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Bob Arum targeting June for boxing to return

Image: Bob Arum targeting June for boxing to return

By Jim Maltzman: Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is hoping to bring back boxing by June of this year. Arum says he’s working with the State Commissions in three states to bring boxing behind closed doors in a limited capacity.

He plans to stage events with four fights per card without fans. Everyone involved, fighters, announcers, judges, cornerman, and the referees, will all be tested for the COVID-19 virus ahead of time to ensure that it’s safe to stage the fights.

The fighters will be training at the Top Rank Gym, which will be sterilized ahead of time. The one major obstacle that Arum has that could limit his success in starting things back up is the travel ban in the U.S. and elsewhere.

If Arum can’t bring in talented fighters from the UK, Asia, and Mexico to compete in the U.S., then that’ll limit what he can do. Arum can still match U.S. based fighters, but it’ll restrict some of the match-makings he would otherwise do.

Boxing returning in June possible

“We hope to be operational sometime in June,” said Arum to ESPN. “We’re working on Commissions in Nevada and California and Texas. We want to make sure that when we’re up and running, and of course, it would have to be without audiences, it’s done properly.

“The participants, not only the cornermen, have been tested. That’s the key thing is testing. The Commission, the referee, and judges, you and the other announcers, and the camera people, and then hopefully, we can do two or three boxing events each week.

“We are working with a major properly in Las Vegas now if the fights are going to be in Nevada. We’ll put the fighters in quarantine, and then the fighters will be taken to the Top Rank gym where they’ll train with sparring partners. Right now, we’re sterilizing and getting our gym appropriate conditions so we can do this,” said Arum.

For this to work, the fighters all those involved with the fight events will need to agree to be quarantined before the fights. It’ll be hard to get the commentators, judges, referees, T.V. crew, Commission, and medical staff to be quarantine. How long would they need to be quarantined before the events? Will they all agree to be coupled up in a hotel for a week or two before the fight?

The travel ban will be a problem

“Then, in a facility in one of the hotels, maybe in a ballroom, we put up a ring,” said Arum. “We keep the ring, the lighting, and the cameras there over a two-month period or longer if we have to do these events without spectators. I think you’ll see top fights and top fighters, but we’re faced with problems that we don’t know how to solve.

“For example, there’s a travel ban on fighters coming from Asia. We got a call from the manager of [Naoya] Inoue, who is dying to come over to do his fight with Casimero, which is a major fight. He has a visa, and he came into the United States, where we can put him in quarantine and put him in the gym. Fortunately, Casimero is already in Las Vegas. That’s a fight that is ready to go,” said Arum.

Without question, the travel ban will limit the quality of the fights that take place. Although Arum has a lot of quality U.S. based fighters in his Top Rank stable, the match-making he can do for them will be limited.

Four fights per card

“[Jose] Ramirez, his fight with [Viktor] Postol has been postponed twice,” said Arum. “We would hope to do Ramirez and Postol, which is a major junior welterweight fight sometime in July.

“What we’re planning now is doing four fights on a card, two of which would be televised on ESPN or ESPN+, and one spare fight wouldn’t be televised.

“Keeping the fights down to a minimum so that we can deal with the safety of the fighters for everybody’s sake. We’re in preliminary discussions with the announcers. We’d have to push them back from ringside. Also, the judges couldn’t be right up against the ring.

“We’d have to make a lot of adjustments, but we’ll soldier on, and we’ll get these terrific fights on. Every fight will be a good fight, and every fight will be competitive. Some will be bigger names than others. But all of them, as we contemplated, will be fighters that have already appeared on ESPN.

“Now with a fighter, for example, like Lomachenko, we have a problem. Lomachenko went back to Ukraine to be with his family, which is understandable. The question is, will we be able to get Lomachenko back into the country in a short period. I don’t know that.

“Obviously, there’s a travel ban. We’re not going to be able to get that ban lifted to accommodate a boxing match. So we have that big problem with our foreign fighters, who aren’t currently in the United States,” said Arum.

Four fights per card sound reasonable, as long as they’re quality fights, which could be challenging to make. If it’s only Top Rank fighters facing each other, we could see some mismatches.

Testing is the key

“The other thing, we have great Mexican fighters, as you know, like Navarrete, Berchelt,” said Arum. “They live in Mexican, and they have B-1 visas, which means they’re not subject to being stopped because of the immigration ban.

“The question is, will they be allowed to come across the border to participate in boxing matches in the United States. I don’t have the answers to all of those questions, and there’s a lot of work that needs to go in, but we’re doing it.

“Once we know we can get the appropriate testing, and I don’t want to sound like Dr. Fouci, but it’s all about the testing. You can’t make up stuff about, ‘Hey, I got more testing than everybody else.’ I want a machine that we will pay off that we can turn over to the Athletic Commission that they can give us the test and the answer back within five to fifteen minutes.

“And if we get the testing, we’ll do everything possible like quarantining the fighters while they’re getting ready. We’ll have a pure environment. So when the bell rings, the fighters will come out, and there’s no risk of anybody getting sick from being in the room.

“That’s a wait and see, that fight,” said Arum on the Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder 3 clash. “First of all, the immediate problem is Fury is in England. There’s a travel ban. How do we get Fury over here to get ready for the fight, assuming we’re going to do the fight in the United States,” said Arum.

The testing is another major hurdle that Arum has in front of him. If Arum doesn’t have access to a method of quick testing of the people involved in the events, it’s not going to work.

Major fights not possible

“If you say, ‘Well, we’ll do it in the UK.’ There’s a travel ban in the U.K.,” said Arum. “How do you get Wilder in the U.K. to do that fight? That’s a problem. Secondly, you have to do that fight [Fury vs. Wilder] with a live gate. The live gate for the last fight, the second fight, the February fight, took in $17 million.

“That was a significant portion of the revenue that paid the fighters, that paid the costs. How do you replace that? The answer is, you can’t. And then thirdly, we charged $80 for a pay-per-view, for a person at home buying it on pay-per-view.

“There are two problems with that. Can people, after going through all this economic hardship, can they afford to pay $80 to watch a fight no matter how attractive the fight is? And secondly, we know this from our surveys, a lot of people that bought the pay-per-view, buy it, and have ten other couples come over and watch the fight at their house, and everybody contributes money.

“How willing are people going to be to open up their homes to big groups of people? These are much harder questions to solve than just doing fights in a closed environment, which we will hopefully start to do sometime in June,” said Arum.

With the loss of revenue from the live gate, it means that the big-name fighters like Tyson Fury won’t be able to fight behind closed doors. Again, this means that the cards that Arum puts on won’t be from his A-list of his Top Rank stars.

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