capacity. That’s our second phase that we’re working on. And the third phase, hopefully by the end of the year, we’ll be doing events with virtually full capacity. But that’s down the line. So this is really big responsibility on our part to start this off and start it off on the right foot.”
Arum said, of course, he hopes the fights are entertaining for the viewers but that his No. 1 concern is safety and to avoid anyone spreading the Covid-19 virus, which is why only essential personnel will be allowed in the bubble and to attend the fights. For example, ESPN’s commentators will call the fights from remote locations and Top Rank will only have about a dozen or so staff on site, although the 88-year-old Arum plans to be ringside.
“We know the responsibility on our shoulders to make sure this thing goes well, that these fights are held, that their interesting and entertaining, and even more important that they’re safe, that the fighters are safe, the people in the arena, the commission people, the television people, that everybody is safe,” Arum said.
“That is our primary focus now. Once we get through a number of these and we know where we’re going and we know what’s working and what’s not working then we’ll begin to expand it so it looks more like what we had before this coronavirus plague.
“That’s the best I can do. I can’t just wave a wand and make everything perfect. The Nevada commission has been tremendous. They’ve worked very closely with us. It’s been no nonsense with their doctors… We’re here now. We’re confident it will work. Do we know for sure? Absolutely no, but I believe everything will go smoothly and going into the end of June, July we’ll get some really big fights that we’re going to be showing the public.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.