Expect more closed-doors boxing events to take place in Las Vegas this summer—just as not as often as has presently been the case.
Top Rank will move forward with shows airing live on ESPN from MGM Grand Conference Center (also known as “The Bubble” in Las Vegas, with a series of summer dates to continue through at least August 27. A request to promote events for 10 dates in July and August were all unanimously approved by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) during its monthly agenda hearing on Wednesday, taking place remotely via teleconference.
The summer series will continue with its format of Tuesday and Thursday shows through July 21 before the Top Rank team will enjoy something close to a summer vacation. Upon its return in August, the series will only run every Thursday, with Tuesdays on ESPN to be assigned to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events taking place at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
UFC will also continue with its Saturday evening series on ESPN throughout the month of August.
Top Rank Boxing on ESPN will run as follows through August 27:
· July: Thursday, 7/2; Tuesday, 7/7; Thursday, 7/9; Tuesday, 7/14; Thursday, 7/16; Tuesday, 7/21
· August: Thursday, 8/6; Thursday, 8/13; Thursday, 8/20; Thursday, 8/27
Boxing events have occupied “The Bubble” beginning with its June 9 launch, headlined by unbeaten featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson (14-0, 8KOs) who made his junior lightweight debut. Plans for the series were in development throughout the spring, with Top Rank, the NSAC and state government officials working together to produce a sufficient testing protocol to guard against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
No fewer than five fights have been postponed or canceled outright due to a boxer or a member of their team testing positive for the infectious disease. Three more bouts were spared due to modifications to the current protocol, which now permits athletes to remain in scheduled fights even in the event of a team member testing positive so long as the boxer continues to test negative.
The greatest benefactor of the revised policy was the June 25 show, headlined by bantamweight contender Jason Moloney. Two of the undercard bouts were permitted to proceed as scheduled despite cornermen for two of the boxers testing positive for COVID.
The most recent show went on with just four of the six scheduled bouts, including the chief support which saw Josue Vargas earn a 10-round decision over Salvador Briceno. Vargas—a 22-year old Boricua southpaw who now lives and trains in The Bronx—was forced to enter the fight without his father and trainer Tito Vargas, who was removed from the secured site after breaking “Bubble” protocol by entering the casino floor without a protective mask.
Six bouts are scheduled for the show on Thursday, topped by junior welterweights Jose Pedraza (26-3, 13KOs) and Mikkel LesPierre (22-1-1, 10KOs) in a 10-round bout to be contested at a 144-pound limit. The fight was rescheduled from its original June 18 date, falling through the morning of the fight after LesPierre’s manager Jose Taveras tested positive for COVID despite both boxers testing negative throughout the process. The testing protocol was modified shortly after (though not specifically in response to) the incident.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox