After a great fighting start to the new decade, the sport of boxing has ground to a halt – much like the rest of the world – with the unprecedented spread of Covid-19.
No professional boxing matches have taken place in the United Kingdom since 14 March, and the first one currently slated to happen is still another four months away, with Lee Selby and George Kambosos expected to meet at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff on 3 October, in the IBF lightweight world title eliminator.
However, the boxing world will not need to wait until October before it sees its first match since the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Top Rank is returning to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on 9 June for a "behind closed doors" 10-round super featherweight fight between WBO featherweight world champion Shakur Stevenson and Felix Caraballo.
This event is Top Rank's first since Tyson Fury’s victory over Deontay Wilder back in February. It will kick off a line-up of weekly multiple cards taking place throughout June on ESPN networks.
The fights will in the main take place in the MGM Grand’s Conference Center Grand Ballroom, with the first one between Stevenson and Carabello replacing a cancelled March match-up between Stevenson and Miguel Marriaga.
With an impressive record (13-0, 7 KOs), American Stevenson has been picked out by various experts as having the potential to become a future superstar. After becoming the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medallist at bantamweight, and then winning the WBO featherweight title in October 2019, Stevenson now moves to super featherweight for this fight.
Meanwhile, Caraballo (13-1-2, 9 KOs), travels to Las Vegas for his first-ever fight outside of his home country of Puerto Rico. "La Sombra" comes to this bout on the back of five victories in a row.
On the 9 June undercard, featuring in four- or six-round fights, are:
- Jared Anderson (3-0, 3 KOs) v Johnnie Langston (8-2, 3 KOs)
- Guido Vianello (6-0, 6 KOs) vs Don Haynesworth (16-3-1, 14 KOs)
- Robeisy Ramirez (2-1, 2 KOs) vs Yeuri Andujar (5-3, 3 KOs)
- Calvin Metcalf (10-3-1, 3 KOs) vs Quatavious Cash (11-2, 7 KOs)
A week later, on 11 June, Jessie Magdaleno (27-1, 18 KOs) will take on Yenifel Vicente (36-4-2, 28 KOs) in a 10-round featherweight match-up.
Las Vegas native Magdaleno will be fighting in his hometown for the first time since 2016. Since stepping up from the junior ranks, he has claimed victories against the likes of Rico Ramos and Rafael Rivera. Vicente has secured 11 knockouts during his last 12 fights.
In addition, Adam Lopez (13-2, 6 KOs) and Louie Coria (12-2, 7 KOs) will co-feature in 10 rounds for the vacant NABF featherweight title.
Lopez returns to the ring following his last-minute bout with Oscar Valdez last November. With only one day’s notice after the original opponent missed weight - and a 3.5-pound disadvantage - Lopez lost the fight, but not before managing to knock down Valdez in round two. Coria will pose a tough test, having won his last three fights on the bounce.
On the 9 June undercard are:
- Bryan Lua (5-0, 2 KOs) vs Dan Murray (5-3, 0 KOs)
- Gabriel Muratalla (2-0, 2 KOs) vs Fernando Robles (2-2, 0 KOs)
- Eric Mondragon (3-0, 2 KOs) will face Mike Sanchez (6-0, 2 KOs)
Recent interviews with the fighters who are set to be among the first back show they are raring to return to the ring, despite the fact they will be competing without the usual atmosphere created from thousands of fans being present.
Stevenson said all along that he wanted nothing more than to feature in one of the first fights back.
He said: “I can’t wait to get back in the ring and return live boxing to ESPN. The atmosphere might be different, but I’ve fought in unique situations all over the world before so it won’t affect me."
CEO of Top Rank, Bob Arum explained that the absence of fans at these upcoming events is part of a set of new safety protocols. Other changes include Covid-19 testing procedures and new hygiene measures.
Arum said: "This is a sensible way to push ahead. Hopefully the fights will be good - I know they will be - but you've got to make sure all the procedures are safe and so forth. Hopefully what we're doing will serve as a template for other promoters to put on shows."