Boxers react to fight cancellations and share future plans


A full slate of boxing cards scheduled over the next couple of weeks was wiped clean in a few days as various commissions decided to cancel events throughout the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of now, nobody really knows when fight cards will resume in the United States.

Top Rank cards this past Saturday and Tuesday, scheduled at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, were initially adjusted to have no fans. Ultimately they were canceled on Thursday.

Golden Boy Promotions had cards scheduled for this Thursday at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, California, and March 28 at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Both were also canceled on Thursday as the California State Athletic Commission made the decision to call off all combat events until at least the end of the month.

Las Vegas followed suit on Saturday, canceling all combat events until March 25, a deadline many expect to be extended.

How did the last-minute decision affect the fighters? Where do they go from here? ESPN spoke to several fighters to get their reactions.

What was your reaction to the cancellation?

Shakur Stevenson, featherweight titleholder, scheduled to fight Miguel Marriaga this past Saturday in New York: I was mad because I wanted to fight. I understand it. This is very serious. Everybody just really felt for me. I think canceling the fights was the right decision.

Edgar Berlanga, super middleweight, scheduled to fight Alan Campa this past Saturday in New York: I put in a lot of work into this fight, but it’s a crisis right now, so there’s nothing we can do. They stopped all sports in the world. I’m sad because I trained so hard for this fight, an eight-week camp, a long camp. I had a lot of sparring. I sparred with Sergiy Derevyanchenko. To have it canceled two days before the fight is B.S. I sold over $40,000 in tickets, had people coming in from Puerto Rico, a lot of my fans, so it’s sad.

Michael Conlan, featherweight, scheduled to face Belmar Preciado on Tuesday in New York: I was upset, but I understand as well. When they canceled the [St. Patrick’s Day] parade and they said the boxing was going ahead, it was only a matter of time [that they would cancel the fight]. So I was unsure if it was going to happen. But I spoke to my father and eventually I kind of got excited for it, that I’d be boxing in an empty MSG and making history in a weird kind of situation. So it was something I got excited for. When they told me it was off, I was, “Ahhhh, I’m sick.”

But I could see it coming but was upset it was called off. I told you, I’m a fighter, I fight, and it was St. Paddy’s. I want to get paid; I need to get paid.

Marlen Esparza, junior bantamweight, scheduled to fight Lucia Nunez on Thursday in Hollywood, California: I found out Thursday. I was really hoping, since we only had seven days until the fight, that things wouldn’t get that far until after I fought. We had a really good workout session. I’m working with a new trainer in James Cooper — I feel like I’ve looked better than I’ve ever looked. So we were really excited about it, and then as soon as we finished the session, I was going to start stretching out, and then doing recovery after. I glanced at my phone and I saw the message from my manager.

So I walked up to my trainer and I showed him. When he was reading it, I started crying, just because I was super upset about it. I feel like if it were under different circumstances, I would’ve been like, “OK, well it’s postponed, fine.” But I feel like mentally I had a lot riding on it, just for the changes I’ve made. I wanted people to see what I was doing coming off the loss. I wanted to show everybody the improvements that I’ve made. The camp had gone so well; it’s been one of the best camps that I’ve had. It was like, “I’m ready,” and then it’s like — boom, the postponement and the cancellation really hit me where I really don’t cry in public, it just came out. It was disappointing.

Lamont Roach, junior lightweight, scheduled to fight Neil John Tabanao on Thursday in Hollywood, California: I was heated. I was in the house, I was waiting to go to the gym. I’m already 4 pounds from making weight, so I was feeling good, in great shape. When my dad called me, I knew, I felt it. He had asked me about my workout earlier in the day. I was like, “Oh, man, here we go.” I said, “What’s up?” and he told me.

We’re just waiting to get word about the situation, see what the new date will be. So I’m not going crazy. I’m training right now, but I did eat real good. I still went to the gym the same day. Now, we’re just going to move forward but just turn it down a notch because in order to peak at your highest level, you have to be at a low. So I don’t want to peak for so long and then have them announce a date and maintain that peak and have my body break down.

“Oh, man, I was pissed because all the hard work, all the training, the sparring, the dieting.”

Joet Gonzalez

Vergil Ortiz, welterweight, scheduled to fight Samuel Vargas on March 28 in Inglewood, California: I was reading some stuff about it. I was at the gym [Thursday] when I found out. It’s disappointing because I had a long training camp — we were very excited for this fight. I was fighting in L.A., headlining in L.A. in a historic venue, I was really looking forward to it. It was going to be a great fight. Hopefully it’s just postponed for a couple of weeks, and we’ll be right back at it.

Mikaela Mayer, junior lightweight, scheduled to fight Melissa Hernandez on Tuesday in New York: I can’t say I was completely shocked. Obviously, the first step was, “Fights are on but there’s not going to be an audience.” So at that point I was just grateful that, “OK, I still have a job,” because I was thinking about it, I knew that there’s people out there not able to go to school, not able to go to work. “So, OK, I still have a job, I’m still getting paid. No problem, OK, this can work.”

And then when they shut down the fight, obviously, I’m severely disappointed because I was supposed to fly out the next day [Wednesday], but there’s nothing we can do, and one thing coach Al Mitchell always taught me was: Don’t stress over things you can’t control.

So I think the safety of everyone, including my team — Coach Al is older — and if it’s this serious, I would hate to bring him over there and expose him to anything that could harm him in any way. So I think this is just the safe way to go about it — there’s nothing we can do. Hopefully we get control of it soon and then we find a way to have these fights.

Joet Gonzalez, featherweight, scheduled to fight Chris Avalos on Thursday in Hollywood, California: Oh, man, I was pissed because all the hard work, all the training, the sparring, the dieting. At first I was mad, but then the day before the NBA canceled their season, all sports started postponing games, so maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Samuel Vargas, welterweight, scheduled to fight Vergil Ortiz on March 28 in Inglewood, California: I was bummed out, what can I say? I was just finishing my workout at the gym and the trainer had just seen it online and didn’t want to tell me. So I said, “Just tell me, man.” I noticed that the NHL, the NBA was canceled, so I knew it was only going to be a matter of time, when everyone was taking drastic measures.

Ray Moylette, lightweight, scheduled to fight Larry Fryers this past Saturday in Boston: I was very disappointed with the decision to cancel the fight. I had put so much into the last few months of training trying to give myself the best chance of getting back on the ladder. It had been mooted that fight night was in danger of being canceled, but as an athlete and a fighter, I had to stay positive and optimistic that it would still go ahead and I would get my chance.

How did you learn the fights were not happening, and how did your fighters take the news?

Frank Espinoza Jr., manager of Jessie Magdaleno, featherweight, scheduled to fight Sakaria Lukas on March 14 in New York, and Raul Curiel, scheduled to fight on March 28 in Inglewood, California: We were keeping a close eye on it the past few days. We were told that the fights in New York were going to be put on possibly without the fans. But things made a quick turn once the president stopped some of the flights from Europe. Also, once the NBA had a player with the coronavirus, everything just changed right after that and trickled down to everything else.

I’d be lying if I said that some of them weren’t concerned, but they did a good job in keeping it professional. But it was also heartbreaking because this is how they make a living, this is what they do. They were expecting that paycheck, ready to go to work, and to be pulled out last minute was devastating for them.

Did you agree with the decision to cancel the fights?

Conlan: Of course, they did the right thing — it’s people’s health. There are financial considerations for Top Rank, the Garden, but if they let the show go on and someone … a cameraman, a production person, or whoever, caught it, then they have a legal case against them. They would’ve been in an awful lot of trouble. So I think it was the smartest thing to do, as you see, we’re in a pandemic at the moment.

Ortiz: If it were up to me, I would still fight, but that’s probably me being selfish. They did the right thing in the long run to prevent the spread of the virus, so yeah, I guess it is the right thing.

Vargas: I’m not one to say whether they did the right thing or not. I’m not educated enough to have an opinion on this, but everyone is doing their best to remain calm and wait until this thing is over with. I believe it’s being taken a little bit out of proportion with the media and everything like that; however, I do think people need to be cautious.

Moylette: In hindsight it was most definitely the correct decision. The safety of the boxers and the supporters is much more important than any fight. I was in a nutshell focusing on the fight that nothing else mattered. Thankfully I’m back to my senses now and I just hope everyone stays safe.

What now?

Stevenson: I’m just going to rest my body — I had a long training camp.

Berlanga: Stay indoors and spend some time with my mom because I’ve been in camp for so long. I’ll spend the weekend with her, relax and enjoy the family for a week, and then I will get back in the gym.

“OK, get back … what do you do? You’re a fighter, get back to the gym, get back to the routine. That’s your purpose. So that’s what I’m going to get back to.”

Mikaela Mayer

Conlan: We’re heading home [Friday night], we’re getting out of here. We’re making sure I can get into Ireland. As you’ve seen with the situation, it’s so fluid. It’s changing so rapidly. I want to make sure I can get back in my home country and back home. I just want to get there and stay home for a few weeks.

Esparza: I still trained [Friday], so what we do is work out Monday through Friday — I do runs on Saturday or Sunday. We’ll do a Level 5 or a Level 3 day, so we’re still kind of keeping the same momentum. We’re going to keep everything at a Level 2 until we figure out exactly what’s going on so I don’t lose my head or drift away from the goals and the new things I’m learning. So nothing’s really changed but the intensity. We keep the momentum but keep it light until we actually know what’s happening because nobody knows what’s happening. I think that’s what is more frustrating — everyone is in a gray area.

Ortiz: I’m not too sure where I’ll be, but it doesn’t matter — I’ll still be training. There’s too much hard work done to let it go to waste. We’re going to stay in rhythm; we’re going to stay in shape, and we’ll be ready when we get the call.

Mayer: Well, my sister was here. But it’s just so weird. It’s not like I just fought, and it’s time to celebrate, time to hang out with my friends, unwind. I have that feeling of, “Go ahead and reward yourself because you put the work in.” I put the work in — but I didn’t fight.

So it’s really kind of a weird moment. I’m just going to keep training, honestly. I’m in such great shape, I feel so sharp and feel so strong. I have all that hope that when this coronavirus clears up soon, that hopefully they’ll find a way to put on these fights for people. I’ll just stay in shape and keep training.

Gonzalez: I’m training. I was at Maywood Boxing Club this morning. So we’re still training as if we’re going to fight, not fully all-out. But we’re training just in case we get a call that we could fight in early April, mid-April — it could be a month from right now. We just have to stay ready and just hope this ban gets lifted.

Vargas: Everything is still the same for me — went to the gym Friday, had a great workout, still learning, still improving. Boxing is a never-ending game for me; you never stop learning. So I’m going to stay in the gym, obviously — we’ll fall back with the workload and just work accordingly.

Moylette: It’s not exactly the trip I expected, but I think we learned the lesson that health is the most important thing we have. My team is here and we are going to chill out for a few days.

Espinoza: Honestly, we don’t know. As far as we know, everything is at a standstill. That’s what we’re being told by the promoters. We’re in touch with them, we talked to them Thursday, and that’s what they told us as far as fights and rescheduling them.

What are you doing next without knowing when your next fight is going to be?

Stevenson: I’ll just be training. Hopefully this postponement will be short.

Berlanga: I already spoke to my coach, Andre Rozier. He told me to take a week off, enjoy the family, live life the right way and get back in the gym, to stay in shape, keep the weight maintained, and when something breaks, we’ll be ready for a fight date.

Esparza: Because I’ve already gone to school for a few things — child development, liberal arts, business — I’m trying to figure out what I want to start off next and finish up. So I’ll finish that, and since I have a baby, kind of invest more on his bilingual training. And then my recovery and make sure I dot every I and cross my T’s while we’re in limbo.

Roach: I’m just staying in the gym. That’s my daily routine. Two to three times a day, I work out and train. At the NoXcuse Boxing Club in Washington, D.C., it’s business as usual, but my dad did shut the gym down for the rest of the week, where only the professionals can come in.

Mayer: It’s so weird because you enjoy that week after you fight, a week or two, it’s fun. You don’t have any worries, and then all of a sudden, you’re like, “OK, OK, get back … what do you do? You’re a fighter — get back to the gym, get back to the routine. That’s your purpose.” So that’s what I’m going to get back to right away. There’s really no time to enjoy anything since I didn’t win a fight. We want those world titles this year — I have to get ready for them. These girls are just honestly letting me get better and better, to be honest. The more things happen, the more these girls turn down these title fights with me, all these issues. I’m just getting better and better and better, and I know I’ll take those titles soon.

Gonzalez: Honestly, we’re just hoping the fight can remain the same with the same opponent, but I’m just training in the gym, staying in shape, keeping my weight down, and that’s pretty much it.

Vargas: Boxing is all I do, man. I live in Toronto, Canada; right now I’m in Las Vegas. It doesn’t look like I’ll be traveling anytime soon — the airports are kind of closing down. So I’m stuck here for a bit. My life revolves around boxing. Everything revolves around boxing — the fights, the training camps, the way of income, the way of life. It’s all I know.

But right now, the problem is bigger than boxing, bigger than sports. So I just want everyone to get together, as a community as humans, as humanity, and just sort it out. So we can go on with our lives.

Moylette: I’m looking forward to getting home to my family and pregnant wife. I’ll take all the necessary precautions to make sure we all stay safe. I will be back in the gym this week just ticking over. It’s all I know now. I can’t just [get mad]. It’s hard to plan as nobody knows what’s going to happen over the next few months. I will be ready on the turn of a coin. I have to be. It could be July or August or even later before we all get back to normal. If the call comes tomorrow, I’ll be ready.

Is the worst thing for a boxer to train and then not fight?

Conlan: Yes, it’s 10 weeks away from my family. Forget about the money — think of the time. Time is something you can’t ever get back. You can always get money back, but time is something that will never come back.

The time I spent away from my children, and now it’s going to be more time away from them because it’s going to be a little gap in time with my next fight after this. I’ll take a few days off and then get straight back to work, again.

Would you fight in an empty venue?

Roach: I think so, because we’re only seven days out and we’ve already worked out for eight weeks to get our weight down, get sharp. I’ve got a lot of rounds sparring. That’s a lot of work on the body, and to go through that and not perform, and not get paid, as well? That’s a bummer.

Gonzalez: I don’t mind. I’m still going to get paid, and as long as I got that check, it’s all good to me. Fans or no fans, I just want to fight. The goal is to fight. So it would’ve been OK with me.

Vargas: If that was an option, absolutely — we’re fighters. You train for a fight, you put in so many hours of sacrifice and discipline, you’re not going to back down if there’s a crowd, or no crowd. I mean, it’ll be a little weird, or unusual, but in the ring it’s just you and the opponent. That should be enough.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael contributed to this report.

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