Where Dana White leads, Bob Arum is sure to follow.
OK, the grizzled boxing promoter is as likely to share a beach house with Al Haymon as say something nice about the controversial UFC czar, but it’s hard to argue the folks at Top Rank will happily bask in the “live sports are back” glow the mixed martial arts promotion began generating last month.
Arum and Co. will produce the first significant stateside boxing show since the schedule-trashing onset of COVID-19, featuring prized commodity and reigning 126-pound champ Skakur Stevenson front and center in a 10-round bout at 130 pounds with anonymous Puerto Rican featherweight Felix Caraballo.
The five-bout card will be televised tonight by ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 7 p.m.
Boxing will be back on the network Thursday with a Jessie Magdaleno/Yenifel Vicente headliner.
Both shows will be held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, with no fans in attendance.
Stevenson and Caraballo weighed in at 130 pounds apiece, a career-high for both.
Caraballo had never weighed-in heavier than 127 and has never fought outside of Puerto Rico, while it’s Stevenson’s first bout since capturing the WBO featherweight belt last October in Reno and the first time he’s scaled higher than the 128 he weighed for a one-round blowout win in October 2018.
Arum was among White’s harshest critics before the UFC returned in May for three fan-less shows in Jacksonville, Fla. under the regulation of the Florida State Boxing Commission.
“This kind of cowboy behavior doesn’t do anybody any good,” he said then, adding that he didn’t plan any shows until late June. “We’re not gonna be cowboys, like Dana White. I don’t wanna get politics involved, but I have really very little respect for Dana and what he’s doing.”
White and his team shifted back to their home base of Las Vegas in late May and produced a pay-per-view show – UFC 250 – this past Saturday night at its UFC Apex facility.
That show was overseen by the Nevada Athletic Commission with no obvious concerns in the aftermath, and the Top Rank shows will be subject to the same regulatory scrutiny.
And Arum, it seems, is now perfectly ready to giddy-up.
“We didn't feel the protocols that the UFC had when they opened up Florida were adequate,” he said.
“But again, you have to understand that they were the first out of the box, and so the fact that they made mistakes, you know that's understandable. They now have done an event in Nevada and they're under the same type of protocols that we are, and I think it's all good because the Nevada commission has cleared everything, whether it's a UFC event or a Top Rank event, and their interest in the safety of the participants are the same for us and now for UFC.”
Arum said Brad Jacobs and Todd duBoef have been working behind the scenes to establish protocols and procedures with the commission and referred to the process as a “work in progress.”
He said a special floor has been set aside at the MGM for fighters to be tested and they’re then escorted to train and to eat. He said coronavirus testing at each event will cost “in excess of $25,000,” not to mention special security and meals and rooms.
As for Stevenson, he says he’s been active and connected throughout the pandemic and the eight-month layoff and expects no great difficultly returning. He said he’s seen exactly one round of Caraballo on video and had never heard of him prior to the match being made – and suggested it’s more of a trial run to see how he’ll handle 130 pounds than a real threat to his 13-fight unbeaten run.
“I see everything I needed to see in that one round, and I see a lot of holding in his game, so I’m going to expose it,” he said. “I noticed that he’s nowhere near on my level. I expect him to come out loud and try to land a big shot.”
Arum, incidentally, suggested Stevenson is a left-handed version of Floyd Mayweather and said “he will exceed the performances by Floyd” while perhaps climbing as high as 154 pounds.
He stands 5-foot-8 and has a 68-inch reach, compared to Mayweather’s 5-foot-8 with a reach of 72.
“(If) he feels that he's better off going to 130, we'll go along with that,” Arum said. “In other words, I'm not going to force a fighter to fight at a weight which he shouldn't be fighting at because it takes too much out of them to make the weight. So, Shakur has great people with him, great technical people, his corner people, his manager, James Prince. They'll discuss it with him and discuss it with us.”
If he stays at 126, a bout with unbeaten IBF champ Josh Warrington is a priority.
If not, Stevenson said he’s begun pondering the title-level obstacles at 130.
“The champions at 130 are all decent fighters,” he said. “I've already pictured myself in the ring with all of them already, so I've already been thinking about that. I've been thinking about being in the ring with Oscar Valdez, with Russell, (Leo) Santa Cruz, JoJo (Diaz), even Jamel (Herring), if I have to.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No title fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: None
2020 picks record: 14-3 (82.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,130-368 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.