How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting boxing


Dozens of boxing cards scheduled to take place around the world — big and small — have been postponed or canceled over the past week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One show after another was removed from the schedule, leaving fighters, promoters, venues, broadcasters and fans alike with no idea when boxing — or sports in general — will resume. There’s no offseason in boxing, but now boxing is likely facing at least a couple of months with no fights.

With the sports world shuttered, for boxing it means no fights. That means nobody is making any money — not the boxers, promoters or managers. Not the sparring partners, gyms or trainers. It means venues have open dates beyond just those of their main tenants that have also been called off, broadcasters have holes in their schedules and fans have no live action to watch for the foreseeable future.

“It sucks but we have to put things into perspective. There are thousands of people dying from this virus so I can’t whine too much about a fight being postponed,” said Australian bantamweight Jason Moloney, who was due to face fellow contender Joshua Greer on April 25 in the ESPN-televised co-feature of the Naoya Inoue-John Riel Casimero bantamweight title unification fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. “I just hope that this all comes to an end very soon and that we can get this fight on as soon as possible.”

Many fighters with upcoming bouts called off have maintained a positive attitude under the circumstances.

“I am extremely disappointed that my fight has been postponed, but I understand that the health and safety of everyone is more important,” said Andrew Moloney, Jason’s twin brother and a secondary junior bantamweight titlist whose first defense against Israel Gonzalez was slated to headline an April 17 ESPN card in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but was postponed.

“I was really looking forward to making my American debut and defending my world title for the first time,” he said. “I hope that everything returns to normal and we can reschedule this fight as soon as possible because I’m ready to fight right now.”

David Benavidez was scheduled to make his first defense against Roamer Alexis Angulo in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card on April 18. For Benavidez it was an especially big deal because he was going to fight at home.

“It’s very disappointing because I’m not gonna be able to fight in my hometown, which I’ve been trying to do for the last five years,” said Benavidez, although when the fight is rescheduled it probably still will take place in Phoenix. “But looking at the situation, we’re at the point where we’ve never been before with everything getting closed down, I feel like it’s good for the public safety and the best decision because what’s going on right now is super crazy.”

Benavidez has been living in Seattle, near the epicenter of where the coronavirus outbreak first became an issue in the United States. But he said he has been taking all the necessary precautions to make sure he does not contract the virus.

“We’re really concerned here, but we’re taking precautions. We’re not even leaving the house right now,” said Benavidez, who lives with his father and trainer. Jose Benavidez Sr., and older brother Jose Benavidez Jr., a pro welterweight. “It sucks but we can’t take this like a game. This is something we take very seriously.”

Benavidez had already begun to do hard sparring for his fight, but with it postponed, he has sent the sparring partners home — saving him thousands of dollars per week in expenses. He said he’ll keep training, just not full blast like he had been. The sparring partners, however, are also out of work and a place to train.

“I was sparring 12 rounds with three different guys and I was already basically reaching the peak of my training camp, so we were very devastated when we got the news, so we just had to send everybody home until we get more information about this,” Benavidez said. “The promoter told us to stay ready, but rather than waste all this money on sparring partners we sent them home until we get an update on what’s going on.

“I’ll stay moving around at the gym, probably run on the treadmill, do a little bag work, a little mitt work. I feel like that’s a normal part of my day anyway. I will stay moving every day. I am very comfortable just training all day but until we get an exact date we probably won’t bring the sparring partners back.”

Benavidez is fortunate in that he can continue training as he has his own gym in Seattle.

Welterweight contender Jamal James was due to take on Thomas Dulorme for a vacant interim belt on April 11 in a PBC main event at The Armory in Minneapolis, James’ hometown, where he is a big draw. James is in a similar situation to Benavidez and has a similar attitude.

“You just got to stay ready. This is one of those worldwide things, a worldwide epidemic that has stopped everything, but the fight is still gonna happen,” James said. “So I just have to stay focused and don’t let this delay discourage me. So keep training, but just don’t overdo it because I don’t want to get burned out. I will ease back a little but still stay in shape and when they set it up again we don’t have to start over.”

James left his training camp about two hours outside of Minneapolis on Monday to return home but said he will continue to do road work and light workouts at a private gym under the direction of Sankara Frazier, his father and trainer.

“We know the fight is bound to happen. Obviously, it’s frustrating to have the fight postponed but it’s not like [Dulorme] is making an excuse or got hurt,” James said.

“What am I gonna do, have a pissed off attitude? Nah, just get in a quick break and stay training, stay ready so I don’t have to get ready. I have faith it will work itself out.”

Promoters have been forced to call off numerous events. Top Rank, for example, has had to cancel or postpone seven shows so far between March 14 and May 2, including fights involving featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson, featherweight contender Michael Conlan, unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, junior bantamweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas, the Moloney brothers, bantamweight titlist Naoya Inoue and unified junior welterweight titlist Josh Taylor.

The promoters are as frustrated as the fighters.

“How do you make provisions based on what is happening when what is happening is not over yet? We haven’t found a lot of answers yet because this thing is still moving,” Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti said. “While we would like to move this fight to that [date] and plan on this or that you can’t do that because that could all change momentarily or tomorrow or next week.

“You go back to the drawing board, but you can’t go back to the drawing board because there is no drawing board because nothing like this has ever happened. Is everything going to be normal in 30 days? Who knows? What’s our conversation like two weeks from today? You don’t know. The hard part is we don’t know. Who the hell knows?”

The next card lingering in uncertainty for Top Rank is a May 9 show in Fresno, California, where hometown draw Jose Ramirez is supposed to defend his unified junior welterweight world title in the main event against mandatory challenger and former titlist Viktor Postol.

Top Rank also hoped to finalize a deal for Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez Jr. to meet in a lightweight title unification fight on May 30, but that is now extremely unlikely until at least much later in the year.

“How do we move forward with Teofimo and Loma? We haven’t even made deals with them yet or with a site and there is this [coronavirus] situation,” Moretti said. “So what’s that conversation like?”

If Ramirez-Postol is postponed it will be the second time that bout is canceled due to the coronavirus. Ramirez and Postol were originally scheduled to fight Feb. 1 in Haikou, China but it was postponed in late January — the day before Ramirez was supposed to travel — as the coronavirus outbreak was increasing in China.

“We don’t want it to happen twice in a row,” said Robert Garcia, Ramirez’s trainer, who continues to train Ramirez essentially in private at the usually bustling Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Riverside, California.

Garcia has sent all of his fighters — pros and amateurs — home except for Ramirez, who is the only one of his guys with a fight still on the schedule, at least for now.

“Everybody else is staying at home. I told them to stay at home,” Garcia said. “The amateur kids aren’t coming to the gym because USA Boxing canceled tournaments. So I told the kids to stay at home until further notice. This is serious. At first I was like, ‘Just wash your hands and we’ll be good,’ but now schools are closed, events are shutting down. It is something to be worried about. I also told the parents [of the amateur fighters] and the people that like to come and visit, ‘Let’s stay away from the gym.’ Hopefully, Jose’s fight goes on so I don’t want anyone around him at the gym who doesn’t need to be there.”

The sanctioning bodies have also been impacted. The WBC has closed its office in Mexico City and postponed its Muay Thai convention, which was supposed to take place this week in Bangkok, Thailand.

WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said fighters with due mandatory defenses should not worry about their belts being in jeopardy.

“The WBC will certainly look into each specific division regarding the mandatories and the time will be adjusted in each specific case,” Sulaiman said. “We are very sorry for the effect on fighters and promoters. Activity worldwide has been put on hold and many fighters cannot even train, so the times will vary for the rescheduling of events. The WBC will work very closely with all promoters to support their specific situations and, of course, will support all champions and challengers.”

When that activity might resume is anyone’s guess.

“Everything is up in the air as of now,” Moretti said. “But I don’t know how it changes in the coming days and weeks.”

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