Boxing needs to follow UFC 249’s lead for return

By Kenneth Friedman: UFC 249 created the blueprint that Boxing must follow for the sport to return successfully behind closed doors beginning in June. UFC president Dana White was able to pull off a great event with his fighters battling in an empty arena.

White made sure that all the fighters were tested ahead of time, and only one guy came up positive for the COVID-19 virus. The camera work was perfect, with the shots avoiding the empty seats in the darkened arena. Aside from the lack of cheering, you could barely tell that the UFC 249 event took place without fans.

Limited the participants to the following essential personal:

  • Trainers
  • Cutmen
  • Three judges
  • Cameramen
  • A small group of Press reporters

UFC 249 created the blueprint for Boxing’s return

“We start with the UFC. They made their return last Saturday night, becoming the first professional sporting event to take place in the U.S since mid-March,” said Chris Mannix to DAZN USA.

“Despite one fighter testing positive for COVID-19, the event was considered a rounding success. UFC president Dana White said, ‘We can share what we learned here to other sports leagues that are reaching out to us and asking.’ Did UFC 249 provide a blueprint for Boxing’s return?”

“Yes, and I’m not a fan of the UFC or the MMA,” said Sergio Mora. “I don’t follow it, and I’m not a fan, but I’ve got to give them a lot of credit because Dana White and their entire organization had a lot of guts doing this when everyone was against them, and it turned out to be a success. Yes, one tested positive, but they did over 1,000 tests.

“They had success, people at home enjoyed it, and Boxing needs to follow suit as long as they follow the same game plan. There were no fans; it was a small venue and essential workers of the fighter’s trainers and maybe a cutman, three judges, and the press.”

It’s going to be a lot of work for the promoters to put together the boxing events to ensure that the testing is done for the fighters. That’s going to be a significant hurdle because if one of the fighters is sick, they could spread the virus to his opponent.

The downside that the boxing promoters are having to wrap their teeth around is the loss of the gate money, as they need that money to pay for the undercard fighters.

Testing is the key

“It was only a handful of press. I’m talking about the creme de la creme of the press,” said Mora. “You won’t be invited. Everyone else stays at home. For success, Boxing needs to do it too.”

“Putting that idiot insult aside, I do agree that it was a success, and boxing should follow suit,” said Mannix. “What the UFC did was a blueprint for what Boxing should easily follow. It’s the same number of people, and the same number of people that need to put on a fight, the same number of fighters.

“You could do that. I understand the desire to be as safe as possible, but if you’re waiting for a time where the threat of it’s not there or if you’re waiting for a show where you’re sure where a person isn’t going to test positive, you’re going to be waiting for a long time. The unfortunate reality is that this virus could be with us for the foreseeable future.

“So if you’re professional sports and you want to draw a line and make sure we’re as safe as possible, and you’re boxing, and you say, ‘we don’t want to do events until we’re sure nobody is going to tell positive,’ then see you next year. But if you’re willing to take some calculated risks, as long as you’re as safe as possible, Boxing can do this. What Dana White did can be duplicated by Boxing.”

The promoters will need the testing of not only the fighters but the cornermen, trainers, and the rest of the personnel that will be working the fight.

They’ll need to reduce the undercard fights for the short term until crowds are allowed back in, and hopefully, that doesn’t take too long.

There will be risks involved

“This is called the hurt business,” said Mora. “Everyone wants to get back to work, we want to get back to work, and our business is hurting people. It’s Boxing. Of course, someone is going to get hurt inside and outside the ring.

“As long as you can maintain it and try to keep it to a minimum, which is what the UFC did, and I think they did a great job. We got to get back to work. Fighters need to eat, promoters need to promote, and you need to write, and fans need to enjoy. Let’s get back to work.”

“Look, this was an excellent TV product,” said Mannix. “It was certainly strange to see fighters walk out without fans around them. I was watching one preliminary fight where a fighter pretended to slap hands with fans that weren’t there. Of course, you’re used to seeing big hits being accompanied by big roars for soundtracks for these types of fights, but it wasn’t that strange.

“The event was put on with the crowd blackened, the lights not showing anybody or any empty seats. We didn’t have that visually, and the announcing itself was perfectly normal. So if I’m boxing, jump on board this bandwagon in June or July at the latest to get back in this mix.”

The fighters and those involved will still be taking a risk in fighting during the pandemic, but that’s one of the sacrifices that they’ll need to make. This could be the new reality for the world if the sickness stays around for three to ten years or more.

A vaccine has never been created for this type of virus, and it’s something that may not be possible in the short term.

WBC wants judges to judge fights from home

‘The WBC unveiled a plan last week for judges to judge fights from home,” said Mannix. “Is this a good idea or a bad idea for boxing?”

“It’s a bad idea, and I respect [WBC president] Mauricio Sulaiman, but this is a bad idea,” said Mora. “Judges and officials have a hard time judging fights when they’re standing and sitting right in front of them. It’s a subjective sport. What I see on this side of the ring, the other judges are seeing something else.

“You have to be there to hear the punches and feel them in some way. It’s not only seeing them on a monitor and TV screen, but you’re also not getting a feel for them. You do not see the sweat fly. Sometimes the punches that look effective are not effective.

“You don’t see how the fighter’s legs are affected, and how he walks back to his corner. Those are things that you miss watching it on a TV or monitor. It’s a bad idea. This is not a way to get back to the hurt business, back to the boxing train. It should not happen this way. Let’s wait until this thing passes, and do it safely without fans, but let’s not rush things.”

“I respect the WBC’s attempt to limit the number of people in an event venue. That’s all of a good thing when you’re dealing with this threat,” said Mannix. “But I’m with you. I don’t think you can ask a judge to competently judge a fight when he’s watching it from TV.”

Having the judges sit at home to score the fights isn’t as big a deal as Mannix says.

The judges get it wrong even at ringside

“One thing I’ve learned in the last year-plus in scoring DAZN fights, there is extreme value in being that close to the action. You can tell from being that close when something lands, and something doesn’t, when something is blocked, and something is skimmed off. I’ll use Canelo vs. Kovalev as an example.

“A lot of people watching on TV thought Kovalev was winning or at least close in that fight, but the reality was sitting ringside, I could tell that Kovalev’s punches were weighing being blocked or missing altogether from Canelo. Canelo deserved to be big up on the scorecard when that fight was stopped.

“There’s too much at stake for fighters to put it in the hands of judges that are watching from a remote camera. What happens when a judges’ WIFI goes out, and what happens if they’re not paying attention during a certain moment. There’s too much to risk with not enough reward for these guys to be missing action.”

“It’s a bad idea because you’re not going to be focused at the task at hand,” said Mora. “When you’re a judge, and you’re watching a fight in front of you, you have 10-20,000 fans watching you watch the fight, so they’re keeping an eye on you, keeping you in line and keeping you in check along with the Commission.

“That’s what you need. You can’t have some rogue judge at home with his feet on the table drinking coffee. That’s not going to work.”

It doesn’t matter if the judges aren’t there at ringside to hear the punches land.

Boxing fans at home do an excellent job of picking the winners of fights, and you can argue that the replays and camera angles put them in a better position to judge than the actual judges.