Catastrophic events that touch the entire world happen once in a generation, sometimes twice. Not since the Second World War has every human being on our planet been effected quite so acutely as they were in 2020, the year that Covid-19 changed how we live, communicate, socialise, and work.
Sport, just like everything else had to adapt on the fly. There was not enough time to make long-term plans for events simply because the virus forced Governments to enforce unprecedented new rules on large social gatherings. These rules and their consequences were handed down to sports governing bodies, promoters, managers, and sportsmen and women as the crisis developed, there was no blueprint to learn from, it was a matter of adapt or perish.
Boxing made the required adaptations and somehow managed to produce some spectacular events that will not soon be forgotten in the mists of Covid-19 folklore.
Top Rank kicked things off with Shakur Stevens fighting Puerto Rican Felix Caraballo at The MGM Grand on the 9th June in the headline bout. Of course, this was the first time The Grand Garden Arena had to be reduced to simply “The Bubble.” How was boxing going to continue with no crowds? How would promotional companies continue to put out quality shows for no-profit? Well, through determination and a real desire to see the sport survive, neither the non-crowds nor the non-profit scenarios proved to be a deciding factor.
On the other side of The Atlantic, Matchroom Boxing boss Eddie Hearn turned his father’s back yard into an outdoor boxing arena. Most thought the idea would be stretching the realms of possibility a little too far but, somehow Hearn made it work. The result was “Fight Camp,” a series of three cards shown on Sky Sports in Europe and by DAZN elsewhere. When Fight Camp ended, Hearn then managed to squeeze in a UK PPV event featuring Dillian Whyte vs Alexander Povetkin which produced possibly the biggest upset of the year.
Hearn’s UK rival, Frank Warren also put on events, at first staged in BT’s television studios, and later, in the iconic Church House, Westminster, a building steeped in history. Once again, an upset win for 34-year-old Joe Joyce over his highly touted 23-year-old opponent Daniel Dubois who entered the fight with a 15-0 record including 14 early wins, proved that boxing can and does produce “Upsets” when least expected.
Boxing’s other big player; Premier Boxing Champions also staged some fantastic cards including Gervonta Davis’s stunning knockout of Leo Santa Cruz, the Charlo twin’s doubleheader on September 26th, and the return of Errol Spence Jr against Danny Garcia.
But it wasn’t just the big promotional outfits that kept the sport in the public eye, and although I cannot name them all here, there were shows going on all over the globe that gave boxing fans who were suffering the strangest of years in living memory, something to look forward too and to talk about.
With the advent of Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out, we cannot be sure yet what 2021 has in store for our beloved sport but, if there are any positives that boxing can take from the world-wide pandemic, it is that in the harshest of times, the toughest sport of all will survive and even find a way to flourish. It is always easy to criticize boxing’s governing bodies, its promoters, and media outlets, but without their business acumen and love of the sport, we might have seen a collapse in the popularity that boxing has been enjoying in recent years.
If we can see Joshua vs Fury, Spence vs Crawford, and Canelo vs Golovkin III happen in 2021 then we will look back on 2021 as a year that built those fights up. Fury’s win over Wilder in February, Joshua vs Pulev, Spence Jr vs Garcia, Crawford vs Brooke, and Canelo vs Smith all went to set up these great potential events for the coming year.
Some of those who lived through the Second World War say that people pulled together during the toughest of times, helped each other out, and maybe in the future, we will all look back on the year of the pandemic in a similar way. Boxing showed us that it could provide a living for its workers and entertainment for its fans through the most difficult year in 75 years.