Boxing promoters are busy making plans for bringing fights back this summer with most realizing that, at least initially, they will have to take place without spectators -- or the revenue that goes with having a live gate -- due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Golden Boy Promotions is one of those companies and hopeful to put on its first show on July 4 with rising lightweight star Ryan Garcia in the main event. But before any plans are set in stone, Golden Boy president Eric Gomez acknowledged that there is a lot of work to be done.
“We envision shows without fans and, at some point, with fans, but what the specifications are for a return to shows with fans I don’t know,” Gomez told BoxingScene.com. “We don’t know if that will be this year or not, but we’ll have to follow whatever the guidelines are from federal government, state government. They might say no shows with fans until there’s a vaccine. I don’t know.”
Gomez said he has spoken to executives from state athletic commissions in California, Nevada, Texas and Arizona, all of whom are formulating rules for how boxing can return amid the pandemic, although none have anything set in stone.
In a perfect world, Gomez said he hopes that whatever guidelines the commissions implement that they are uniform.
“Testing requirements, for quarantine time, for arenas,” Gomez said. “It would be great if they were unified because then all of the promoters would know the guidelines, would memorize them and then we can conduct business in the proper manner, safe and sound.”
Gomez said he mentioned his hope for uniform guidelines to Bob Bennett, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and California State Athletic Commission executive officer Andy Foster, who are in touch with each other about plans for their states.
“I think there’s a very good possibility they will get together and say, ‘Look, guys, this is the way we should do it,’” Gomez said “I’ve talked to the commissions and they’re all pretty much coming up with the same plans but just saying it in different ways, but it’s all pretty much the same guidelines.
"They’re going to have to test people. They’re already working on getting the tests, a test that’s fast enough. I know Nevada and California are working with the top viral lab in the United States in Utah to develop a test that’s affordable and available with quick results, kind of like a pregnancy test kit.”
Indeed, the commissions are working with the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, which is a World Anti-Doping Agency-certified lab in Salt Lake City where tests are conducted on samples of athletes, including from the UFC, Major League Baseball and the Olympics. SMRTL has said it hopes to be able to return test results for the coronavirus in about 24 hours.
“We’ll be ready to jump into action as soon as the restrictions are lifted, as soon as there is some sort of path to do shows again,” Gomez said. “We want to do (July 4) in California. That’s where we are, that’s where Ryan is from. But if they’re not ready yet we’ll look into Nevada, we’ll look into Texas, we’ll look everywhere. But most important is the safety of the fighters, the safety of the staff, that’s the most important thing. We would have to find an arena that everybody’s comfortable with and where we have safety guidelines and they know it’s going to be a sterile place. It’s going to have to be an arena possibly next to a hotel, where the hotel is going to be safe as well. There’s a lot to it.”
Gomez did not rule out the possibility of even four-division world titlist Canelo Alvarez, Golden Boy’s No. 1 fighter and the arguably the pound-for-pound king, fighting behind closed doors even though his fights routinely generate millions of dollars in ticket sales. Alvarez was due to face Billy Joe Saunders in a super middleweight title unification fight on May 2 in Las Vegas but the formal announcement of the bout never came because the sports world shut down in mid-March.
“We’re going to discuss it and start having talks about it with DAZN, with Canelo, with everybody involved,” Gomez said of a closed door fight involving Alvarez. “If it’s something Canelo would approve and he’s up for it, and we can make it work for everyone involved, we’re going to do it. What matters is if Canelo is in agreement with it and is willing to do it, and then we’ll go from there.”
Mixed martial arts returned to action on Saturday night when the UFC put on UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida, where it said it conducted about 1,200 tests over a few days ahead of its card. Three people involved tested positive for the coronavirus and were removed. Gomez, like all boxing promoters, is interested in the particulars on how UFC and Florida conducted the event.
“Everybody is keeping a close eye on the UFC,” Gomez said, noting UFC also has cards scheduled in Jacksonville on Wednesday and Saturday. “We’ll get a full report on what happened with UFC, what was required, how they did it. We’re in a hurry to get back to business and get back to doing fights again but we’re not in that much of a hurry if it’s not safe and sound. We have to take it seriously.”
Golden Boy had slotted Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs), the 21-year-old sensation, to box on July 4 since his resounding first-round destruction of Francisco Fonseca on Feb. 14. On that undercard, former three-division world titlist Jorge Linares knocked out Carlos Morales in the fourth round. The plan was to match Garcia in a major step-up fight against Linares on July 4.
However, Gomez said Linares is in Japan, a second home to him, and is unable to come to the United States due to travel restrictions in place because of the coronavirus.
“We would love to do that fight, but right now Linares is in Japan and he can’t even get into the U.S., so we have a backup plan. We have a couple of other possible names,” Gomez said. “So we have a plan in place for that show. Now, if that doesn’t work for whatever reason, because of the state commissions, we have another backup plan. If the backup plan doesn’t work then we have a backup to the backup plan -- move it down the line to September if we had to. We also have to make sure DAZN is OK with it as well because we’re sensitive to the fact that DAZN would have to be on board and feel comfortable since they are our (broadcast) partner.”
The boxing shutdown forced Golden Boy to call off at least four shows that were already scheduled, including events headlined by Alvarez, unbeaten top welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz Jr. and a light heavyweight showdown between former champion Sergey Kovalev and Sullivan Barrera. But even with no shows, Gomez said he was happy that Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya made the decision not to furlough or lay off any employees.
“We are lucky. I’m very proud of Oscar,” Gomez said. “We haven’t had to lay anybody off. Oscar is continuing to pay our staff and everybody is looking forward to putting on shows again.”
Whenever Golden Boy’s cards return, Gomez said the plan is to have fewer fights on a card than usual in order to cut down on the number of people needed at each event as a way to help minimize the threat of infection. So instead of a card with perhaps as many as eight or nine fights, they will be reduced to four or five bouts, Gomez said. As it is, Gomez said there would certainly still be well over 100 people involved in each event that would need to be tested, not including people such as those working at hotels they would use.
“There’s no textbook, no rulebook you can go look at and say this is the way this should be done,” Gomez said. “Some of it will be trial and error and we’re all going to have to adapt.”
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.