As frustrating as it’s been for Keith Thurman to not fight as often as he’d like, the thought of performing on a largely empty studio lot won’t get him back in the ring any sooner.
With all sports and most form of entertainment on hold due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, networks and leagues are attempting to find creative ways to reintroduce such mediums to the masses. Rumors continue to swirl of boxing executives exploring the possibility of in-studio shows without fans in attendance, in best efforts to comply with CDC (Center for Disease Control) regulations while being able to resume a somewhat healthy schedule.
Other sports are exploring similar options, though to the dismay of many athletes who would rather wait for full clearance.
“There’s a reason we have arenas,” Thurman (29-1, 22KOs) noted to Ray Flores during a Premier Boxing Champions (PBC)-hosted Instagram Live interview. “There’s a reason why we have spectators. There’s a reason to have people there in person. (As a) commentator, you know that it makes your job easier when you say “We are looking forward to tonight. We have 25,000 people in attendance.” It makes the job so much easier than…“Well thank you for watching us and tuning in at home.”
Other major sports have scrambled to come up with alternate solutions in hopes of reasonably making it back to the court, field and ice. As resistant as team sport participants have been to the idea of performing in empty stadiums, Thurman shares his own views on how such mediums could benefit from a CDC-friendly back-up plan more so than boxing.
“There’s a few sports that will do OK. I think you can probably show NASCAR events without fans,” theorizes Thurman, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise. “They just go around in circles all day. You can probably do baseball. It’s pretty boring, anyway when I’m there live. The action is not that intense. The length that you sit to see that pitch… if you ain’t watching that pitch, you ain’t watching baseball. You can easily broadcast that.
“Football? I don’t even know. Basketball? We can kind of do it but I don’t know. (Boxing) without the people, it takes away a certain dynamic. It takes away that certain energy. It takes a way that humanism. The life of the sport is to hear that uproar, the cheers from the fans. Even golf is loud nowadays after they putt. C’mon, man. You want to go back to silent golf? Go ask Tiger (Woods) if he wants to go back to silent golf.”
Some have argued that major boxing events often come with preliminary undercard bouts playing to empty venues, as the trend has long been for fans to arrive closer to the main event.
In that vein, there exists a portion of the sport that could survive while fighting on an isolated studio event in front of only essential personnel. Once you get to the bigger names and the bigger fights, however, there are just some aspects that aren’t worth the compromise.
“It’s very awkward. Sports and entertainment have taken a hit this year,” notes Thurman. “If we’re fighting, the only thing I’d do on the boxing level—you can’t have a championship match. You just can’t fill the shoes of a real championship match. Let’s say if you want me to fight a 10-rounder against X, I think we can get some level of entertainment. I don’t think people will get to see what they want and what they deserve to see.
“Even when I fought Luis Collazo back in Tampa (in July 2015), just having my home crowd is huge, the uproar. It’s very essential, even for the spectators. It’s beautiful to go to a live event. From the performers performing and getting paid, to the spectators enjoying to the viewers at home, the networks… there’s a collective. As a collective, there’s more. You want to take away a portion of the collective and put in the same show, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox