Talk to any boxing promoter, manager or television executive with an involvement in the sport and they will all tell you that when fights do resume they will take place in controlled environments without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While that scenario will mean cards will generate less revenue due to not having any ticket-buying fans, it will at least mean that everyone involved in the sport can get back to work, even if not under ideal circumstances, and that fans at home will be able to watch on television or on their streaming device.
But what do the fighters think about boxing in essentially empty venues where there will be just a handful of necessary people in attendance to put on the event and produce the broadcast? I checked in numerous fighters to get their take on what will undoubtedly be an unusual but necessary situation. Here is what they had to say (in alphabetical order) to BoxingScene.com:
Andre Berto (32-5, 24 KOs, former two-time welterweight world titlist): “If you’re a real fighter it doesn’t matter who’s in the crowd or if there is one. It’s you against him. Of course, having a crowd brings a lot more excitement, adrenaline, etc. But, at the end of the day, I always want to show that I’m better than you; that’s it. I have thought about fighting with no fans. I think it’ll take a little bit of the edge off for some. We go through 10 weeks of training camp and fine-tuning our skills against sparring partners three days a week without a crowd. I truly believe there will be pros and cons depending on the fighter. Ya’ll see guys we call gym fighters that are amazing in the gym sparring, but once they walk out to that crowd under those lights they get crushed by the atmosphere before the bell. So having no crowd might benefit them. Then you have those that only get up and are able to perform tremendously because that crowd gives them that boost of adrenaline and excellence take over the world.”
Michael Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs, featherweight contender): “I’ve thought about it and it seems highly likely how it’s going to be for a while. It won’t be the same, but as a fighter I need to put food on my table for my family and that’s enough motivation for me to happily jump back in a ring in with only a few people there. Fighters will get to fight sooner rather than later and that big fights will be made with fighters starting to take risks to get on the few fight slots available (but) a con is obviously there will be (a lack of) atmosphere and big-fight feeling for both fighters and fans. I’m used to fighting in front of big crowds with great atmospheres, but I boxed many of my amateur bouts in empty arenas so it will not bother me. I’m just excited to get back in the ring whenever and wherever that may be.”
Charles Conwell (12-0, 9 KOs, junior middleweight prospect): “I think that it’s a good start to get boxing back. I feel as if fights with no audience have to be broadcast on national TV and be rerun once or twice in the week. I’m definitely interested in fighting in venues with no people there as long as it broadcast nationally. The pros are it gives boxers a chance to make income. I also feel like the views of the sport of boxing will go up because everyone’s home and watching TV. The cons are the atmosphere of the fight will be down tremendously, which I feel can affect the fight. Another con is gate money for promoters.”
Ryan Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs, lightweight contender): “My thoughts on having a fight without fans is that as long as millions of people are still watching on the screen then I’m OK because you have to block out the noise in the crowd anyway because the crowd can influence you to change your approach on the fight, whether they cheer or boo, but I will also miss my fans getting to see me in person. But I hope to give them that same excitement and love even if they aren’t there. It’s also perfect for this era because a lot of things are streamed anyway. So, I’m OK with it and want to get the show on the road. The show must go on.”
Jamel Herring (21-2, 10 KOs, junior lightweight world titlist): “I’m definitely open to the idea though I see now that there’s little chance of having any international fights for the time being. I’d still love to fight, maybe a tune-up bout before (defending against Carl) Frampton since I highly doubt he’ll be able to come over (to the United States) and fight anytime soon. Though it would be totally weird fighting in front of only judges and the commission, the upside would be that the ratings would be tremendous in my opinion. Sure, fans wouldn’t be able to attend live, but just imagine how many people back home would tune in. I also believe a lot of casual fans would tune in as well being that many just want to see live sports on TV.”
Badou Jack (22-3-3, 13 KOs, former two-division world titlist): “I think that would be kind of weird to fight behind closed doors, but it’s better than not fighting at all. At the end of the day, it’s about staying safe and (being) healthy. So whatever that means we gotta do what we gotta do.”
Daniel Jacobs (36-3, 30 KOs, former two-time middleweight world titlist): “It takes away from the culture. Boxing is for the people. If there’s no people it don’t really drive us or give us the same intensity like when there’s a crowd to perform for. I do feed off the crowd if I’m being booed or if I’m being cheered on. The fans are an essential part of boxing because they bring everything together.”
Amir Khan (34-5, 21 KOs, former unified junior welterweight world titlist): “I can’t see fighting with out (the) public. Fighters like myself need fans to lift their spirit and put on a showcase. An empty arena would feel like a sparring session -- no nerves or excitement. I really think it will be a flop and fighters won’t fight at their best. For TV, I think it’s great as everyone would tune in. If this was to happen you might as well do it in a boxing gym to save costs. I’m one who couldn’t fight in an empty room.”
Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs, junior middleweight contender): “I believe the fans bring the energy to every arena and everything but I’m back in the gym training now. I’ll be prepared for a date when boxing comes back. I know things will have to be done in a safe manner. I just want to fight the top names in my division. I don’t mind fighting without crowds right now. I’ll be truly thankful to be back in the in the ring doing what I love to do and provide for my family.”
Abner Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs, former three-division world titlist): “I’m not against it. Desperate times call for desperate measures and I think anything that can bring boxing back for now is fine with me from a spectator/fan point of view. Now, as a fighter, I think that, yes it’s also good because at the end of the day work is work and we need to get paid and provide for our families. Obviously, it won’t be the same adrenaline rush or energy we get from the audience screaming and chanting, but at the end of the day knowing that you are entertaining boxing fans through TV or any social media outlet, I’m happy.”
Vergil Ortiz Jr. (15-0, 15 KOs, welterweight contender): “I’m very open to the fighting with no fans in the stands. We do this in sparring all the time and sometimes sparring can be more heated than the actual fights, so I don’t think that’ll be a problem. It would be a good thing for all the fighters to do it so they can stay busy and they have some income coming in because I know that is the only source of income for a lot of fighters. The only downside I see to this is that our family members will not be able to come and support us live, but I’m sure they’ll be able to watch it somewhere.”
Joseph Parker (27-2, 21 KOs, former heavyweight world titlist): “Hard to imagine what it would be like because it hasn't really been done. But every fight, no matter against who or where, comes with its own challenges, so it would just be another challenge to overcome. I'm a boxer and I love what I do, so if it makes sense, I would welcome the opportunity to fight. In saying that though, there's nothing like the feeling after a good camp to hear the roar of the crowd and dance under the lights. So, yes, I would be willing to give it a go, especially if it's a way to keep boxing alive while keeping people safe. If it does happen I’m actually looking forward to seeing how it all plays out, how different it would be and how fighters adapt to it."
Jean Pascal (35-6-1, 20 KOs, light heavyweight world titlist): “I’ve been keeping myself in shape and I’ll be ready to go whenever I get that call, but I think our world has more important issues than boxing right now. Like be for real here. Could a doctor do more good on the front lines of this pandemic or at ringside for boxers? Patience is a virtue and we need to have our priorities straight. Until this virus is under control having any event would be a risk. Look at my resume -- I’m comfortable facing risk, so I’m fighting when I get the call. As long we know everyone in the building is covid-19 negative, I would fight in an empty stadium. In training there are only few people so I’m kind of used to it anyway. I’d know there are millions watching on TV, so I would be in a world champion mindset.”
Caleb Plant (20-0, 12 KOs, super middleweight world titlist): For athletes wondering when they will be able to compete again, to either provide or help provide, is on all our minds. I’m in a blessed spot where I just fought in February, right before everything started to shut down and even before that have been really smart with my money. But at some point we are all going to have to compete again and a compromise plan is that maybe we fight with no audience. For me, that’s something I’m trying to avoid. I think the crowd and atmosphere plays a big part of any sport and the best can perform when the crowd or atmosphere is at its most chaotic. No crowd takes a lot away from the pressure aspect. Again we are all going through it in some type of way and regardless of who likes it we may all have to compromise on how we compete. Fingers crossed that we can get through all of this with ease and get back to normal as fast as possible."
Shawn Porter (30-3-1, 17 KOs, former two-time welterweight world titlist): “I can't say I'm looking forward to fighting in a crowdless arena, but given the current circumstances I'm willing to do what has to be done for the greater good of the sport and professional athletics in general. I think guys like myself that train in a closed camp have a pretty good understanding of what it may feel like to fight in front of maybe a dozen people. Obviously, the intensity of training is different from an actual fight, but I think we'll be able to manage the noise and energy or lack thereof.”
Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs, featherweight world titlist): “I don’t want to fight without a crowd, but I don’t mind it. I honestly look at it like it’s sparring -- nobody is there but you have to get your business done regardless. The cons? None of your family and friends can come to your fight. The pros? Nobody is there, so the TV (ratings) should sky rocket (and have) high numbers. Everybody will be watching.”
Caleb Truax (31-4-2, 19 KOs, former super middleweight world titlist): “I'm totally open to the idea though it would be strange fighting with no crowd noise. Obviously, I'd prefer fighting in front of my fans, but at the same time, we fighters have to earn a living and if fighting in a studio with no fans is what it takes, then so be it.”
Dillian Whyte (27-1, 18 KOs, interim heavyweight titlist): “It’s a hard one but these are hard times and we have to make changes in these times for our beautiful sport to keep going and stay on top, and also for fighters to continue making a living, keep entertaining our fans and also to give people something to look forward to in these hard times. I love fighting in the arena with all the fans and the big events with my family, friends and supporters alongside me, but if I have to fight behind closed to doors to keep active and to give people something to look forward to and keep people entertained, then I would do it at the drop of a hat. Behind closed doors one would hope for bigger viewing numbers and reaching a bigger audience (but it) won’t be the same without the fans and the media there. That will take some getting used to, but that’s better then a year of no boxing.”
Xander Zayas (4-0, 3 KOs, welterweight prospect): I believe it is a good idea to get us going. I would definitely fight on one of those cards if Top Rank provided me an opportunity to stay busy. At this stage of my career, I am happy to fight, even with no live audience. I don't think there any cons for the fighters necessarily. I feel the promoters are losing out on ticket sales, but the fighters should be tuning out the crowd anyway. So it shouldn't impact their performance."
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.