Boxing, like all sports and much of the world, has been on pause for over of two months in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with fighters & gyms taking a massive hit to their livelihood and lifestyle.
All over the world whole cards and major tournaments in the paid and unpaid ranks were shut down one after another leaving fighters without immediate return dates. Gyms have faced a different struggle in the face of this crisis unlike other non essential services with options to continue some form of business, like restaurants with delivery apps and offices that can work from home.
The Westside Boxing Club in Mid City Los Angeles was no exception and saw its doors closed since the state of California mandated lock down on gyms and other non-essential businesses went into effect.
In a recent interview with Round By Round Boxing, owner and head trainer at Westside Boxing, Jose Saucedo, spoke on the impact of the pandemic on his own gym and fighters, what the reopening of his own and other gyms has been like under new regulations, and how we can expect to move forward with the future of pro boxing in the foreseeable future and the impact of having major fights without fans.
Saucedo has watched the impact of the shutdown on all his fighters who have had their entire lives shaken up drastically without the ability to train regularly.
“This pandemic has had a big effect on fighters most are definitely overweight at least 20 or 30 pounds,” said Saucedo. “Fighters maintain a constant routine to stay in shape and train every day to be ready to fight ,their bodies are used to it without any time in the gym they can suffer later when a fight date comes in one way or another whether that be because they must take off weight or in ring rust. All we can do is get right back to work stay in shape and hope that more and more dates become available as time goes by.”
Without the ability to make contact with and see clients all boxing gyms, trainers, and the staff that support them have taken a heavy blow.
“It’s been hard, said Saucedo. “We gyms, like everyone else, have been forced to change our lives completely because of this pandemic, we couldn’t work all we could do was wait anxiously, the gym is our principal form of income, without it we’ve had to really dig into things like savings trying to keep ourselves afloat and did what we had to ride this out.”
Like so many Americans being out of work for months at a time has been difficult but unlike the average person unemployment and direct aid does not come as easily for small business owners many of whom felt they been relatively left in the proverbial cold when it comes to government aid in these trying times especially boxing gyms which already tread the thin line between profit and simply staying open.
“It does feel like we’ve been abandoned, we went through three hard months continuing our rent with nothing coming in and little or no contact with government who were supposed to be their for us as small businesses,” said Saucedo. “We received no help despite going through the proper process and filling out the right paperwork but got no answer it feels like as an industry we gyms have been completely shut out unlike restaurants who get to stay open at least partially.”
The impact on the boxing community as a whole has been felt with many other gyms having to close their doors for good. Saucedo explained that several were forced not just by the immediate mandate from the state, but because they may not have been able to adjust to new regulations.
“Some of these gyms are huge and a lot of them rely on teaching larger group classes,” said Saucedo. “Maybe 40-or-50 people at a time. Those costs are huge without anything coming in, several of them could not make it anymore. Luckily for us our gym is structured a bit differently we’ve always focused on more individualized workouts never keeping huge groups at any particular time the way we work here is actually very similar to these new regulations.”
Despite the stroke of luck, the Saucedo’s have undergone a rigorous process to ensure all regulations are met including scheduling gym time in advance to particular blocks set throughout the day, gym heavy bags and surfaces are properly sanitized at the end of each session with small groups of no more than 10-12 at a time, entry only to those working out and without symptoms, face masks whole face shields when giving mitts and the removal of all communal objects like the water dispensers, guests must provide their own towel and water.
Despite a solid first run upon reopening last week, Saucedo believes it will take time for people to adjust to the way things must be for the foreseeable future but remains optimistic.
“I do believe, most gyms will feel the effect on their business at least for the time being,” said Saucedo. “But, with time I think they will return. I think if we organize well and implore people to accommodate these new rules and follow as we are told we will be fine.”
As the world begins to see the light at the end of the tunnel and several parts of the country begin to reopen, more promotional companies begin to set return dates following the lead of first the UFC & ESPN, the future for the boxing world still appears slightly muddled.
The return of pro fights behind closed doors while welcome still poses several variables , fighters are often paid better if they can put more people in the seats without this option several must take what they can get. Not to mention the intangible factors during combat, some fighters feed off of crowds and the chaos under the bright lights knowing all eyes in that arena are on them.
“I’ve actually got mixed feelings about this,” said Saucedo. “As a fan, I am disappointed at the idea of boxing without spectators simply because the fans can give a fighter the confidence or desire to win, but as a manager I understand that whatever gets these guys back in the ring is all that matters, I mean they’ve got no choice they’ll have to learn to fight without them and in time they will get used to it. After all fighters spend months preparing and sparring without fans present.”