With each passing day, the sport gets closer to once again enjoying a full calendar of in-ring action.
Between Top Rank and Zanfer Promotions, those days figure to not only arrive soon, but on both sides of the United States-Mexico border.
It has been widely reported that both promotional powerhouses intended to having boxing return to the screen by early June, with the pieces slowly falling into place. Zanfer has teased a four-week schedule to air live on TV Azteca, which includes a loaded lineup of current titlists and unbeaten contenders just for the month of June, assuming all national restrictions are lifted in time given health concerns with the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Should plans hold up for a targeted June 6 return, the date will be occupied by 122-pound titlist Emanuel Navarrete (31-1, 27KOs) who will face countryman Uriel Lopez in a non-title fight at featherweight in Mexico City. Junior welterweight contender Pedro Campa (31-1, 21KOs) will appear in a preliminary bout against an opponent to be determined. The show, along with all others planned for the month, will be subject to strict COVID-19 testing standards and assurance of practicing social distancing up until the opening bell.
“There’s a concrete protocol by the WBC and this is first step in the protocol,” noted ESPN veteran boxing announcer Bernardo Osuna during the most recent installment of the ‘State of Boxing’ series on ESPN+. “A health questionnaire that each fighter plus one cornermen will have to fill out prior to being quarantined under medical supervision for 14 days in the Mexican Olympic Center.
“Fighters will be subject to three COVID tests—on the day of arrival, seven days before the fight and on weigh-in day. They will also have scheduled times for individual training and meal service. Facilities and means of transportation will be constantly sanitized.”
The ambitious plans would require Navarrete, Lopez and all other boxers due to fight June 6 to begin testing by no later than May 22. From there will begin on-site quarantine, with participants on each subsequent show—all of which will take place in Mexico City—to follow in one week intervals.
Rising 21-year old junior welterweight Omar Aguilar (17-0, 16KOs) is due to headline the June 13 show, with legendary two-division titlist Jackie Nava (35-4-4, 16KOs) to appear in the co-feature. One week later, unbeaten former bantamweight titlist Luis Nery (30-0, 24KOs) will face local featherweight Alan David Picasso (13-1, 7KOs).
The month will then close out with reigning titlists, Miguel Berchelt (37-1, 33KOs) and Elwin Soto (17-1, 12KOs) in separate bouts. Berchelt is a long-reigning 130-pound titlist, while Soto is coming up on his one-year anniversary as a 108-pound title claimant, though both will likely appear in non-title fights.
What all participants will appear in are shows without fans or possibly judges on hand. As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, the WBC is seeking to implement a procedure where the three assigned judges for each bout will score the contest off-site. There has been much resistance on that front, with such plans remaining fluid.
As for fighting in empty venues, there has come a concept in place to best simulate the way things used to be prior to the global health crisis.
“In terms of production details, the judges—as of right now, but it’s negotiable—are supposed to watch the fights in a remote studio,” revealed Osuna. “But they’re trying to get the judges to be in the venue. The broadcast will sit about 30 feet from the ring and apart from one another but in constant communication.
“Much like the NFL is thinking of doing, LED walls with fans on all four sides as virtual reality fans to give it somewhat of an ambiance. They’re trying to give it more of a vibe than what we saw with the return of UFC (on May 9, live on ESPN Pay-Per-View and accompanying platforms for preliminary action).”
Despite news of the development appearing on the ESPN+ show, U.S. TV rights for the four-block Zanfer shows has yet to be confirmed as this goes to publish. ESPN Deportes has served as the lone U.S.-based network since mid-March to air live boxing of any kind during the global health crisis, picking up the feed from Nicaragua Canal 6 for an April 25 show from Managua, Nicaragua.
The last televised card to take place in Mexico occurred on March 13, with Felix ‘Tutico’ Zabala’s All-Star Boxing Inc. presenting a show live on Telemundo in front of a modest-sized crowd in Mexico City. That same night also saw Showtime air an installment of its prospect-based ShoBox series, taking place without fans in attendance at Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota.
Top Rank aims to be the first ones back on the stateside scene, with a tentative date of June 9 in place to air shows on ESPN and its platforms live from an undisclosed facility in Las Vegas which will remain closed to the public.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox