Monday, June 29, 2020

Where Things Stand For Boxing Under COVID-19

Originally, this column was to primarily center around a notable bout that took place over the course of the final weekend of June 2020. As this observer began his initial process of envisioning the layout of this column, it became clear that it would be more appropriate to not only share some insight on the return of WBC Jr. Lightweight world champion Miguel Berchelt, but to also share some of my impressions on what we have seen thus far since Boxing resumed amid the COVID-19 epidemic and where the sport stands.


It should be no secret to readers or those who know me that I have approached the resumption of Boxing under the circumstances of COVID-19 with a day to day mindset. While many have proclaimed “Boxing Is Back” and such a slogan has served as a marketing tool of sorts, it is important to remember that the world is in unprecedented times and even though many are egger to resume everyday life, yours truly had kept a mindset that the resumption of Boxing much like other sports could be temporary and that will largely depend on the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 virus.


Although numbers regarding the virus remain not encouraging, the sport has shown for the time being that it can operate behind closed doors, despite some scheduled fights being postponed or cancelled due to positive COVID-19 tests. Some who cover the sport like yours truly, may be inclined to focus a good portion of attention on the positive tests and would be justified in pointing out the risks of exposure and thus the risk to the fighters and their camps. Readers are more than welcome to read through the various material that I have covered in the weeks since the sport resumed for more information about the positive tests that have occurred thus far.


In the interest of both honestly and keeping in mind my feelings regarding the sport resuming that I have shared both here on The Boxing Truth® and on several social media platforms, it should be pointed out that despite the setbacks some cards have incurred, the Boxing cards have gone forward. While it remains to be seen whether this can be sustainable in the long-term especially if numbers in general regarding COVID-19 continue to increase both in terms of newly diagnosed cases and unfortunately deaths, for now the fact that promoters have been able to continue with their closed-door events even though a few fights have not taken place because of the virus, under the circumstances, it should be considered successful.


One of the primary criticisms I have heard from some fans however, has centered around a perceived lack of quality fights in the view of some. It is indeed understandable from a fan's perspective that they want to see as many competitive fights as possible and for those fights to be between the top fighters the sport has to offer. For several reasons, both related to the COVID-19 crisis as well as the economics of the sport, in some ways we are seeing a new dynamic in terms of hoe Boxing is being presented. One of the notable changes that has never been done before on traditional television platforms, but has been done regularly on digital streaming networks is every fight on a scheduled card has been televised. Although this is something that I have strongly advocated for over the years, particularly in regard to the overpriced and outdated model of pay-per-view in my belief that  for the prices consumers are consistently asked to pay for those events, for those who have never experienced a full Boxing card, it can be an adjustment as full cards usually feature fighters who may not always have the opportunity to benefit from television exposure. This along with many of those fighters not being able to devote themselves fulltime to Boxing for financial reasons as well as styles of fighters not always meshing into entertaining encounters and thus can lead to a perverted lack of quality of some fights in the eyes of some. It should also not be overlooked the challenges that promoters and matchmakers have periodically during normal circumstances throughout the sport. The difficulties/challenges they face are likely increased significantly under circumstances of an ongoing epidemic.


There has however, been good that has come out of an extremely bad situation for the world. Beyond providing potential opportunity to fighters that may not have had the benefit of television exposure before, technology has also provided a method for lesser known and regional promoters to have an opportunity to stay afloat during these difficult times when there is no opportunity to earn revenue from live gate income.


A consistent theme of this observer’s work over the last several years has been the benefits that Over The Top (OTT) digital distribution or in simple language streaming can provide not just Boxing, but all of sports. The advent of digital subscription sports streaming networks such as DAZN and ESPN+ have proven that the model of streaming can be quite lucrative and provide in some cases more revenue as compared to traditional television distribution. While networks like DAZN and ESPN+ have secured lucrative content agreements with some of Boxing’s major promotional players, for lesser known regional promoters, the benefits of streaming now provides a source of revenue while not having the option to stage public events by staging economically priced cards through streaming networks like FightNightLive, who stream events via Facebook, FITE TV, and Global Sports Streaming who stream both Boxing and MMA events via YouTube. 


This not only provides a route of revenue for lesser known and regional promoters around the world, but also to grow their respective audiences rather than relying strictly on traditional distribution platforms. While this is something I have been very vocal about in advocating for in addition to feeling that broadcasting every fight on a card is not only technologically possible, but adds more value for consumers/fans, some within the sport have been resistant to adapting to the changing landscape. It is my hope that if there is good that will come from this epidemic from a business standpoint, that promoters continue to recognize where technology is heading and adapt with it rather than trying to fight against it in favor of declining cable/satellite television distribution. It will only help expose the sport to more eyes globally and in the process grow Boxing and it’s reach.


Now that I’ve spent the majority of this column sharing my thoughts on a wide range of subjects related to Boxing under the circumstances of COVID-19, allow me to share some of my view on the return of WBC Jr. Lightweight world champion Miguel Berchelt. A return that took place on June 27th in Mexico City, Mexico.


 Berchelt, who last competed prior to the COVID-19 epidemic in November of last year in a successful title defense in stopping contender Jason Sosa in four rounds, returned to the ring in a non-title bout fought in the 135lb. Lightweight division. The opposition for the Jr. Lightweight world champion was veteran Eleazer Valenzuela. Valenzuela, a veteran of forty-seven professional fights prior to this encounter appeared to be an opponent that would allow Berchelt to test the waters of the Lightweight division with a potential of moving into the division full time in the future. 


This had all the appearance of what some would refer to as a “Tune Up” for Berchelt as the Jr. Lightweight world champion dictated the combat from the outset. A flush left hook to the head sent Valenzuela down late in round one. Although Valenzuela was able to continue, Berchelt continued to administer what frankly quickly became a one-sided beating. After four rounds, I felt the fight should have been stopped. Despite sustaining significant punishment, Valenzuela was very “Game “ and continued coming forward. While no one can take away the bravery of Valenzuela, I felt that the longer the fight went on, the more the possibility existed of potential long-term damage for him.


The end of the fight came in round six when a combination of unanswered punches to the head finally forced Referee Cesar Castanon to stop the fight. Although there frankly is not much to say or analyze about this fight, Berchelt did put forth an impressive performance in a new weight class in scoring his sixth consecutive knockout. 


While what may or may not take place in the months ahead in the sport will largely be dictated by the circumstances of COVID-19, hopefully promoters will be able to not only continue to put on cards, but also be able to find some middle ground as far as being able to provide bouts that will hopefully be seen as competitive in the eyes of Boxing fans. Although fans can be hard to please under normal circumstances, the fan needs to keep in mind that these are far from normal circumstances and as the possibility exists that things may be halted again because of this virus, the possibility also exists that some of Boxing’s top stars might opt to wait until circumstances allow for public events to resume where economically those fighters will theoretically be able to earn the type of paydays most stars of the sport are accustomed to and thus fights that have significant interest might take longer to come to fruition.


In the meantime, there remains opportunity for notable rising stars like Miguel Berchelt to take advantage of a bad global crisis by looking to stay active when they can.  For fighters who haven’t been able to garner television exposure throughout their careers, the circumstances of COVID-19 presents the opportunity to not only increase their notoriety, but also potentially grow their standing within the sport and that could very well lead to more lucrative opportunities in the future once circumstances allow for Boxing and the rest of the world to return to normal everyday activity. For now, it’s a combination of both waiting out the worst of circumstances, enjoying what we do have access to, and being patient while waiting for fights that have public demand to be made.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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