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Forbes' Perspective on boxing

Author: Kurt Badenhausen

Badenhausen, Kurt. “Boxing Is Back: Here Is How Top Rank Plans To Make The Punching Safe From Covid.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 June 2020,

Boxing Is Back: Here Is How Top Rank Plans To Make The Punching Safe From Covid

Like most sporting events, professional boxing has been on the sidelines for nearly three months, as the coronavirus pandemic triggered a shutdown of the sports calendar. But big-time boxing returns this week in the U.S. for the first time since March with a pair of fight cards from Las Vegas on Tuesday and Thursday nights airing on ESPN.

“The all-encompassing details dealing with the ‘bubble,’ along with the testing procedures and medical-related items have been the biggest hurdle,” says Brad Jacobs, COO of Top Rank, which is the promoter of the bouts.

Top Rank has staged events over a half-century at the biggest arenas and stadiums around the world, including Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Madison Square Garden in New York, and with the sport’s biggest stars like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. “This is beyond compare in the detail and organization that has to go into this event,” says Jacobs.

Top Rank is setting up shop at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Vegas for two months and plans to put on fights every Tuesday and Thursday during that time. Jacobs says events are already confirmed through June, and that Top Rank is just waiting on some scheduling aspects from ESPN to confirm the July bouts. A steady stream of fighters will arrive over two months and spend four or five days at the MGM, while event staff will mostly remain in place through July.

The fights will be closed to the public and the media. Only essential fight camp members and event staff will be permitted on site. ESPN play-by-play commentator Joe Tessitore will call the action from ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Connecticut. Andre Ward, Tim Bradley and Mark Kriegel will join the broadcast from their home studios, while boxing reporter Bernardo Osuna will be on-location in Las Vegas. It will be the first major live sports event produced by ESPN since March.

Tuesday’s marquee fight features featherweight world champion Shakur Stevenson versus Puerto Rican contender Felix “La Sombra” Caraballo. It will be a test for fighters, who are used to fighting in front of crowds and with their full entourages on site. They will be limited to two cornermen at the MGM and no family members. Some fighters will enter the ring on short notice as well. “There will be a learning curve,” says Jacobs.

The protocols in place include testing fighters for Covid-19 immediately upon their arrival. Fighters must stay in their MGM rooms until the results return, typically in eight hours. Boxer Mikaela Mayer, who was a 2016 U.S. Olympian and scheduled to fight Tuesday, announced Sunday on social media that she tested positive for coronavirus and was off the card. She was asymptomatic.

Top Rank signed a deal with ESPN in 2017 to broadcast the promotion’s fight cards and amended it in 2019 under a new seven-year contract that runs through 2025. It calls for 54 live boxing events annually, including 18 on ESPN’s flagship channel and 12 on its streaming subscription service ESPN+. The remaining events are non-Top Rank promotions from outside the U.S. and air on ESPN+.

Jacobs says meeting the company’s contractual obligation with ESPN was not the motivation for returning. “The motivation was that when we are able to come back in a safe and healthy environment, and we felt comfortable the testing procedures were accurate,” he says. Jacobs expects Top Rank to deliver its defined number of fight cards to ESPN, barring another sports shutdown.

In addition to media revenue, Top Rank will be able to generate sponsorship revenue for the bouts. Geico, which is Top Rank’s regular insurance category sponsor, will be part of the broadcasts this week, and Jacobs expects more sponsors to come onboard as the telecasts move forward.

Jacobs says while the initial setup was extremely difficult, he thinks the bouts at the MGM will become more of a “routine-type” operation after getting through the challenges of the first week of fights. But he doesn’t see any big pay-per-view events, featuring stars like Canelo Alvarez or Anthony Joshua, until at least the end of 2020. Those fights require large crowds in venues, and that is predicated on restrictions easing; fans willing to return to arenas; and having the money to afford the high prices at those events. “You need the revenue from the gate and all of those other revenue streams for the economics to make sense at a pay-per-view event,” says Jacobs.

The Nevada Athletic Commission approved the return of boxingand mixed martial arts less than two weeks ago, after originally suspending events on March 14. Top Rank worked with the commission to create the safety protocols. “We had to take a leap of faith,” says Jacobs. “We didn’t have the authorization that the state athletic commission would allow us to stage events. There was a chance we were going to have all of these plans in place and they say we are going to wait another month; then all of our plans would have gone out the window.”


DMU Timestamp: October 08, 2020 22:04

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