As Golden Boy Promotions makes its return on DAZN this Friday with a card headlined by star welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Premier Boxing Champions reportedly close to announcing its second-half schedule, the sport of boxing is as close to being “back” as it’s been since the start of the quarantine in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Those join Top Rank having already been regularly running 2-3 smaller shows per week in its Las Vegas bubble and Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport announcing a four-card summer series to take place in the backyard of a mansion outside London.
Boxing has joined many professional sports in executing a slow burn toward returning to full-time action during the coronavirus outbreak without the presence of a live gate to pay for the bottom line. But with the action expected to pick up in a big away across all major promotions over the second half of 2020, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines to follow amid this new normal.
1. Pay-per-view has never been needed more
Fans have long had a love/hate relationship with PPV. On one hand, it’s the only way to access the biggest fights. But on the flip side, it’s a platform that has often been abused, particularly when cable network budgets couldn’t cover the purses and fights deemed unworthy of PPV ended up there out of necessity.
For boxing to survive in this new culture, the biggest fights will need to be made. Without the return of large live gates to lean on for at least the rest of the calendar year, traditional PPV will be necessary to make sure these fights happen. The 2018 launch of the streaming app DAZN, which heavily advertised its intention to kill PPV, seemed to suggest the old way would die off, eventually. But even though UFC’s new exclusive PPV deal with ESPN+ is a marriage of the two ideals at best, the sport simply won’t survive without a reliance upon the PPV concept to afford the big purses. If Top Rank’s recent quarantine experiment on ESPN taught us anything, it’s that a steady stream of poorly-matched fights can set the sport back in the court of public opinion. The sweet science needs to swing big and make every effort to put its best foot forward, even if that means also embracing the idea of large foreign site fees similar to UFC’s current standing in Abu Dhabi.
2. Canelo still can’t seem to find a fall opponent
The sport’s biggest star has been boxing’s most consistent brand in recent years from the standpoint of drawing PPV buys and subscriptions. Taking the baton from Floyd Mayweather, Mexican icon Canelo Alvarez still carries the clout that comes with the expectations he will fight twice a year, typically on the sport’s two biggest weekends of Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day in September.
This year’s plans were flipped upside down, however. A spring super middleweight unification bout against unbeaten Billy Joe Saunders fell apart due to the quarantine, and Saunders wants no part of rescheduling. Alvarez’s initial hope for a fall trilogy bout against Gennadiy Golovkin also died when GGG revealed he’s more interested in a mandatory defense of his middleweight title. That leaves the likelihood that Alvarez will be facing a substantial step down in terms of competition for what will likely be his only appearance in 2020. Reports have swirled that he will also need to take somewhat of a pay cut from the $35 million or so he was originally guaranteed per fight. No live gate and a second-rate opponent doesn’t produce that big-fight feel. But staying active in this case will be key. The only problem is Alvarez would be considered a massive favorite against any of the names thought to be in play — from Jason Quigley and Willie Monroe Jr. to John Ryder and David Lemieux.
3. Can Errol Spence Jr. put a forgetful year behind him?
It can be argued that no fighter in the sport was hotter than Spence for most of 2019 when he blanked Mikey Garcia in his first pay-per-view headlining role and came back in the fall to unify welterweight titles by edging Shawn Porter in a Fight-of-the-Year candidate. His disturbing car wreck months later was a major setback as Spence was ejected from his Ferrari and lucky to be alive after a solo car wreck in which he was under the influence and speeding.
The quarantine only delayed a potential return while putting on hold a possible comeback fight against former champion Mikey Garcia. A pound-for-pound best fighter in the game, there’s nothing more reassuring he can do to kill any concerns that he’ll be different after the physical and mental fallout of the accident than returning with a big win against a credible name. Given Spence’s apparent want to match himself tough and not waste anytime, he should get that chance.
4. Deontay Wilder could end up the biggest winner
It seems so long ago given the sport’s shutdown during the global pandemic, but Wilder and Tyson Fury took part in the biggest fight to date in 2020 when the pair of unbeaten heavyweight champions faced off in February. Fury’s surprising knockout win was everything he predicted leading up to the rematch. The fight was so one-sided, it also cast instant doubt as to whether a contractually-mandated trilogy fight between the two would even be competitive.
The promoters in charge of the fight seemed determine to do the third fight as soon as early summer. That never materialized and, provided Wilder has spent his quarantine working on some much-needed improvement to his technique, this could be a game-changer later this year. The trilogy is currently targeted for December, and although Wilder will still be who he is at the end of the day as a raw and dangerous slugger, improvements to certain areas like fighting on the inside and figuring out how to still use his jab despite Fury’s herky-jerky motion would greatly enhance his chances.
5. Lomachenko-Lopez remains the most important fight
The good news for post-quarantine fight fans is that this lightweight unification bout is on track for a new date in October, regardless of where things stand with fans ever entering arenas again, per promoter Top Rank. Vasiliy Lomachenko, who has set up shop at or around the top of the pound-for-pound rankings for five years, faces potentially the toughest challenge on paper in his pro career. Teofimo Lopez Jr., meanwhile, is going all-in on his career in such an incredibly big move for just 22 years of age that its reminiscent of Fernando Vargas 20 years ago. Lopez will either prove it’s too much, too soon or he’ll be fast-tracked to become the next big star in the sport.
The ramifications are as simple as that, which is just one part of why this fight is so good.
Mike Tyson nearly knocks out trainer while preparing for exhibition fight against Roy Jones Jr.
Mike Tyson is set to return to the ring on Nov. 28 when he takes on Roy Jones Jr. in an eight-round exhibition fight. Iron Mike has been aggressively training for the fight and it looks like he’s in the best shape of his life. Just ask his trainer.
Tyson has been posting videos showcasing his training in the lead-up to the fight. On Wednesday, a clip showed Tyson sparring with trainer Rafael Cordeiro and, unfortunately for Cordeiro, Tyson accidentally caught him with a hook:
As you can see, Cordeiro stumbles back after Tyson connects on the huge right hand. Tyson, 54, certainly still appears to have the speed and power that made him one of the most dangerous boxers in the sport’s history.
While the upcoming bout against Jones Jr. is an exhibition fight, Tyson appears to be taking it very seriously and the boxing world is taking notice.
WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring commented on the video, writing “Somebody send Mike a reminder that this is an exhibition.” In addition, Danny Williams, who knocked out Tyson prior to his retirement in 2005, believes that Tyson could “seriously hurt” Jones Jr. when the two face off in the ring in November.
Jones Jr. even recently admitted that he may have “made a mistake” by accepting the fight with Tyson.
“He’s still Mike Tyson, he’s still one of the strongest, most explosive people who ever touched a boxing ring,” Jones Jr. old Sky Sports. “If anything, I made a mistake going in with him. He’s the bigger guy, he’s the explosive guy.”
IPL 2020 – Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming says it’s like every game is like an away game
Adaptability, picking the right personnel and reading pitches correctly in the absence of home ground advantage will be key to success at IPL 2020, according to the Chennai Super Kings head coach Stephen Fleming.
“This season is going to be very different tactically,” Fleming told the Super Kings website. “With no real home ground advantage here, we’ve got to be very good at adapting to the conditions in each ground. We’ve got three different grounds (Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi) to assess and each ground has its own character and nuances, and we’ve just got to be good enough to pick the right team and get the right game plan to match that. It’s like every game is an away game.”
Apart from not having been able to train in Abu Dhabi – the venue of their tournament opener against the Mumbai Indians on Saturday – a lot of the Super Kings’ first-choice players – including Shane Watson, MS Dhoni , Ambati Rayudu and Deepak Chahar- have been away from the game longer than some others. Add to it the challenges of playing in Abu Dhabi without having seen the wicket or assessed the conditions – something Mumbai have had the chance to do because they’re based there.
“It’s one of the challenges of having to travel to Abu Dhabi – we’ve got to have to be very good on the day to have to assess the wicket and pick the right combination,” Fleming said. “One of the big challenges for IPL teams is to get the combinations right.
“There are a lot of skillful players that make the side, but there are also a lot of skillful players that don’t. Picking the right side for the right conditions is one of the great challenges and we’ve got a good record at that. But I must admit, going to Abu Dhabi without seeing the wicket or assessing the conditions is going to be one of the big challenges to start with.”
That said, Fleming also believes the Super Kings will be able to cover up for the lack of match time by their combined wealth of experience. For the record, Mumbai have come up trumps in the last two meetings between the sides. “We’ve got experienced players, and experienced players identify key times and that’s why they’ve done so well in their careers – that they can turn games, absorb pressure or just sum out the situation. That’s what experience is about and that’s why we value it so highly.
“And that’s why we’ve been able to get over the line in so many close games because the key player has been one with a lot of experience. And you also mix that with skill. You are conscious of having a skillful side and adding youth when we can and with that get the balance pretty right.”
The lead-up to the Super Kings’ campaign has been chaotic. Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh opted out of the season for different reasons while two players – Ruturaj Gaikwad and Deepak Chahar – along with a number of support staff members tested positive. Among all teams, the Super Kings have trained the least in the UAE, having only been able to begin on September 6 after extended quarantine periods. But Fleming doesn’t think this will be a disadvantage.
“It has been different, and that’s been part of the challenge – understanding the unknown,” Fleming said of their build-up. “We didn’t get off to a great start, with some positive Covid-19 cases, but I think we dealt with it very well.
“We were calm around our approach, looked after the players and staff very well, and the rest of the players were calm in the hotel room. There was a bit of anxiety wanting to get out and train. It is what it is, and the players dealt with it very well. On hindsight, the amount of pre-season training that we’ve done up to now, and the extra few days in the room, was probably a blessing.”
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai captain, doesn’t believe the past will have any bearing on how his team will perform in this year’s IPL though they had lost each of their five games in the UAE in 2014, the last time the tournament was played in the country.
“We didn’t have a great experience last time yes, but it’s a different team now,” Rohit said at the pre-tournament press conference on Thursday. “The thought process is different. Six years is a lot of time. Like I said, it’s about understanding pitches and conditions, that is crucial so we are putting a lot of emphasis on that.
“Eventually the pitches will play a big part, so understanding and adapting quickly is important. But yes, the past won’t play any part – it was just myself, Kieron Pollard and Jasprit Bumrah from that team. I think Bumrah played just one game. So the team is different, the staff is different [and] thought process is different. Looking forward to a great IPL.”