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With the Boxing World on the Ropes, Can the Fight Game Come Back Strong from the COVID-19 Crisis?

Boxing During Coronavirus

By Lewis Watson

These are unprecedented times for the world of boxing. The fight game hit the canvas in March 2020 along with almost every sport, coming to a grinding halt as the Coronavirus outbreak spread across the world.

Not since the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak and World War II have we seen an interruption to boxing like we are experiencing now.

So how and when will it be able to beat the 10-count and continue? And how will the current hiatus impact the sport in the long-term?

A Glut of Fight postponements

The impact of the current crisis has been all-encompassing. Near enough every fight card has been cancelled since mid-March, with no resumption expected until the start of June at the earliest.

The summer of heavyweight action has been almost totally derailed. Joe Joyce vs Daniel Dubois (now tentatively rescheduled for July 11), Dillian Whyte vs Alexander Povetkin, Dereck Chisora vs Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder III have all been postponed. And Anthony Joshua’s return against Kubrat Pulev is expected to follow suit in June.

 

The British Boxing Board of Control has issued a statement banning all British boxing up until the end of May. And June will be next to fall, althought this decision isn’t expected to be made for another fortnight.

Canelo’s traditional Cinco de Mayo bout was also scrapped. The Mexican superstar expected to take on Billy Joe Saunders for the Briton’s WBO super-middleweight title, but plans were foiled before the ink had dried on their contracts.

Japan seems adamant they are safe to resume on May 2, but with tight social distancing rules expected within the arenas we look a long way off normality in boxing.

Organising bouts behind closed doors is a constant talking point. Pay-per-view numbers would rocket if there were some content to watch during this isolation period. But in a sport where there is a significant risk of injury, it would be selfish to prise doctors, nurses, ambulance staff and others away from helping those in true need.

Serious Cash-Flow Problems

The longer this pandemic goes on, the more significant the lasting impact will be on the pockets of fighters, promoters, broadcasters and anyone else directly involved in the fight game. Fans may be craving a distraction, but perhaps more importantly, the guys and girls involved in the business need payment.

It sounds simple, and it is: fighters rely on fights in order to make a living. Not your superstars, of course. They’ll cope fine. But the 98% of the sport who need regular outings to keep their families afloat could end up in serious financial difficulty as time moves on.

The vast majority of professional fighters don’t get paid to train. So the increasing lack of sponsorship deals and partnerships further down the food chain will make it nearly impossible for numerous fighters to make ends meet during this time, with desperation leading to many hanging up their gloves.

Closure of Training Facilities

Then there’s the effect of social distancing measures. Those who are lucky (or talented) enough to be in a comfortable position still rely on strict training routines to maintain fitness. Gym closures all over the world will be testing the patience and adaptability of fighters everywhere who are looking to stay fight-ready during this period of confusion.

Jose Ramirez and Victor Postol are prime examples of this. The pair were due to fight for the unified light-welterweight titles on February 1 and then May 9: both dates were forced to be cancelled due to coronavirus in China and then the USA.

Neither will expect a third attempt to make this fight anytime soon, but with both men going through two gruelling, expensive training camps, a lack of a fight at the end will be tough to stomach.

This pandemic will be enough to put some promoters out of business. Not your Eddie Hearns and Bob Arums of this world, but the promoters who work on the small hall circuits and rely on a steady monthly income to stay afloat.

It’s wishful thinking to suggest that the big dogs of the sport will dip in their pockets to help out. Boxing is a brutal, cutthroat business – even more outside the ring than inside – with the closure of the smaller shows just another opportunity for those at the top to capitalise and further monopolise.

The Big Issue of Fight Congestion

If, when, and how the sport clambers back to its feet is yet to be seen. Eventually, when a degree of normality is restored, the congestion of backlogged fights will be vast.

Fighters will be itching to get dates, with promoters given the unenviable task of fitting the pieces of their stable into a growing jigsaw puzzle.

Mandatory positions, purse bids and champion statuses are also to be determined. Dillian Whyte had confirmation by the WBC late last year that he will receive a shot at the WBC title before February 2021, but now, will there be a six-month delay added to this?

With a plethora of sanctioning bodies, boards and promoters continually locking horns over different rulings, it’s impossible to see parties agreeing on the finer details of the sport upon resumption.

There is no rulebook to this delay. In such unprecedented times, you would hope that common sense prevails. Unfortunately in boxing, common sense is scarce and at a premium.

For now, it’s a waiting game.

Thoughts are rightfully with those who are fighting the good fight against COVID-19. But when boxing returns the chiming of the first bell will signal a frantic clamber to regain its footing in the competitive world of sport.