LAS VEGAS – After 26 shows, Top Rank is prepared to move from life in the MGM bubble.
A better moment couldn’t have been chosen for the apparent grand finale, Oscar Valdez delivering a career-best performance with his 10th round knockout of Miguel Berchelt to win the WBC featherweight crown. The bout topped the Feb. 20 edition of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN, marking the 26th show to take place at the MGM Grand Conference Center since the pandemic—nearly all of which have taken place behind closed doors.
The suggestion for now is that it could be the last.
“It’s time for us to bring the fights to the fans,” Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum told BoxingScene.com. “We want fans in attendance for these events.”
At one point, that goal was easier said than done though the world is now a different place than it was at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Arum himself is among the millions to have been vaccinated for the infectious disease, as locations around the United States are slowing loosening restrictions on large gatherings.
Venues in Florida and Texas have hosted boxing events with fan in attendance, including the lone fight for pound-for-pound king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in 2020 along with separate Pay-Per-View events headlined by unbeaten multi-belt champs Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis and Errol Spence Jr. Most recently, Ryan Garcia played to a socially distanced crowd in Dallas this past January, as will DAZN events in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in back-to-back weekends—the March 13 rematch between Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada and the March 20 all-Dallas welterweight clash between Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Maurice Hooker.
Alvarez will take his act to South Beach this weekend, where he will face Avni Yildirim in front of as many fans as will be permitted into Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
The onsite fan particpation has been the one ingredient missing from Top Rank events, save for limited tickets presented for two shows—Oct. 17th (Teofimo Lopez-Vasiliy Lomachenko) and Nov. 14th (Terence Crawford vs. Kell Brook). In that regard, the company gets to celebrate being the first to bring boxing back from the pandemic, though the last major American promoter to present shows in front of live crowds.
That will change with Top Rank’s next stateside show. Emanuel Navarrete will defend his WBO featherweight title versus Puerto Rico’s Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz on April 24. A location is still being secured, though with strong indication of the event heading to Kissimmee, Florida (Top Rank staff declined comment, nor would they confirm the location).
From there, venues will be sought in any state which will permit tickets to be sold to the general public. That could include the planned undisputed junior welterweight championship clash between unbeaten, unified titlists Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor. The fight is being eyed for May 22, with hopes of returning to Vegas in front of a crowd in lieu of another closed doors event.
“We can’t stay in the bubble,” insists Arum. “We want to put this pandemic in the rearview mirror as things continue to improve.”
Equally ambitious plans call for the potential to stage a show in New York City on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade, a long standing boxing tradition which started with the June 2005 show at Madison Square Garden, promoted by Top Rank and headlined by then-unbeaten 140-pound titlist Miguel Cotto. From there, boxing on the eve of the parade would become a semi-regular occurrence. The hope is to have Teofimo Lopez defend his lineal lightweight championship and unified titles although an ordered mandatory title defense versus George Kambosos, Jr. is currently the subject of a purse bid hearing.
Still, the opportunity at least exists to return to New York City given the recent announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo declaring that sporting events can take place with up to 10% venue capacity.
“We are thrilled with this first and important step towards establishing fans back in New York,” Brad Jacobs, COO of Top Rank told BoxingScene.com. “We look forward to that number increasing over time as the Governor and local authorities deem appropriate.”
Of course, in boxing you can never say never—particularly when dealing with health disasters well beyond your control. The intention is to graduate from the Las Vegas bubble which has served as Top Rank event headquarters for the past eight months, but the company will continue to do as it has always done with the current times—adjust and plan accordingly.
“I’m not going to be so definitive as anything. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank clarifies to BoxingScene.com. “Bob is a great optimist and it would be great to go on the move and bring the fights to the fans, or staying here (in Las Vegas) and having fans. All of those are in discussion.
“Our next (stateside) show is in April. We’ll see where that takes place. We have plenty of time and will hopefully have plenty of vaccine in between.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox