Top Rank isn’t quite yet ready to get the (he)ck out of Las Vegas.
The first two shows of 2021 for the longtime promotional powerhouse will remain in its home base, with separate ESPN telecasts on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20 to air live from a yet-to-be-confirmed MGM property in Vegas. Both dates were formally approved by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) during its monthly agenda hearing, held Wednesday via conference call in lieu of in-person meetings due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Feb. 13 show will be headlined by a vacant light heavyweight title fight between Long Island, New York’s Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21KOs) and Russia’s Maksim Vlasov (45-3, 26KOs). One week later on Feb. 20, Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt (38-1, 34KOs) attempts the seventh defense of his 130-pound crown versus countryman Oscar Valdez (28-0, 22KOs).
The pair of Saturday dates will both air from the same location, though the exact MGM property has yet to be established by Top Rank as this goes to publish.
A hectic post-pandemic run over the last seven months of 2020 took place exclusively at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Former featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson (15-0, 8KOs) headlined the first show from the Vegas bubble with a 6th round knockout of Felix Caraballo in June as well as the season finale in a 10-round shutout of Toka Kahn Clary on Dec. 12.
The latter event was the first since the infamous Nov. 14 show, headlined by Terence Crawford’s 4th round knockout of former welterweight titlist Kell Brook though best remembered for its chief support.
Andrew Moloney was denied the opportunity to regain his secondary 115-pound title when his rematch versus prior conqueror Joshua Franco was stopped at the start of round three. Franco’s right eye was swollen shut to the point of the ringside physician disallowing the action to continue any further. Referee Russell Mora deemed the injury to have been caused by a headbutt, a ruling supported by the NSAC following a 26-minute review on instant replay monitors at ringside.
The ruling infuriated the Top Rank staff, particularly company founder/chairman and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum who vowed to tank the company's in-ring business elsewhere in 2021.
Such plans could very well be in place, though contingent upon improved conditions with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For now, at least two more Top Rank events will take place in Vegas, with future plans to be revisited in preparation of its springtime schedule.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox