The two boxing events that Top Rank is promoting on Friday night and Tuesday night in New York will go ahead as planned but without spectators being allowed into the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We still want to go ahead with our fights because the worst thing is to cancel the events after all these kids have trained so hard,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told ESPN on Thursday. “So we are going to do the right thing and go ahead with the event but without spectators.”
Featherweight world titleholder Shakur Stevenson is slated to make his first defense against Miguel Marriaga in the main event on Friday (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10:30 p.m. ET).
On Tuesday (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET), popular Irish featherweight Michael Conlan is due to headline his fourth consecutive St. Patrick’s Day show by taking on Belmar Preciado in a 10-rounder.
Arum said he made his decision after seeing organizers of other sporting events decide to continue without fans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Arum, who has promoted fights for more than 50 years. “You live and learn and better safe than sorry. We’re just not going to act irresponsibly and put the public at risk.”
Arum said Top Rank is looking into planning future fights or moving ones already scheduled to studio locations so they can still be televised but without large crowds being put at risk by the coronavirus.
“We’re not going to subject people to coming to these events and taking risks, but we still want them to watch these fights,” Arum said. “The television people need product, so we can go ahead and do these shows in a studio setup. What we’re thinking about is maybe shooting them out of our Top Rank gym in Las Vegas or talking to UFC about using their little arena at their training facility in Las Vegas.”
Arum, who is 88, had planned to fly to New York for his two events on Friday morning but said he decided to remain at home in Las Vegas. In addition to senior citizens being more at risk for becoming ill, Arum said, “I was going to fly in on Friday and come home on Wednesday, but what happens if the next policy is you can’t fly if you’re over 70? So now I will watch it at home.”
Arum estimated that barring spectators, who can receive refunds on their tickets, would cost Top Rank a live gate of between $200,000 and $250,000 for Friday’s card, with Tuesday’s event being a bit smaller.
“That’s part of being in business,” Arum said. “Stuff happens. The atmosphere at a fight with no spectators is a lot different than if you have fans yelling and screaming and cheering. It’s obviously not as good, but what can you do?”
Top Rank has another card scheduled to take place at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City on March 28 on ESPN, headlined by unified light heavyweight world champion Artur Beterbiev’s mandatory defense against Meng Fanlong. But with other cards scheduled this month in Quebec having already been called off, Arum said that show is also in jeopardy.
He said Montreal promoter Yvon Michel, who is working with Top Rank on the event, is keeping him up to date on what the Quebec officials are saying about large events, but “we may have to postpone March 28.”
There were also some boxing cards postponed on Thursday.
Promoter Jimmy Burchfield of CES Boxing said that his card scheduled for Thursday night at the Twin River Casino Hotel in Lincoln, Rhode Island, has been postponed “out of concern for all, and following the instructions from Gov. Gina Raimondo and public health officials in the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak.”
Burchfield added, “While we acknowledge that the fighters scheduled to compete tonight worked hard for weeks, even months, to prepare for this event, the health and safety of all parties involved is more important. This is a unique, unprecedented situation affecting not only Rhode Island but the entire world, and we are committed to ensuring the safety of others above all else.”
2Pound Sports and Entertainment announced that its card scheduled to take place on April 4 at the Clackamas Armory in Clackamas, Oregon, outside of Portland, had also been postponed due to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown putting into effect a ban on large public gatherings.