LAS VEGAS >> Add boxing to the list of sports on the comeback course.
Promoter Bob Arum said today that he plans to host a map of five fights at the MGM Grand on June 9, the first of a series of fights over the next two months at the Las Vegas hotel. A second fight card is held two nights later, with ESPN broadcasting both cards on television and kicking off shows at the hotel twice a week in June and July.
No fans are allowed, and Arum said that fighters and everyone else will be tested at least twice during the fight week the new coronavirus. The battles are pending approval from the Nevada Athletic Commission, which will meet next week to consider the events, along with two cards that the UFC plans to host at its Las Vegas facility.
They are also awaiting the reopening of the MGM and other Las Vegas hotels, something that is generally expected to happen in the first week of June, although Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has no dates for a second phase of has announced easing of virus restrictions.
“Once we get those fights in and UFC gets the first fights, we’ll both ask for extra data,” Arum told The Associated Press. “The key was enough testing and we have enough testing in Nevada to hold our events.”
In addition to Arum’s battles, British promoter Eddie Hearn said this week that he plans to have fights sometime in July from the backyard of the family home outside London where he grew up. Hearn told The Athletic that the first fight card has been provisionally scheduled for July 15.
Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya has also spoken of returning with a July 4 card, although he has not provided details. UFC returned to action earlier this month with cards in Florida, including a pay-per-view event that took place without fans.
Arum declined to say who would fight on June 9, saying ESPN wanted to make the announcement after the fighting was approved. But he said the cards would have the same quality of hunters who were on ESPN before the sport was discontinued around the world.
The cards would extend to three-hour shows, Arum said, and included a main event, a co-main, and three support fights.
“These will be the same guys as they were before,” he said. “Guys like (Olympic medalist) Shakur Stevenson and others who would have fought on our cards.”
Stevenson was about to score a Top Rank card in Madison Square Garden in March, when it was canceled last minute due to the pandemic. Another Top Rank fighter, Ireland’s Michael Conlan, would fight on St. Patrick’s Day in New York, but Arum said Conlan isn’t on the upcoming cards because he can’t travel out of Ireland.
Arum said hunters and cornermen will be tested when they arrive in Las Vegas the week of the battle and will be housed on a ‘bubble floor’ at the MGM Grand. They are only allowed to eat out at an approved restaurant in the hotel or work out in the Top Rank gym.
Fighters are also tested the night before they fight. The double tests should eliminate the problem the UFC had when a fighter tested positive and was removed from the UFC 249 card, Arum said.
“Our protocols will be much stricter than UFC’s in Florida,” Arum said. “In ours, you wouldn’t have positive test results for a fighter the day of the fight or the day before.”
Arum thanked Jim Murren, the former CEO of MGM, who heads a state task force dealing with the virus, to ensure that enough tests are available to hunters, judges, commissioners, and everyone else on the ground. He said 60-70 people can only be tested on a fight day, using tests that can yield results in a matter of hours.
While pre-pandemic fights were held in the 16,000-seat MGM Grand Garden, Arum said the fights will be held in a conference room or ballroom at the hotel. There will be no media, at least in the beginning, he said, due to the logistical difficulty of testing more people.
Arum’s Top Rank has a long-term agreement with ESPN for battles that were on the main network and the streaming service ESPN + before the pandemic hit. The network also teamed up with Fox to broadcast the pay-per-view of the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder heavyweight title card in February, which was Top Rank’s last card.
Arum said he spoke to Fury today and plans are in place to have the rematch – probably somewhere outside the US – by the end of this year. He said there are also plans for a long-awaited lightweight title association between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez by the end of the year.