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‘Fighting Words’ — Canelo-Saunders, COVID-19, And 70,000 Fans In A Stadium

Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.
13
Apr

Tens of thousands of people is a large crowd, even in normal times. 

These are far from normal times. 

And, according to public health experts, it is still not the right time for that many people to attend a live sporting event.

“People are wanting to get back to normal as quickly as possible, like watching sports or going to sporting events. And we’re nearly there,” said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “We have significant improvement in many areas, in terms of hospitalizations and deaths, as a result of the vaccination rollout. But we’re not quite there yet. We’re not at the finish line yet.”

Nevertheless, there will be tens of thousands at AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas — at least 40,000 tickets sold as of late March, perhaps 70,000 in total if promotional hyperbole becomes reality — when the bell sounds less than four weeks from now, when Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders fight for three of the four major super middleweight world titles.

It would be a monumental event in any country and among the largest crowds for a boxing match in recent history. 

It is without a doubt the biggest live audience for boxing since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I am confident that we’re going to have a full house in the Lone Star State for one of the most important fights of 2021,” said Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, which is promoting the event, in a press release a few weeks ago.

From Empty Arenas to Packed Stadiums

That would’ve been unthinkable last year. It remained unthinkable earlier this year.

The Sweet Science, like other sports, went on hiatus as the novel coronavirus spread in March 2020. It didn’t return in earnest until months later. And as with other sports, there were often safety measures in place when it resumed. 

Everyone from the boxers themselves to the promoters and broadcast crew remained in “bubbles,” staying on site for extended periods before each event to prevent people from contracting and spreading the virus. Fans weren’t allowed for some time. Eventually, as restrictions eased, some arenas allowed a limited number of people to buy tickets and attend.

When Errol Spence defended his welterweight titles against Danny Garcia last December in AT&T Stadium — the same venue that will host Canelo vs. Saunders — the announced attendance was 16,102. Given that the stadium has fit between 80,000 to 105,000 for NFL games in non-pandemic times, this limited crowd allowed for social distancing.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS – DECEMBER 05: A general view of Errol Spence Jr. and Danny Garcia during their WBC & IBF World Welterweight Championship fight at AT&T Stadium on December 05, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Smaller crowds, or no crowds at all, have affected the boxing business. It’s taken away a significant revenue stream from fighters and promoters. It’s made it more difficult for some matches to be made.

Canelo vs. Saunders was made official in late February, immediately after Alvarez beat up Avni Yildirim in front of about 15,000 people at a football stadium outside of Miami. No venue was announced at the time — but it was expected that the May 8 fight would land wherever it could earn the most money. 

That’s how businesses operate, of course. And that’s how boxing has always operated, morals be damned. Can’t get a mismatch licensed in one state? Hold it in another.

Days after Canelo vs. Yildirim, Texas Governor Greg Abbott eased the state’s COVID restrictions, allowing all facilities to operate at full capacity and ending the statewide mask mandate. About a week later, Hearn said that the Saunders match could land either in Las Vegas or Texas

It’s no surprise that Canelo-Saunders ended up in Texas, especially given that coronavirus restrictions remain in place in Las Vegas. While Vegas remains the king of box office revenue, everything else — true to the saying — is bigger in Texas.

The state has hosted huge crowds for boxing in recent years. Manny Pacquiao brought more than 41,000 people to the arena, then known as Cowboys Stadium, for his win over Joshua Clottey in 2010, and a similar number for his victory over Antonio Margarito in 2011.

Alvarez drew nearly 40,000 when he beat Austin Trout in San Antonio in 2013, more than 31,000 when he knocked out James Kirkland in Houston in 2015, and more than 51,000 when he conquered Liam Smith at AT&T Stadium in 2016.

Alvarez isn’t the only one looking to do big business in the Lone Star State. The UFC, which has been running its shows in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi, has since scheduled a pair of events expected to draw sizable crowds later this month in Jacksonville, Florida, and then next month in Houston.

The Texas Rangers baseball team, which plays near AT&T Stadium, drew a sellout crowd of more than 38,000 for its season opener earlier this month and has averaged more than 27,000 after six home games, the largest in Major League Baseball. (The Houston Astros are in second place, averaging more than 21,000 through three home games.)

Alvarez has since become an even bigger star than when he last fought in Texas. The former 154-pound titleholder and lineal champ at middleweight shared a two-fight rivalry with Gennadiy Golovkin, moved up to light heavyweight to capture a belt, and dropped down to super middleweight last year. 

He is campaigning to win all four major titles, which he could potentially achieve in the span of less than a year. Alvarez won the Ring championship and two world titles when he beat Callum Smith in December. Saunders has the third. If Canelo wins next month, he could take aim at Caleb Plant for the remaining belt later this year.

Fans Weighing the Risks of Seeing Canelo-Saunders Live

That prospect will have many tuning in on DAZN or pay-per-view. That will draw tens of thousands to the arena. 

But that is not enough for some boxing fans to make the trip right now.

“I’m unsure how I feel being around a projected 60,000 fans in attendance,” said Donovan Kasp, a boxing fan from New York. 

“Sixty thousand folks crammed together in Arlington, Texas, has ‘superspreader event’ written all over it,” said Stephen Talbott, a boxing fan from California. 

Other boxing fans, however, told me they were willing to take the risk. Many said they would mitigate the risk by getting vaccinated ahead of time and remaining masked as much as possible within the stadium.

“Before Canelo becomes the unified champion, I want to be able to say that I saw him in person,” said Raj Basel, a 32-year-old boxing fan who will be flying into Texas from New York City.  “If I’m going to leave the pandemic safety circle and leave my house for something in another state, I’d rather it be something significant. This is the first significant thing I’ve been willing to leave the house for. Seeing Canelo in Texas is almost the closest thing to seeing Canelo in Mexico.”

Basel said he planned to get his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine the day after our conversation in early April. How protected he will be on fight night will depend on which vaccine he received, and when. According to the CDC, someone can be considered “fully vaccinated” — meaning the vaccine is as effective as expected — two weeks after receiving a single-shot vaccine (like Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine), and two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

There are other measures Basel can take. “I’ll of course be responsible,” he said.
“I’ll wear a mask, have hand sanitizer on me, and maintain distance.”

Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.

Osei A., a boxing fan from Virginia, is looking forward to seeing his first boxing match since Joe Smith Jr. outpointed Jesse Hart in January 2020. A fan of Canelo, he typically attends 5-6 fights a year and watched Alvarez knock out Sergey Kovalev in Las Vegas in 2019.

“I will be fully vaccinated by the time of the fight, so I’m not worried about social distancing or the lack of mask requirements, honestly,” Osei said. “I probably would’ve looked to go even if I hadn’t gotten vaccinated yet, though I’m not 100% certain about that. I live alone and work from home alone, so I am less concerned about passing it on to others if I did catch it.”

Paul G., a boxing fan from Oklahoma City, had not yet been vaccinated when we exchanged messages in early April.

“My plan originally was to give it some time before doing so and see how things play out, as I have been staying home with work, etc., during the pandemic,” Paul said. “Getting tickets to this fight definitely made me look at my timeline for the vaccine again, but I am still undecided — not much time left, I know. I am going with two friends, one who has had and recovered from COVID, and another who will get the vaccine because we are attending the fight.

“I definitely have some concerns with being in the stadium with the amount of people there,” he said. “However, I am a young and fairly healthy individual with the ability to quarantine after the fight. I do also plan to wear a mask at all times in the event just to have some additional peace of mind for myself and of course for others in attendance.”

Meanwhile, the vaccine was a must for Rick Guerrero, a 37-year-old boxing fan from San Diego who describes his girlfriend as a “huge Canelo fan.” Now that both of them are vaccinated, they feel more comfortable attending the event.

“Otherwise we wouldn’t even go,” Guerrero said. “Just the fear of catching COVID. My dad actually just passed away from it. The idea of spreading it to another family member, we didn’t want to take that risk. Her mom is high risk.”

Guerrero said they will also be masked during the show.

“I think we should still be wearing masks,” he said.” I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. It’s not a big deal to have it on my face. We’ve been doing it this whole time.”

The Conditions in Texas and Potential for Spreading Elsewhere 

The number of newly reported cases of coronavirus infections in Texas has declined from where things were a month ago, according to the New York Times.

“The reason that’s happening in Texas is unknown,” said Dr. Weatherhead of Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s great news that, despite lifting some restrictions, we’ve still seen reducing numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. This could be due to the vaccine rollout. Our distribution has increased to allow individuals 16 and older to have access to that vaccine. 

“But it also could be that people are still wearing their masks and still social distancing, which is what the governor has recommended, even though these aren’t a law,” she said. “In the Houston area, for example, most people are still wearing masks and social distancing. Many businesses are enforcing masks and social distancing.”

In Texas, about one-fifth of the population (20.2 percent) has been fully vaccinated, according to The Washington Post. Nearly one-third (32.8 percent) has gotten at least one dose. More people are getting vaccinated each day. But the numbers still aren’t anywhere close to the threshold for “herd immunity.”

Compounding things in Texas is the prevalence of the B.1.1.7 variant, which is believed to have originated in the United Kingdom. It is now the predominant strain in the state and is more transmissible than the original strain of the virus, Weatherhead said. Other variants, including those believed to have originated in South Africa and Brazil, have been detected and are circulating in the community.

The three vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7. Results vary with the other variants, depending on the vaccine. That’s concerning not only in Texas, but it can also pose problems elsewhere in the country as people travel home from the event.

The Rules and The Recommendations

When it comes to this pandemic, as with boxing, you shouldn’t let your guard down at the wrong time.

“There’s still quite a bit of community transmission,” Weatherhead said. “There’s still people who don’t have access to vaccines to protect themselves and to prevent community transmission. We still have to use the same mitigation strategies, which is staying home if needed, avoiding large crowds, and wearing masks until you’re vaccinated or until vaccines are widely available.”

That’s very much in line with the general guidance from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Don’t declare victory prematurely,” Fauci told CNN this week. “We see so many pulling back on some of the public health measures: the mask mandates, the restaurant opening, the bars. We can’t be doing that. We’ve got to wait a bit longer until we get enough vaccine into people that we will clearly blunt any surge.”

Although Governor Abbott’s executive order lifted the mask mandate in Texas, businesses can still require people to wear them. 

“Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year,” Abbott said in a statement last month. “Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”

It does not look like fans will be required to wear a mask on May 8 — “strongly encouraged” is the phrasing used on AT&T Stadium’s events page for Canelo vs. Saunders. Here are the policies for that day:

  • Capacity will not be limited and will not feature pod seating for this event.
  • All AT&T Stadium employees will wear face coverings while inside AT&T Stadium, unless they are actively eating or drinking.
  • Guests are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings while inside AT&T Stadium, unless they are actively eating or drinking or if under 10 years of age.
  • Whenever possible, guests are strongly encouraged to maintain at least six feet of social distance from those outside of their own party.

“If you told me within the stadium that people have to wear a mask, everyone is distanced, that it has good ventilation, then the risk is going to be less,” Weatherhead said. “But when people are yelling and screaming and not wearing masks in close proximity to each other, then the risk of transmission will go up significantly.”

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Under the terms that fans agree to when they purchase their tickets, they will assume all liability if they get sick. That is, it will be their fault and not the stadium’s.

“An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the legal language reads. “COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death.”

In essence, they are telling fans to attend at their own risk. The legalese says that attendees agree not to come to the stadium if they’ve tested positive within the past 14 days or been in close contact with someone who has, or if they are experiencing any symptoms. Yet the gameday experience includes few requirements that would serve as protective measures in case someone at the stadium has COVID. 

The good news is that more people are getting vaccinated each day. The caveat is that not everyone at AT&T Stadium will be vaccinated.

“We know these vaccines work,” Weatherhead said. “If you’re going to this event and you’re vaccinated, you’re certainly going to be more protected than your unvaccinated counterparts. Vaccination is the key to making these events safe. 

“Wearing a mask and trying to distance is still important even if you’re vaccinated, because the vaccines aren’t 100 percent,” she said. “They’re really good. They’re better than what most people have anticipated, but they’re not perfect. …The use of masks and the use of distancing can help reduce that risk, but there’s always  going to be risk there until the pandemic is under control.”

The 10 Count

1 – In lieu of action among the top welterweights, it’s been an eventful past few weeks for some 147-pound prospects.

Jaron “Boots’ Ennis and Vergil Ortiz have graduated from prospects into contenders. Conor Benn is on the verge but still could use another test. Eimantas Stanionis remains at least a couple fights away.

Ortiz (23 years old, 17-0 with 17 KOs) fought three weeks ago, defeating Maurice Hooker. The other three fought this past weekend. 

Ennis (23 years old, 27-0 with 25 KOs) looked fantastic as he knocked out Sergey Lipinets in six rounds in the main event on Showtime. Stanionis (26 years old, 13-0 with 9 KOs) fought on the undercard and gained some good experience with a decision victory against Thomas Dulorme. And Benn (24 years old, 18-0 with 12 KOs) headlined in London and made very short work of Samuel Vargas.

I’d love to see Ennis meet Danny Garcia in a battle of Philadelphia fighters. Ortiz called out Terence Crawford — though that might be too much, too soon. Benn mentioned Amir Khan, Adrien Broner and Shawn Porter. (Benn vs. Khan is a dud. We’ll get more into that later on in The 10 Count.)

There’s also a ton of other acceptable opponents. Yordenis Ugas has a world title (unlike Garcia) and would be good for Ennis. Jamal James has a secondary belt. David Avanesyan is coming off a big TKO over another 147-pound prospect, Josh Kelly. The list continues on with Jessie Vargas, Egidijus Kavaliauskas and Abel Ramos.

And, oh yeah, there are other unbeaten prospects who want some of the same hype: Kudratillo Abdukakhorov, Custio Clayton and Rashidi Ellis.

2 – Jaron “Boots” Ennis and Vergil Ortiz want to be the next Errol Spence and Terence Crawford.

I’m just hoping that Ennis vs. Ortiz doesn’t end up being the next Spence vs. Crawford.

3 – I don’t know what’s more bullshit: Conor Benn’s callout of Amir Khan, or Khan’s response to Benn.

Benn was impressive this past Saturday in London as he disposed of Samuel Vargas in just 80 seconds, hurting him with a right hand and then following up with an unrelenting barrage that only ended when the referee jumped in 10 seconds later.

Vargas was no world-beater and had lost to several recognizable names at welterweight — Errol Spence (TKO4 in 2015), Danny Garcia (TKO7 in 2011), Amir Khan (UD12 in 2018), Luis Collazo (SD10 in 2019) and Vergil Ortiz (TKO7 last August). But Vargas was expected to be a decent test for the 24-year-old prospect, and he’d surely never been beaten this way before.

“Statement made,” Benn said afterward. “All them names you just mentioned? No one banged him out in one round.”

Understandably, Benn was full of confidence afterward. 

“I’m ready for the top dogs,” he said at one point. “I want to test myself.”

“Give me a proper test. Give me Amir Khan,” Benn said at another point. “I know he’s too busy on reality shows and all that, but if he wants it he can get it.”

Wait… what?

Benn also mentioned Adrien Broner and Shawn Porter. Given that so much of his pre-fight talk had been about facing Khan and Kell Brook, it’s fair to say that “The Destroyer” prefers one of the faded welterweights from his home country.

In a way, it’s understandable. Despite his impressive performance, Benn is still relatively early in his career. He’s 18-0 with 12 KOs as a pro. His brief amateur career consisted of fewer than two dozen bouts. Taking on a faded name is typically what a young fighter in his position would be doing next.

Let’s not dress this up as anything more than what it is, though: a clash that’s meant to draw headlines and crowds at home in the United Kingdom.

Khan hasn’t fought in nearly two years, dating back to when he stopped former featherweight titleholder — yes, I said featherweight — Billy Dib in July 2019. Khan hasn’t won a notable fight in much longer. If you include his own win over Vargas, that was in 2018. Otherwise, there was Chris Algieri in 2015 and Devon Alexander in 2014.

After his first defeat (a 54-second blowout against Breidis Prescott in 2008), Khan has only lost to big names: Lamont Peterson (SD12 in 2011), Danny Garcia (TKO4 in 2012), Canelo Alvarez (KO6 in 2016) and Terence Crawford (TKO6 in 2019).

But no one else is pretending that Khan is a big name. Well, no one else except for Khan himself.

4 – Why do I say that about Khan? Because this was his tweeted response (lightly edited here for punctuation):

“Conor, well done. Great kid, wish him the best. At his age I was a world champ. Maybe if he had some belts, that fight would make sense. But he’s got a long way to go yet.”

Wait… what?

If Khan is talking about a world title, then it’s not like the 34-year-old is in line to face any of the actual beltholders at 147. Khan’s shot at Crawford was likely his last one. Anyone with a heart will keep Khan far away from Spence. And there are other fighters who are more deserving of stepping into the ring with Yordenis Ugas or even a secondary titleholder like Jamal James.

Given how Khan is continuing to jockey for a fight with Kell Brook — who, last I checked, doesn’t have any titles around his waist anymore — then Khan’s statement should be taken as what it is: He doesn’t want the Benn fight. And that’s for the best for him.

Given how many times Khan’s chin has gotten cracked, he’s finally shown us that he knows when to duck.

5 – It wasn’t too long ago that one of boxing’s greats, a Hall of Famer who had remained in the business, was incredibly concerned:

“I write in the hopes that together we can protect the sport of boxing,” he said in the beginning of an open letter. “With each passing day, it looks more and more likely that the circus known as Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor will be coming to town in the near future.

“As undercard fights start to take form, athletic commissions give their blessings in exchange for millions of dollars and the fighters start counting even more cash, one group will eventually be left to make sure this farce doesn’t occur,” he wrote. “We, the fans, who are the lifeblood of our sport.”

He was concerned about “the best boxer of a generation” taking on “someone who has never boxed competitively at any level — amateur or professional.”

“Our sport might not ever recover,” he said.

It was wholly motivated by money, he said. 

It would be a disaster, he said.

That letter writer was Oscar De La Hoya. You know, the same person who is coming back to the ring at the age of 48 and could be facing a big name from the UFC.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Yes, De La Hoya is much older now than Mayweather, who was 40 when he faced McGregor in 2017. And De La Hoya, whose last fight was his drubbing to Manny Pacquiao in 2008, is obviously less active than Mayweather had been. Mayweather had retired in 2015 after notching his 49th win over Andre Berto.

Lots of retired fighters get the itch to return. That was true even before this latest trend of nostalgic pay-per-view exhibitions. But it’s not like De La Hoya is coming back solely for the love of the sport. If he faces a mixed martial artist, it won’t do any of the good for boxing that he argued for in that open letter. 

And the thing is… all of that is fine. Mayweather-McGregor was fine. That event was more fun than I initially thought it would be. It made lots of money. It didn’t do any damage to the sport of boxing.

It’s the business of boxing that keeps doing damage to the sport of boxing.

I don’t know when De La Hoya pulled down his Facebook post — the Internet Archive shows it still up as of June 2020 but gone before the end of the year. People are allowed to change their minds.

De La Hoya’s comeback is slated for July 3, the day before Independence Day. And there’s nothing more American than loudly making a moral stand and then never admitting you were wrong once you change your mind.

6 – Heavyweight Highlights, Part 1: The year-end awards in categories like Fight of the Year and Knockout of the Year tend to go to matches featuring big names. That’s no surprise. They’re the fights that are the most-watched. They’re the fights with the more important storylines (and, when considering the KO of the year, they’re the fights with the better camera angles).

Still, I wouldn’t be doing my job as your friendly neighborhood Fighting Words columnist if I didn’t share the best knockout from last weekend.

It featured two debuting heavyweights in the middle of a club show held in the boxing mecca of Salt Lake City. But watch Bishop Le’i land that counter left hook on Don McMillon. And watch McMillon, completely out on his feet, fall forward until his body is left dangling over the ropes as the crowd goes wild.

When we get to the end of the year, put Le’i KO1 McMillon in the same highlight reel with Oscar Valdez KO10 Miguel Berchelt and all of the other worthwhile nominees.

And as pointed out by hardcore boxing fan TimBoxeo, who shared the video on Twitter for the rest of us to see: “Watch the right side of the video. The maniac in the green jacket/hoodie was NOT going to miss a chance to see a body up close. It didn’t matter that his kid was fast asleep.”

7 – Heavyweight Highlights, Part 2: For all of the notable action this past weekend, my favorite moment actually came in a preliminary bout between two boxers you probably haven’t heard of before.

Heavyweight prospect Jeremiah Milton entered the ring on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a record of 2-0 with 2 KOs. His opponent was Jayvone Dafney, who was 2-2 with 2 KOs. They were early in the undercard of Top Rank’s ESPN show featuring the Maxim Vlasov-Joe Smith Jr. light heavyweight title bout.

The show featured five heavyweight fights that ended early. Milton vs. Dafney came to a close just 79 seconds into the first round. Dafney, circling to his left along the ropes, attempted a left hook. Milton countered with a big right hand. Dafney was done immediately, leaning on the ropes, his left arm outstretched above his head, his right arm dangling out of the ring. Here’s the video.

Dafney was defenseless. The referee hadn’t yet stepped in and wouldn’t do so for two very long seconds. And Milton didn’t throw a shot.

It reminded me, in a way, of the compassion Emanuel Augustus showed against Ray Oliveira in 2005. Oliveira staggered after an inadvertent rabbit punch and was holding the back of his head. He continued to hold his head for much of the remainder of the round. Augustus took it easy, throwing far fewer punches, and only targeted Oliveira’s body when he did throw. This remained true even when Oliveira was on the attack.

To a lesser extent, I was also reminded of Zab Judah motioning for the referee to stop the fight when he had Cory Spinks badly hurt in their welterweight championship rematch in 2005. Though when the referee wouldn’t end things, Judah landed a few more heavy blows to finish the bout.

8 – We now know more about why Jamel Herring would prefer his next fight come against Oscar Valdez rather than Shakur Stevenson.

Jamel Herring celebrates victory as Carl Frampton reacts following their WBO 130-pound title bout at The Rotunda at Caesars Palace in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Herring, who scored an impressive TKO over Carl Frampton earlier this month, recently spoke with Keith Idec of BoxingScene.com. Herring has the WBO world title at junior lightweight and owes a defense against Stevenson, his mandatory challenger. But he finds the Valdez fight more alluring. Herring believes that the winner of a fight with the WBC titleholder would be named the new lineal champion.

(Valdez and Herring are rated No. 2 and No. 3 by The Ring. The No. 1 fighter right now is Gervonta Davis, whose next fight is expected to be at 140, though Davis hasn’t said he’s otherwise done at junior lightweight.)

“I’d rather be known for fighting the top guy and becoming a two-time world champion and the lineal world champion any day,” Herring told Idec.

“The Valdez fight trumps [a Stevenson fight],” he said. “It’ll pay more and then there’s more of a reward on the back end for my career. OK, say we fight Shakur and we beat Shakur, people are gonna look at it and they’re gonna find something to downplay it anyway — something. ‘Oh, he was young,’ or you know, something.”

Herring has three potential choices ahead of him: Valdez, Stevenson, or moving up to 135. There’s no wrong choice here. 

Stevenson is much better than most of the dudes who somehow get named as mandatory challengers. It would be a bold move for Herring to step in with the 2016 Olympic silver medalist. Stevenson has quickly grown as a pro and continues to improve.

Stevenson looks to be a tougher challenge than Valdez. Valdez isn’t a gimme for Herring either, though. This isn’t avoiding a tough challenger in order to take an easy night in a less meaningful fight. 

It’s just a shame that this will deprive Stevenson, for now, of the more meaningful fights that he deserves as well.

9 – It’s difficult enough to find a replacement opponent on short notice. It’s even more difficult when there’s so little depth in the higher weight classes of women’s boxing.

Savannah Marshall was originally supposed to defend her middleweight title last weekend against Femke Hermans on the undercard of Conor Benn vs. Samuel Vargas. But Hermans had to pull out just days before the bout after a member of her team tested positive for the coronavirus.

Hermans is no world-beater, but she at least might’ve presented more of a challenge than replacement Maria Lindberg was able to.

Hermans, 31, is 11-3 with 4 KOs. Those losses came in title fights against Alicia Napoleon Espinosa, Claressa Shields and Elin Cederroos. Hermans briefly held a title belt, picking it up post-Espinosa before losing it to Shields.

Lindberg is 44 years old and came in with a record of 19-6-2 (10 KOs). There’s only so much available when BoxRec lists just 32 women in the entire world who compete at middleweight, and when the talent pool is so shallow that the No. 12 person in their computerized rankings is Latasha Burton, a 38-year-old with a record of 4-14.

Never mind that Lindberg has largely competed one division below, down at junior middleweight. The real crazy thing is that Lindberg even competes at all given the brain bleed she suffered in her amateur career.

That injury occurred in 1999. Lindberg was suspended by the Swedish Boxing Federation afterward and was denied an amateur license when she sought to return, according to the Women Boxing Archive Network. Lindberg ultimately turned pro in the U.S. in 2003 but only lasted two fights in the states before she was suspended again due to scrutiny over her medical history. Lindberg resurfaced in Germany in 2008 and had fought regularly through the end of 2019.

Marshall had no trouble against Lindberg and stopped her in the third round. We’re fortunate that Lindberg wasn’t hurt worse. It was the first time that Lindberg was stopped. Commissions should make certain that it’s the last.

10 – It was bad enough that Lindberg was fighting for a world title. With a last name like that, the belt should’ve only been intercontinental…

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.