The seriousness of the threat to boxing has been a hot topic of discussion, with many in boxing unsure of the true scale of COVID-19’s effects on boxing’s future.
Financially the effects will be vast, from losing fighters in the lower ranks as they switch to other professions, to some of the biggest organizations across the world struggling financially and maybe not making it out the other side.
All the biggest promoters, Warren, Hearn, Haymon, Arum, Fernando Beltran, etc. have spoken at length on podcasts, YouTube, in interviews on TV about the short-term endeavors needed to protect the sport and ensure its health long-term.
The promoters have been the most vocal, as they’re known for, speaking about their plans and ideas during the lockdown. Hearn has spoken of holding his ‘fight club’. Warren has broached the idea of holding fights in TV Studios. Beltran has spoken about using the TV Azteca Studios, which Mexico’s Secretary of Health allowed to reopen on May 17th, to hold fights promoted by Zanfer Promociones.
Little has been said by the sport’s sanctioning bodies, outside of how they intend to roll out their guidelines, with regards to how the sport will continue to make money during this period. With the organizations usually removed from financial matters surrounding fights, outside of collecting their sanctioning fees, there has been little for them to add to the larger conversation. Now, however, the WBC has taken the initiative and become the first of the sanctioning bodies to make a practical contribution to boxing’s return.
Mauricio Sulaimán, president of the WBC, announced that they would be making a concerted effort to “cut expenses for everyone”, their first measure being to confirm that “the sanctioning fees will go down.”
Outside of reducing costs, Sulaimán also talked about other measures the WBC would be taking to reduce the burden on fighters. As the WBC and other organizations have an input on matchmaking, able to make the call on mandatory title defenses and matchups based on their ranking systems, they also penalize fighters who do not respond to the organization’s call to face challenges within a specific time frame.
They exercise this right in a number of ways, for example stripping a champion if he/she refuses to defend against the mandatory, or to fine boxers who avoid fights outlined by the organization. Due to the hugely restrictive travel restrictions in most countries and complete travel bans between some countries, the WBC has elected to assess the situation and waive fees if a boxer cannot participate as a result of COVID-19 related extenuating circumstances.
While the step seems small and hardly enough (many would expect the organisations to waive their fees completely, as many fighters and promoters are likely to make no money), it is the first of its kind and sets a welcome precedent for the IBF, WBA, and WBO to follow.
The other organizations have yet to make similar statements, imaginably waiting to see how the situation unfolds before they make any concessions, in the face of the WBC taking such steps it puts pressure on them to make similar adjustments.
One of the most startling adjustments to be made, as reported by Sulaimán, is that they would be relaxing the regulations on making weight, saying that as fighters cannot train with the intensity they are accustomed to, it would allow fighters who come in slightly over to go ahead with fights as they can’t be expected to meet the same high bar in such extreme circumstances.
This could be very interesting, as fighters cutting weight is one of the biggest detriments to performance on fight night, as lighter boxers often lose most of their weight through water and end of dehydrated when attempting to drop a weight class or two.
This small detail could see fighters holding a pound or two of much-needed water and entering the ring with a much healthier body composition. Dehydration in sports is extremely well understood and many studies have concluded that loss of just 1-2% in body weight coming from water has a huge effect on the ability of the body to perform at its peak, with a possible 45% decrease in athletic performance being touted by some.
So, aside from the alleviation of financial stress on fighters and promoters coming from the WBC, another silver lining to the situation we find ourselves in may be that fighters find themselves in healthier and safer condition in the ring, able to put on better performances for themselves and for the fans.