Boxing and life as a whole were thrown into disarray in 2020, but the sport adjusted and endured as we all have. The fight continues into 2021.
After Tyson Fury dismantled Deontay Wilder in February, it looked like boxing was off to a hot start in 2020. The world was caught severely off guard by the pandemic that changed the course of everyone’s life.
Seated at press row inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena while Fury radically altered his fighting style to brutalize Wilder over seven rounds, I took in the scene of a magnetic live event unlike any other that I’ve ever attended.
The joint production between Top Rank/ESPN and PBC/FOX produced a boxing extravaganza filled with anticipation and worldwide interest unlike any other in some time. Fans from the U.K. filled the MGM Grand during fight week, and their voices filled the arena that night in support of Fury injecting him with added fuel as he put on the performance of a lifetime.
Looking around at the celebrities in attendance and the grandiose entry of Fury being carried out on a throne dressed in royal garb and Wilder’s now-infamous light up new-age knight suit, I had high hopes for boxing in 2020.
Boxing became a minuscule and distant concern by mid-March. COVID-19 became a known entity and was infecting and killing people at an alarming rate. The world started to go on lockdown. It all happened so fast, and there wasn’t any warning for the average person.
Rumors and murmurs of a super virus started to spread on Monday, March 9. Many of my high school students started asking me questions. They heard that we might miss some school because of the new virus that was going around. I assured them that I thought school closures were unlikely.
By Wednesday, March 11, nationwide school shutdowns were almost a certainty as new information on COVID-19 became available and predicted the scary reality of what was to come. I saw my students in person for the last time on Friday, March 13, as other educators and I scrambled to change our instruction to fit a remote model.
Much of the U.S. went on immediate lockdown, but a lack of national and federal guidance helped spur confusion and divisiveness, funneled into a political ideology that combated scientific fact.
Regardless of your views on the pandemic, what ensued, and is still occurring, normal day-to-day living was reconstructed into something once unfathomable.
Schools, businesses, and sporting events ceased meeting in person or came to an absolute standstill altogether. The isolated and demented spring that followed damaged lives, psyches, and livelihoods.
Being an English teacher who loves and writes about boxing, I tend to see the sport as a metaphor for just about everything.
Society in 2020 navigated unforeseen challenges presented by the pandemic, and boxing acts as a metaphor for our struggles and triumphs
In the foreword to the anthology At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing, writer Colum McCann said of boxing, “But maybe the appeal of boxing and its own peculiar genius is that it can be used as a recurring metaphor for just about anything…Boxing is our everyman, our every-move, our everything.”
He was right.
By June, the world at large attempted to get off the canvas after being knocked down by the pandemic. Restaurants started to reopen, and so did professional athletics. Everything was far from normal, but at least we were taking steps to try to regain a sense of normalcy.
As far as I know, Top Rank came up with “the bubble” term and philosophy. In conjunction with ESPN, NSAC, and medical advisors, Bob Arum and Top Rank developed a plan to get boxing going again on national television. Top Rank spearheaded boxing’s comeback with Shakur Stevenson vs. Felix Caraballo on June 9.
Other promotional companies, television networks, and athletic leagues followed Top Rank and ESPN’s model to bring sports back from hiatus. Live audiences weren’t possible, but at least we could watch a boxing match or basketball game again from our homes to help us momentarily escape our problems.
Boxing thrived for the remainder of the year. The Charlo twins made a splash on the national stage with their unique pay-per-view doubleheader that saw them take control of their respective divisions. Teofimo Lopez earned pound-for-pound accolades when he became the world’s undisputed lightweight champion after defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr., and Triller created a pay-per-view production that captured everyone’s imagination and attention in their exhibition bout with some Jake Paul social media flavor. Errol Spence Jr. looked better than ever against Danny Garcia in his first fight since his horrific car accident.
To top off the year in boxing, Canelo Alvarez became his own promoter with some help from Matchroom and DAZN as he easily outboxed Callum Smith to become the super middleweight kingpin in an instant.
No, things aren’t alright in the world. The virus continues to spread, and people are dying, but numerous vaccines are starting to make their way to the general public, and an end to the pandemic is in sight.
We might only be in round 8 or 9 of our battle with COVID-19 and the collateral damage caused, but the human race is resilient. There’s plenty wrong with us, but we’ve always lived by the principle that good overcomes evil and that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
This year challenged us like very few before it, but there’s the promise of hope on the horizon. Here’s hoping that 2021 is the year that life returns to what it once was. There will be fighting in and out of the ring, but our fight together for safety and health is the most important.