A third fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.
Unification title fights between Naoya Inoue and John Riel Casimero, as well as Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez.
Virtually any clash between any boxer living in the United States and those traveling from abroad.
For more than two months, none of the above scenarios were plausible due to travel restrictions in place to help neutralize surging positive test cases during the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. A recent change in such policy could help pave the way for boxing as a whole to return back to normal sooner than expected.
“Reopening the economy in a safe manner is a critical part of the United States’ response to the COVID19 pandemic,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in a recent statement. “United States professional sports leagues and associations either suspended their seasons or postponed the start of their seasons in response to the spread of COVID-19.
“[N]ow, certain professional sporting groups organizing the United States’ largest sporting events, including Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour (PGA Tour), the National Hockey League (NHL), the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), are prepared to resume sporting events with limited attendance and other public safety measures.”
While it’s worth noting that neither boxing nor mixed martial arts are included on the current list, the modified policy in place is a significant step towards allowing the nation to heal. In time, boxing will be able to reap the benefits of individuals being permitted to enter without stern restrictions in place.
The boxing schedule as a whole was decimated from mid-March through present day due to the global health crisis, which has hit stateside harder than anywhere else in the world—at least among nations reporting honest numbers. As of Sunday evening, the U.S has registered nearly 1.7 million positive COVID test cases and is rapidly approaching 100,000 deaths due to the infectious disease.
Efforts are being made for boxers to make their way back to the ring. On the same weekend in late April, shows were held in Nicaragua and South Korea. The card in Nicaragua—which aired on ESPN Deportes and on the country’s Canal 6—took the risk of allowing fans in attendance, but with the venue at less than 10% capacity everyone entering the arena subject to public health screenings.
Two more shows are planned for this Saturday—one each in Mexico and Dominican Republic. Both will take place behind closed doors, a similar policy being aggressively explored by Las Vegas-based promoter Top Rank Inc. who plans to host a slew of summer boxing events. The first such show to take place stateside is slated for June 9, with reigning featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7KOs) to face Puerto Rico’s Felix Caraballo (13-1-2, 9KOs) in a non-title fight.
The bout will air live on ESPN, with whom Top Rank enjoys an exclusive output deal. The leading sports outlet will play host to two stateside events per week through June and July, with designs of airing shows beyond U.S. borders on Saturdays as well. Mexico-based outfit Zanfer Promotions sought to begin its own series on June 6, although those plans are severely compromised due to a recent order in country calling for current social distancing measures to remain in place through June 15.
Top Rank’s upcoming series will take place live on ESPN platforms behind closed doors, without fans or ringside media. The summer dates threatened to remain limited to U.S. participants as well as those who are able to arrive in country far enough in advance to properly quarantine and then train on site to and through their assigned fight dates. Twins Jason and Andrew Moloney have taken such measures, arriving in Las Vegas from Australia one week ago and immediately submitting to COVID-19 tests, for which they along with all team members tested negative.
Neither of the Moloney twins yet have fight assignments—at least not any that have yet been made available for public consumption—but they proudly served as the first boxers to undergo the testing policies planned by Top Rank. For weeks, the company has been working with the Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force to come up with a firm policy in place and ensure that its planned events are able to move forward as smoothly as possible.
As previously reported by BoxingScene.com (and first announced on ESPN), all participants will be tested upon arrival and quarantined until results are produced. The procedures in place call for such results to be available within 4-6 hours. Once cleared, participants will enjoy more freedom beyond their isolated hotel room but will still be required to operate within the assigned on-site bubble.
The first few shows will remain limited to available and travel accessible boxers, although with continued relaxation of social distancing and travel measures will come a wider talent pool. For now, it remains a challenge as—despite the recent declaration by Department of Homeland Security—recent travel restrictions were announced denying entry to non U.S. citizens traveling from Brazil, whose recent surge in test cases has shot the country ahead of Russia as the second-most plagued in the world.
The handicap of boxing taking place absent a live audience will limit the number of truly blockbuster fights that can take place in the foreseeable future. It doesn’t necessarily exclude, however, several mouthwatering matchups previously on tap to make its way back to the schedule.
Three-division and reigning bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero has remained in Las Vegas since start of the ongoing pandemic, in large part due to an inability to make his way back home to the Philippines. The diminutive slugger has been in the U.S. since mid-February, first training in Miami before making his way to Sin City for a planned unification clash versus fellow three-division titlist and multi-belted bantamweight king Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16KOs). Their bout was due to take place April 25 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, but was canceled as the city as a whole shut down in mid-March.
Plans are in store for the local economy to reopen, with Las Vegas casinos accepting reservations for arrivals beginning June 1. Based on the actions from Homeland Security, it’s clear that the need for sports to take place will equally serve as an integral role in allowing the nation to emotionally heal as continued efforts are made to combat the infectious disease.
A blockbuster fight such as the planned third clash between Fury (30-0-1, 21KOs) and Wilder (42-1-1, 41KOs) remains on hold for a number of reasons. Fury is still in England, a part of the world which has yet to receive clearance for travelers to enter the U.S. Additionally, such a fight will remain largely dependent on the massive gate revenue it can generate. Their second fight took place this past February, playing to a sold-out crowd at MGM Grand Garden Arena and producing a live gate of nearly $17 million along with well north of $60 million in Pay-Per-View revenue.
However, Top Rank has previously targeted both Inoue-Casimero and the titanic lightweight title unification clash between Lomachenko (14-1, 10KOs) and Lopez (15-0, 12KOs)—originally due to land on May 30 at Madison Square Garden in New York City—as two of the major fights that can make their way to the boxing schedule ahead of most other mouthwatering matchups. Japan's Inoue and Ukraine's Lomachenko remain in their respective home countries, but with any luck will be able to make their way stateside in time to move forward with their careers—and satisfy the overwhelming need for a sense of normalcy to return to the boxing world.
For now, it will require following the lead of other major sports. Still, it's a greater sign of hope than has been enjoyed at any point in the past two months.
“Professional sporting events provide powerful first- and second-order benefits to the national economy, even if attendance is curtailed, due to advertising and broadcasting revenue, hospitality and food service requirements, and commercial cleaning needs,” acknowledges Wolf. “In addition, the sporting organizations that manage the professional leagues are situated to do so in a controlled manner, as they act as a single point of contact to manage player movement and the scheduling of events, and can take other measures to ensure player, staff, and fan safety is appropriately addressed.
“Professional live sporting events also provide intangible benefits to the national interest, including civic pride and national unity. Based on the benefit live sporting events provide to the national economy, and the need for these sporting events to have full access to their athletes, support staff, and team and league leadership, I hereby determine that it is in the national interest to except from Proclamations 9984, 9992, 9993, and 9996, aliens who compete in professional sporting events organized by certain professional sporting groups, including their professional staff, team and league leadership, spouses, and dependents.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox