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Fighting Words — Teofimo Lopez and Tyson Fury: Positives Tests and Snowball Effects

Teofimo Lopez (right) vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko. Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank
14
Jul

This was supposed to be a big year for Teofimo Lopez and Tyson Fury.

The lightweight champion and the heavyweight champion were each expecting to follow up their big 2020 — when they scored the two most monumental victories of their careers — by cashing in with big paychecks in 2021.

Instead, they both have needed to postpone their fights after testing positive for COVID-19. And those postponements have had repercussions on their careers, on their foes, on their undercard fights, or on their business relationships.

Lopez’s team is at odds with his show’s promoter and is threatening to pull out of his match with George Kambosos Jr. Meanwhile, Fury’s positive test — combined with the upcoming pay-per-view schedule — means his trilogy with Deontay Wilder may need to wait until this fall to resume.

Lopez vs. Kambosos was originally supposed to take place last month. It was first delayed from June 5 to June 19 to get out of the way of the Floyd Mayweather Jr vs. Logan Paul pay-per-view. Then, days before the rescheduled bout, it was announced that Lopez had gotten ill and that the show would instead take place on August 14.

“I am devastated to disappoint so many people,” Lopez tweeted at the time. “I know the sacrifices we have all made to get here.”

In an interview on May 25 with sports reporter Amber Dixon, Lopez said he had not yet been vaccinated.

“At the moment, no, me being with asthma and everything, I still have those precautions that, you know, uncertainty,” Lopez said at the time. “However, I know that they’re getting better little by little with the COVID and everything, and how they’re doing the vaccinations, and eventually there will be a point in time where we will have to do it. But at the moment we’re just trying to stay away from groups and just trying to stay focused in camp.”

Kambosos, who had earned this fight by becoming mandatory challenger to one of Lopez’s many world titles, said he was “absolutely devastated” and directed his disappointment at his opponent.

“I’ve been away from my kids for 13 weeks. I flew my pregnant wife over to be by my side,” tweeted Kambosos, who hails from Australia. “I put every bit of my life into this camp with my team. I would have been undisputed champion this weekend. I know it and you know it. Your actions and decisions have affected not only our fight, but everyone involved in our fight. Pure irresponsibility on your whole side.”

There were several matches scheduled for the Lopez-Kambosos undercard, including a bout between Franchón Crews-Dezurn and Elin Cederroos for the undisputed middleweight championship, plus separate clashes featuring heavyweight contender Michael Hunter, highly touted junior middleweight prospect Charles Conwell, and hyped junior welterweight prospect Keyshawn Davis.

As with other events put on by nascent promoter Triller, a few musical acts were also slated to perform, including Meek Mill, Myke Towers and Lunay.

The pay-per-view would’ve taken place on an incredibly packed night of boxing. There were four other notable shows that day, including a mid-day card on DAZN headlined by Jaime Munguia vs. Kamil Szeremeta, and nighttime cards on Showtime (with Jermall Charlo vs. Juan Macias Montiel in the main event), ESPN (Naoya Inoue vs. Michael Dasmarinas) and pay-per-view (Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Anderson Silva, plus Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. in an exhibition with Hector Camacho Jr.).

Even if the delay took Lopez-Kambosos out of a packed marketplace, it didn’t save the promoter money.

“The fight postponement cost Triller nearly $5 million … money that included travel expenses and other logistical and marketing costs that can’t be recouped since event insurance isn’t protected against COVID,” reported Mike Coppinger of ESPN.com, citing anonymous sources.

Triller has been spending significant sums on its shows, putting more into production than boxing promoters typically do. It also easily outbid two other promoters for the rights to this fight. Lopez vs. Kambosos had gone to purse bid because the lightweight champ wanted more than his promoter, Top Rank, was offering and felt that the market would support him. (Lopez and Top Rank have since reached an agreement to increase his paydays for future fights.)

Almost everyone in boxing, after all, is in the business to make money. That’s why Triller is looking at rescheduling the fight once again — and relocating it as well.

“Lopez needs to go to Australia and should be bending over backwards to make this right for Kambosos, for us and for all others who lost out due to their irresponsibility,” said company executive Ryan Kavanaugh, speaking with Coppinger. “We have set the fight for October in Australia, which will be an even bigger draw. We have the stadium set and the PPV will be Saturday primetime. We truly hope Lopez and his camp do the right thing.”

But Lopez’s team has objected to the idea. They don’t want to make the long journey to Australia, be required to quarantine for two weeks and have Lopez attempt to cut weight in the process, according to what Lopez’s manager, David McWater, told ESPN. McWater said they could just drop one of Lopez’s world titles and leave Kambosos to presumably fight the next available contender for much less money.

Lopez hasn’t fought since October 2020, when he scored a huge unanimous decision victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko. If the Kambosos bout remains on the schedule for this August, he will have gone nearly 10 months between fights. If Lopez agrees to the new date on Oct. 17, he will have spent exactly a year out of the ring. And that’s if he takes the fight.

Otherwise, he’ll have made a stand with Top Rank, held out for more money, and then cost himself the payday.

That’s a gamble that Lopez and his team may be willing to take. Just as fighters and their teams seek the biggest paydays, they also want to give themselves the best chance to win. McWater is staking their position in the press. The negotiations will otherwise continue behind the scenes.

Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Lopez’s layoff is still significantly shorter than the amount of time Tyson Fury will have spent on the sidelines between his second and third clashes against Deontay Wilder.

Fury’s momentous technical knockout of Wilder in their rematch took place in February 2020, weeks before the pandemic shut down the world, and all of sports with it. That was nearly 17 months ago.

Talks for their third fight broke down toward the end of 2020. Fury soon lamented his inactivity.

“I’ve been out for over a year,” Fury said this past February. “By the time I fight again, looking at maybe June if this [Anthony Joshua] fight happens, that will be a year and six months out of the ring, which is not ideal preparation for any superfight.”

As has been well-chronicled, Fury and Joshua went from prolonged negotiations to finally announcing in May that they would meet in a huge heavyweight collision this August. There was just one huge problem. Fury and Wilder were in arbitration over their inability to reach a deal for a third fight. Arbitration was something they had agreed to in their contract for their second fight.

The Fury-Joshua news had barely sunk in when the arbitrator ruled that Fury had to live up to his agreement and face Wilder next instead. Fury vs. Wilder 3 was quickly set for July 24 in Las Vegas, another huge heavyweight clash with plenty of drama and storylines involved. Would Fury be able to knock Wilder out again? Or would Wilder land with his own power and do what he’d come half a second away from doing in their first fight — put Fury down for good?

We’ll need to wait longer to find out.

Last week, news broke that there had been a COVID-19 outbreak in Fury’s camp. The heavyweight champion himself was said to be positive, as well as an assistant trainer (Andy Lee) and two other fighters (heavyweight Joseph Parker and featherweight Isaac Lowe), according to boxing reporter Dan Rafael.

Rafael, citing anonymous sources, reported that Fury had only received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and had not returned for his second dose, contrary to what Top Rank’s Bob Arum had believed to be the case.

“If Tyson Fury and his team did what they should have done and said they had done, this fight would be on and not off,” said Wilder’s manager, Shelly Finkel, speaking with Rafael. “Deontay did what he was supposed to. He got his two Pfizer vaccines, and so did the members of his team. He’s ready to go, and this is because Fury did not do what he was supposed to.”

Wilder’s team has as much right to be as upset with Fury as George Kambosos was with Teofimo Lopez. Training camps are physically and mentally arduous for boxers, even those who don’t need to cut weight. And this isn’t the first time that Wilder has trained for a big fight and then had it fall apart at the last moment, at no fault of his own. He was en route to Russia to face Alexander Povetkin in 2016 when it was revealed that Povetkin had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

The Fury-Wilder 3 pay-per-view was supposed to have three other heavyweight fights on the broadcast: the rematch between Robert Helenius and Adam Kownacki, a bout between unbeaten prospects Efe Ajagba and Frank Sanchez, plus prospect Jared Anderson stepping up against the also-undefeated Vladimir Tereshkin.

Fury and his camp members will need time to recover and then begin training camp anew. And they are also at the mercy of the pay-per-view calendar.

Fury-Wilder 3 will be a dual pay-per-view involving ESPN (which works with Fury’s promoter) and Fox (which works with Wilder’s). Fox is also distributing the August 21 pay-per-view featuring Errol Spence vs. Manny Pacquiao. September will presumably have a show featuring Canelo Alvarez, though no opponent, date, venue or network — you know, all the important stuff — has been announced yet.

The earliest we could see a rescheduled fight between Fury and Wilder is October 9, per ESPN’s Coppinger.

Lopez-Kambosos and Fury-Wilder 3 are far from the first fights to be postponed during the pandemic due to someone testing positive for the virus. And there are plenty of people throughout the world who have sought to stay safe and healthy but have still contracted COVID-19.

These two stories do stand out given how much more is known about the novel coronavirus now when compared to last year — and how much more can be done to prevent it.

The vaccines were available for Lopez and Fury. And if they were choosing not to be vaccinated, or in the case of Fury not to be completely vaccinated, then they needed to be additionally cautious about who was in their training camp — and what precautions those people were taking themselves.

As maddening as this situation is, though, the most important thing isn’t the fights that have been postponed due to illness. Rather, the most important thing is the health of the fighters themselves (and anyone else on their teams who was infected).

It sucks that these events had such a snowball effect. But undercard fighters will find new slots. Events will get rescheduled. It’s far from ideal, but boxing always recovers. Our hope is that Lopez and Fury will do the same.

The 10 Count

1 – I’m excited for what will be the biggest fight of this coming weekend, by far — Jermell Charlo vs. Brian Castaño for the undisputed junior middleweight championship. The fight will be the main event of a Showtime broadcast.

Charlo is coming in with three world titles — the WBC title he regained in his 2019 rematch with Tony Harrison, plus the IBF and WBA belts he seized from Jeison Rosario last September. He’ll be facing an entertaining challenge in Castaño, who does not have the name recognition but absolutely shouldn’t be counted out. Charlo, who is also The Ring Magazine champion, feels the same way.

“Castaño is a great fighter who puts on a lot of pressure,” Charlo, 34-1 with 18 KOs, said recently in a virtual press conference. “But I know my abilities and I know my power. Every punch I throw is dominant and every shot I throw is painful for my opponent. I have a lot of unique abilities in me and I’m going to bring some tricks into this fight.”

Castaño impressed with the way he took the WBO title from Patrick Teixeira via unanimous decision earlier this year. He recognizes the difficulty in who he’ll be facing in San Antonio.

“I’ve seen Charlo knock down a lot of fighters with just one punch,” Castaño said. “That’s something to look out for. However, I have more of a variety in my arsenal than anybody he has fought before. If I have to be more aggressive and go for more power instead of finesse, rest assured that I can knock him down as well.”

The tripleheader also features lightweights Rolly Romero vs. Anthony Yigit and middleweight prospect Amilcar Vidal vs. Immanuwel Aleem.

Haney (left) last time out against Jorge Linares. Photo courtesy of @DAZNBoxing

2 – Boxers Behaving Goodly: Devin Haney donated meals last week to residents of Covenant House Texas, according to a press release. The organization shelters and provides other services for homeless, abused and abandoned people between the ages of 18 and 24 in Houston, per its website.

“It’s important to give back. The pandemic has affected everyone,” Haney was quoted as saying in a statement. “We spent time and fed the CHT residents with a catered dinner from my must-go-to restaurant when I’m in Houston, The Turkey Hut. This is my generation at CHT, and I love to try and support and inspire them every chance I get.”

Haney is 22 years old. The lightweight titleholder moved to 26-0 (15 KOs) this past May with a unanimous decision over Jorge Linares.

3 – The WBA’s decision to suspend Jean Pascal for just six months is a joke when it comes to punishment for testing positive for as many performance-enhancing drugs as he did.

Pascal hasn’t fought since his December 2019 victory over Badou Jack. Their rematch was scheduled for last month until Pascal popped positive for banned substances. But there needs to be greater accountability. And, frankly, it isn’t the sole responsibility of the sanctioning bodies.

Suspend a fighter from one sanctioning body and he could either respect that decision or choose to compete for the rest of his career with the three others. Suspend a fighter in one country and they can still travel. Heck, there have even been cases in the United States where one athletic commission has put the kibosh on a fighter (often due to injury) and another one won’t respect that decision.

There needs to be accountability. There needs to be reciprocity. There won’t be either. The sanctioning bodies are here to make money. The athletic commissions — who ostensibly exist to provide structure and safety for an activity that would otherwise be illegal — are looking to bring in revenue for their states as well.

It continues to be no wonder that boxers are doping to get an advantage. There’s too little being done to catch them. And there’s too little done to them once they are caught.

4 – Jean Pascal issued an open letter to boxing fans earlier this week. He said he “didn’t knowingly take any illegal substances.”

However, he also rightly acknowledged that he is “responsible for what’s in my body, so that blame is on me. I take the blame. I hold myself accountable, and this is never going to happen again.”

It’s hard to imagine a fighter in this era using a substance — whether as pills, gummies, balms or injections — and not doing his due diligence on what they are.

Among what I’d want to know: What did Pascal think he was taking, and how did he take them? Who provided the substances to him? Where were the substances acquired from? Who paid for them?

There are plenty of other questions. But the biggest one that will linger over Pascal’s head going forward is whether he’s a clean fighter.

Pascal says he will enroll in the year-round drug testing via the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. That’s a good start. That shouldn’t be where it ends.

Fighters in Jean Pascal’s situation need to do more than be clean. They also need to come clean.

5 – Gilberto Ramirez’s fourth-round knockout of Sullivan Barrera this past weekend was a good first step back toward relevancy, a much-needed move after his past couple of years.

Ramirez won a super middleweight title in 2016 and defended it five times, including in a pair of close battles with Jesse Hart. But he hadn’t done much of anything after moving up to light heavyweight. Ramirez made short work of Tommy Karpency in 2019 and then sat on the sidelines. He and promoter Top Rank reached an agreement on a release in 2020.

The fighter became his own promoter and put on a show last December in Mexico, stepping back into the ring for the first time in 20 months.

“There’s an opportunity for us to be a free agent and work with different fighters, different promoters. You can do whatever you want,” Ramirez told me in February. “At the end of the day, you have to work with different promoters to make good fights.”

Ramirez signed with Golden Boy Promotions two weeks after our interview.

It remains to be seen whether the deal will work out the way he wants. Golden Boy has been airing its fights on DAZN. As noted by Chris Mannix — a boxing writer who also does commentary for the streaming service — there are potential fights available with former titleholder Sergey Kovalev and current titleholder Dmitry Bivol.

Of course, Kovalev upset DAZN when he illegally broadcast a stream of Canelo Alvarez vs. Callum Smith, continuing his long run of terrible behavior. And then he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Bivol fought on DAZN just this past May.

We’ll see if Ramirez is able to work with other promoters and networks. There are 175-pounders who are with Top Rank and shown on ESPN (Artur Beterbiev, Joe Smith) and those with Premier Boxing Champions and usually shown on Showtime or FOX (Marcus Browne, Badou Jack).

Vergil Ortiz scored his 17th consecutive stoppage vs. Maurice Hooker. Photo from DAZN

6 – I really like the fight that was just announced putting Vergil Ortiz Jr. in with Egidijus Kavaliauskas on August 14.

Ortiz is coming off a victory over Maurice Hooker and used his post-fight interview to prematurely call out Terence Crawford. Kavaliauskas stopped Mikael Zewski last September, bouncing back from his loss to Crawford.

It was a surprisingly good performance in defeat for the Kavaliauskas, especially given how much he’d struggled in a draw with Ray Robinson earlier in 2019. He’ll be a good test for where Ortiz is at in his development.

7 – Meanwhile, I’m also waiting to see if another promoter is brave enough — or stupid enough, depending on your perspective — to put their welterweight in with David Avanesyan.

Avanesyan, who lost to Kavaliauskas by TKO in 2018, stunned the unbeaten Josh Kelly earlier this year. He deserves another notable name.

8 – Some people are really into boxing memorabilia. But how about buying a home that once belonged to a fighter or another famous figure?

There’s a two-bed, two-bath condo on Long Island where referee Arthur Mercante Sr. used to live.

That’ll run you just $799,000, so start up your own world title belt and begin collecting those sanctioning fees.

Or you could live in luxury at longtime HBO broadcaster Larry Merchant’s house in Santa Monica, California, enjoying the five beds and four-and-a-half bathrooms.

That’ll run you only $5.7 million, so make sure to become an obnoxious social media influencer and then steal a hat off Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s head.

And picture yourself living in the Atlanta area at former middleweight titleholder Daniel Jacobs’ home, with seven bedrooms, five-and-a-half bathrooms and plenty of space, plus a location right by a golf course.

It’s on the market for $1.95 million, so choose a profession that’ll help you rake in the big bucks. Hint: It’s not boxing writing.

9 – Sadly, none of those listings is represented by boxing’s most notable combination referee and Realtor, Jack Reiss. (A hat tip to boxing publicist Gayle Lynn Falkenthal for that one.)

Of course, that kind of thing could present a potential conflict of interest. And we don’t want that in boxing. We’re too honorable and respectable a sport.

After all, it’s not like we’ve ever had a prominent boxing referee selling insurance for the very same shows he was working.

Oh, wait… that was Laurence Cole.

10 – I’m just waiting for Max Kellerman to buy Larry Merchant’s house and then spend every day comparing it to other historical houses…

 

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

 

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