Top Rank introduced the return of professional boxing with a bang, showcasing rising superstar Shakur Stevenson on a Tuesday evening to a professional sports and live programming deprived world.
Since then, Top Rank and ESPN have televised a total of eight fight nights in the span of three weeks, showcasing fighters like Gabriel Flores Jr., Jesse Magdaleno, Emanuel Navarrete and Miguel Berchelt, with more events scheduled through the end of July.
Top Rank has done an excellent job in filling these cards and creating a viewer friendly experience in what is known as “The Bubble,” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Here are three things that we have learned in these three weeks of boxing’s return.
A Bout Isn’t Confirmed Until Fighters are in the Ring
Since the start of Top Rank’s summer series, there have already been a couple of Coronavirus related fight cancellations, starting with the high profile co-main event in the introductory event, featuring Mikaela Mayer.
Mayer was scheduled to face Helena Joseph in a 10-round bout to open up the summer’s slate of events, but was pulled from her fight just days before the event transpired, following a positive COVID-19 test result.
Mayer stated that she had remained asymptomatic and trained for the bout without issue, so the test result had come as a surprise to her and her team. Regardless, the fight was scrapped, but the show went on, albeit, without one of its main attractions.
The following week saw the cancellation of the main event bout that was scheduled between Jose Pedraza and Mikkel LesPierre (which was quickly rescheduled for July 2.)
Both LesPierre and Pedraza made the weight, which typically makes a bout official and ready to be contested. However, the fight was then cancelled the day of the fight following the revelation that a member of LesPierre’s team had tested positive for COVID-19.
This late cancellation demonstrated the fragility of all the scheduled bouts and highlighted the subjectivity of any and all fights being cancelled.
Additionally, one of the highest profile fights of the series was postponed when WBO Junior Lightweight Champion, Jamel Herring tested positive for COVID-19 in June which cancelled his title defense against Jonathan Oquendo scheduled for July 2nd.
Herring, unlike Mayer, did experience symptoms, but has since stated that he has recovered. The bout is now being targeted to take place on July 14th.
Fortunately, most fights have gone on without issue, but with several more weeks of scheduled events, it would not be surprising to see more fights cancelled due to COVID-19 cases in The Bubble.
Side Note: The fight between Eleider Alvarez and Joe Smith Jr. has been pushed back following a non-COVID-19 related injury. Additionally, following yet another Jarrell Miller failed drug test (shocker), his July 9 fight against Jerry Forrest has been cancelled.
Filling Cards Has Been a Challenge
Top Rank’s ability to fill multiple fight cards per week has been commendable and impressive in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
However, it has come at the expense of several unheralded fighters being placed on a national spotlight that they would likely not have otherwise gotten.
Occasionally, these fighters have displayed a right to be there and have made most of the stage they’ve been awarded, but there’ve also been a few duds contested.
Notably, the Heavyweight bout between Hector Perez and Juan Torres was highly criticized as being a terrible fight, unworthy of its spot on national television. During the ESPN broadcast, Timothy Bradley had choice words for the competition.
Meanwhile, some fighters have taken it for the great opportunity that it is. For example, while Middleweight Isiah Jones (8-2) lost his first contest in The Bubble, he was back in action this week, for his second fight in two weeks.
Also, many of the B-sides have been able to pull off upsets, including Mike Plania, Joshua Franco and Clay Collard, who all scored impressive upset victories in their respective bouts.
Most notably, Franco’s victory crowned him as the new WBA Super Flyweight titleholder.
Obviously, it is a tall task to fill several cards per week for Top Rank, and it is difficult to know how well any given fighter is going to perform on fight night. Having said all of that, it has largely been a success, even with a number of unknown fighters and a few underwhelming bouts.
Even Without Fans, Boxing Delivers
While the summer series may have started with a card of relatively uncompelling and one-sided fights, the following card kicked off with what has possibly been the best fight so far between Adam Lopez and Luis Coria.
The bout featured over 1400 combined punches thrown in what resulted in a majority decision victory for Lopez.
Another fight that delivered a compelling and competitive bout was the championship contest (the lone title fight of the summer series) between titleholder Andrew Maloney and Joshua Franco.
The fight was closely contested until Franco put on a late surge, sending Moloney to the canvas in the 11th round on way to a close, but unanimous-decision victory to relieve Maloney of his belt.
Additionally, even in a one-sided fight, Shakur Stevenson’s performance in his debut at Super Featherweight was still spectacular to watch. Every time Stevenson walks into the ring and reaffirms his status as one of the future faces of the sport, it’s sight to see.
Gabriel Flores Jr. also delivered an impressive performance in a shutout win. In these instances of non-competitive bouts, they have still certainly been worth the watch in the level of class that both Flores and Stevenson displayed against their opponents, fully displaying their ability.
The Mexico City bouts have been headlined by world champions against completely outmatched opponents, but there have still been fights and performances worthy of mention. Particularly, the strong Knockout of the Year candidate delivered by Sergio Alfredo Chirino Sanchez in what has been the clear-cut best knockout of Top Rank’s summer series thus far.
The Top Rank summer series hasn’t been perfect, but no one expected it to be. It has been well executed and it is certainly worth tuning in each time it airs.
We will be looking forward to the remainder of the scheduled events as we finally have live professional boxing back in our lives thanks to these shows.