NOBODY’S seen anything like this. I’m 88 years old and I’m going to 89 in December, I haven’t seen anything like this, not only in my career in boxing, but in my lifetime. There’s never been anything like this.

Any time you’re first, any time you lead off and you’re first there is a lot of pressure. Because maybe some of the things you’ve put into your protocols just don’t work. If you’re first, you’re not sure of anything. We really believe we have our hands on everything. The Nevada commission has been wonderful working with us, the medical people, we have a lot of brain power going into this and we hope everything comes out well. It better, because we have two or three events a week throughout the summer, certainly in July because who knows when baseball gets back in action. Maybe the NBA starts in August. So there’s a great, great need for live sports content on the American networks.

Somebody has to do it. We have really good staff and we have a high level people. Fortunately we opened up in Nevada before the UK will restart. So we have to do it right. We have to lead correctly because God forbid we screw up here, it’s not going to be good for anybody. So if we have to go back over everything we’re doing, we will because we want it to go right, without any problems, keep everybody safe and give the public what they want, which is live boxing.

With the protocols that we’ve published, with the steps that we have to take, it’s equivalent to boxing promoters running an emergency unit in a hospital.

We are not trained for this but we’ve worked very, very hard with the medical authorities. It is not easy but it is doable. We’re going to get everybody to follow it. At first people will feel very, very strange, with the tests. We have to feed them in the site. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it but it has to be done. We estimate that it will cost us about $25,000 each event just for the testing. We’re working in a situation where there’s no gate revenue and the costs are astronomical compared to what they used to be because of all the medical precautions. Not that I’m begrudging that. That is important. I’m grateful that we’re up and running. But it is not easy and it is very, very expensive and fighters around the world have got to realise that. Because in the UK Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn are going to run into the same situation and fighters over in the UK have to realise that there is a limit to how much the promoters can do.

Waiting any longer to start would have been wrong. I like to compare it to the famous poet A. E. Housman in his long poem To an Athlete Dying Young. What that means is athletes die young in the sense that they have limited careers; it’s okay for a promoter to take a year off because a promoter’s longevity is much greater than that of fighters. But to deprive a fighter from fighting in the middle of his career really hurts the fighter.

I’ll be in the bubble because I didn’t want to subject the fighters to this unless I believed it was safe, and the way I demonstrate that is to go in myself.

Shakur Stevenson
OFF AND RUNNING: Shakur Stevenson stars in Top Rank’s first lockdown show [Mikey WIlliams]

Major publications here in the United States are covering the event not because of covering a particular fight but covering the operation. So for the first couple of events, the star of the show is the protocols and the operation. Then when you get used to it the stars will go back to being the fighters.

The UFC, typical Dana White, he tried to push it to go first. He went down to Florida, he made terrible mistakes. For example, one of the fighters and both his corner people tested positive at the weigh in. Our people go into what we call ‘a bubble’ and they get tested before they’re allowed in the bubble. Then once they’re in the bubble they still have to get tested the night before at the weight in. They didn’t do that, the UFC, and they did a lot stuff that we wouldn’t do. Like having the ringcard girls walk around the ring. I mean that’s not what you’re going to do and that’s not the message you want to send. We have a special platform built for the ringcard girls and the ring announcer. The show will look different from what we’re used to in boxing, the fights will be the same, the referee will be the same, he will have been tested, the judges, that part will be the same. But it’s going to be hard to digest the fight without the spectators.

I think everybody in the world in sports, in boxing, are going to look at our first week and learn from how we made it work.

I’ve been in this business for nearly 55 years and I’m still learning and adapting. Human beings have the ability to adapt. We’ve all got to adapt. We’re happy to share our protocols, for whatever it’s worth, with Frank and Eddie, assuming everything works out, which we hope they will. You guys don’t have to follow them but it’s a good, good starting point because we’ve done a lot of work on them.

Unfortunately because of travel bans and so forth, some of our big names in the UK, we can’t get over here. Guys like Mick Conlan, Josh Taylor and Carl Frampton, so Frank will have to find spots for them in the UK and hopefully arrange for their fights to be shown on ESPN in an early afternoon show because of the difference in time.

Top Rank
DREAM TEAM: Arum and Conlan cannot work together at the moment but will be reunited

Our long term plan was to promote events in the UK. We were talking about Belfast and London. Because I go back many years when most of the fights in the United States were on network afternoon television. So there it was a cinch to do a fight in the UK in prime time and it was afternoon in the United States. That is something we’ll consider in the future.

The whole world is changing. It’s not like it used to be. Promoters are now looking to cooperate with each other to ensure that boxing is rebuilt. But I think when we build it back, it will make more sense than we had before. Before, we did events to spite other promoters and that type of stuff. We have no time for that and no room for that anymore.

Before this all happened, we had one event scheduled with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. His network, Fox, and our network, ESPN, worked together on the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder and we surprised each other with how well it worked and how much we co-operated. So we’re not only ready to do the third fight with both networks but we’re looking to do other fights with a PBC fighter and a Top Rank fighter, where the pay-per-view would be distributed by ESPN+ and Fox. I think everybody realises that ESPN has created a tremendous vehicle in ESPN+.

In the last fight, ESPN+ accounted for at least 30 per cent of the total number of buys. That is really, really shocking but it shows how much the business is changing.

So we have no choice is but to co-operate. We could keep fighting and killing each other and we could sink into a morass.

I have to be reactive, I can’t be proactive. Who would have believed that the Olympics wouldn’t happen? Who would have believed that this coronavirus plague would hit us? We didn’t. So we have to be humble and we have to adjust to what’s happening. There is no Olympics this year so we have to get used to it. There’ll be an Olympics hopefully next year and some of the fighters that we were looking at signing as professionals decided to stick around in the amateurs. They don’t have to but they did, in order to better qualify for the Olympics next year. Some of the fighters said no we’re going to test the pro waters immediately.

Fine, but then we run into another problem. We have a whole stable of fighters who are chomping at the bit to get into action and our cards, which before were eight or 10 fights, are now five fights. So a lot of people are waiting in line to get shots pursuing their career and this is not a great time to think about adding other new fighters to the mix because that’s not fair to the fighters we’ve been promoting. So we have to make adjustments. We have to be real about it.

Hopefully throughout the summer we give people a lot of really good live boxing content, if we get that done then there’ll be room for these kids who were going to go to the Olympics and decided not to wait around. That’s all I can say. So much of this is out of our hands because it’s outside factors that are determining what we’re going to do.

It looked like the epidemic was calming down, at least for now. It was a terrible situation that we’re dealing with in the United States. The race protests are certainly justified but there’s no question with the number of people participating that we will see another spike in the virus. It was under control because of the shutdown orders for months but now it’s going to be out of control again. I know that, I think all doctors know that, we just have to hope for the best.

Muhammad Ali
NEVER FORGET: Ali set new standards but his desire for racial equality was only the start

It’s all a very different outlook today to when I first got involved in the sport but there were of course protests back then.
I got involved because of Muhammad Ali and at that point it was a different protest movement that he was leading and I was involved in. The country has changed a lot since then, or you think it has, then you get an incident like the horrible death of George Floyd. Things change but unfortunately to a large measure they stay the same. We’ve got to now have an obligation to move everything and to get progress particularly in race relations, which hasn’t been the case before. I’ve been around it so long and I’ve been involved in it. There were tremendous advancements during Ali’s days, with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. But now we need to move ahead even further and that’s what these protests are about. So again when you get to be my age you have the ability to look back not only at what happened in the last five or ten years but to look back 50 years in the past and see how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. The steps that we were taking in Ali’s days, in Martin Luther King’s, were tremendous but that’s not enough now. We have so much more that has to be done to rectify the racist attitudes in our country and indeed in the world.

It makes me hopeful because I was there and I witnessed it and to some small extent I was part of it and those were true real advancements. If you look at with the situation now those were baby steps but they were steps ahead. So I’m hopeful that coming out of this situation we’ll be able to make further advancements. We’re not going to be able to put everything on an equal plane immediately, that doesn’t happen, but as long as we make significant improvements then it will all have been worthwhile.

The difference was when I look back the protests were controlled. They were very vigorous, they were very important but the leaders, like Martin Luther King, controlled the protest so they didn’t get out of hand. One thing that people realise now is how peaceful those protests were. Now the protests today, that we’ve had, most of the people were respectful and protested peacefully but there didn’t seem to be the leadership to control those protests. So that enabled bad elements to get involved and that’s what caused all the violence and the looting. When Martin Luther King was leading the protest, he didn’t allow those elements to infiltrate into what was a peaceful protest. That’s what we need now. We need leadership to keep out the bad apples.

Then it doesn’t allow a scumbag like the President of the United States, Donald Trump to divert people from what is important. He uses that element to tar and affect everybody that’s protesting for what has to be changed, at least in our country.

It’s so bad that retired generals that are real patriots, like Jim Mattis, have made statements that we wouldn’t have believed that retired generals would make condemning Trump.

I’m from New York and I knew Trump. I dealt with him and I knew that he was totally incapable of being president. He wasn’t a good guy and in fact was a charlatan. I was afraid what’s happened to this country was going to happen because he was totally incompetent to be president. He doesn’t haven’t any good streaks, he’s not a good person. Sometimes you can get a leader who is not competent but he’s basically a good person and that helps the situation. Here you have a guy who was incompetent, who was not prepared to lead a country and is also a bad guy. The combination of the two causes chaos in the country and indeed has the elements of destroying the country.

I’m really pleased to see all the athletes of today, like Lebron James and others, being so forthright and outspoken. People look up to these great athletes and will listen to them and I hope that more and more of our prominent boxers take stands. Because people will listen to them and they have a lot more influence than they might imagine. Listen, we don’t have a figure like Muhammad Ali today but we have intelligent athletes who are outspoken and they’re beginning to have their voices heard.

I’m going to talk to all the fighters because we’ll be in what we call a bubble to protect against coronavirus and I’ll have the opportunity to talk to them and they’ll be interviewed after the fight and I would hope that they make statements in support of the protesters and in support of change.

I really think that what I did in the late 70s, opening up to a small extent to South Africa and breaking to some extent the grip of apartheid started the ball rolling in the right direction which led to the release years later of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island prison and his assumption of the leadership in South Africa. And Mandela would talk about the fact that myself and my partner who owned the Sun City hotel, the late Sol Kerzner played a big role by insisting that all stadiums be integrated as the price of doing a heavyweight championship fight between John Tate and Gerrie Coetzee in 1979. I look at that being a real time significant contribution.

Sport has a greater power than even entertainment, movies come and go, actors no matter how good they are are playing a part. Sport really captures the people’s imagination. People tend to want to hear what the athlete is saying, particularly if the athlete has thought out the positions that he’s taking.