Top Rank Boxing struggles to catch a break in return to action with seven main events altered

Top Rank’s plan to lead the way for boxing to return from the global COVID-19 pandemic was as ambitious as it was risky. Seeing the success of the UFC continuing with a schedule that was mostly business as usual, even without the presence of fans may have provided a sense of false confidence, but few could have predicted just how bad the promotion’s luck would be.

On June 9, the Top Rank shows from “within the bubble” in Las Vegas kicked off. While the main event between Shakur Stevenson and badly overmatched opponent Felix Caraballo went off without a hitch, the featured undercard bout pitting Mikaela Mayer against Helen Joseph was scrapped when Mayer, a top prospect for the promotion and all of women’s boxing, tested positive for COVID-19.

June 11 saw boxing’s first truly great fight since the return, with Adam Lopez edging out Louie Coria in an incredible, action-packed scrap. If the co-feature represented boxing’s highs, the main event recalled the lows of Andrew Golota vs. Riddick Bowe, with Yenifel Vicente throwing low blow after low blow, losing four points in addition to receiving several warnings, before finally being disqualified in Round 10.

Featured Top Rank fighters — and seemingly fixtures in Top Rank’s plans for the future — lost one week apart on June 17 and June 23. First, Joshua Greer was upset by Mike Plania, though not before one of three judges tried to upend things by turning in a ridiculous 94-94 scorecard. Then, Andrew Moloney, who held the WBA’s “regular” championship at 115 pounds, was upset by Joshua Franco. Moloney was fighting two nights before his twin brother, making the twins a special kind of Top Rank attraction. Franco brutalized Moloney, leaving him battered and bloody and doing enough that the judges couldn’t rob him of a clear win — though they certainly tried with scorecards of 114-113, 114-113, and 115-112 and making a Round 11 knockdown by Franco the deciding moment. Making the upset more painful for Top Rank was that Franco was a Golden Boy promoted fighter brought in to be the clear B-side.

Jason Moloney would win his fight on June 25, though the plan was for him to fight Oscar Negrete, the attraction being the Moloney twins against Franco and Negrete, who had fought their own epic trilogy. Negrete was forced out of the fight due to an eye injury, leaving Jason Moloney to beat a less attractive opponent in Leonardo Baez.

June 18 and July 2 suffered main events falling apart to COVID-19. First, Mikkel LesPierre was pulled from his bout with Jose Pedraza after his trainer tested positive. Then, the first true world title fight of boxing’s return was postponed when WBO junior lightweight Jamel Herring tested positive for the virus ahead of his title defense against Jonathan Oquendo.

Herring vs. Oquendo was quickly rescheduled to July 14. Unfortunately, Herring tested positive again and the fight was again pushed off. This time, however, it appeared Herring’s test was a false positive, tanking one of Top Rank’s biggest fights unnecessarily. That left the rescheduled bout between Mayer and Joseph in the main event slot.

The hits kept coming throughout July. Jose Zepada vs. Ivan Baranchyk fell through on July 7 when Baranchyk suffered a rib injury. Baranchyk was replaced by Marcelino Lopez, who was then replaced by Kendo Castaneda. The July 9 heavyweight main event between Jerry Forrest and Jarrell Miller died when Miller tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, the second time he has done so. Forrest was then beat by replacement fighter Carlos Takam.

July 16 was a true mess of a card for Top Rank. Eleider Alvarez vs. Joe Smith Jr. was one of the best “on-paper” fights of Top Rank’s return, but Alvarez was injured and the bout was scrapped. Miguel Marriaga vs. Mark John Yap was scheduled as the replacement main event, but died on the scales after Yap missed weight by nine pounds. Andrew Cancio’s planned bout with Manny Rojas for the date was also lost in June when the Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to sanction the fight, viewing it as a mismatch. Cesar Valenzuela was then brought in as Cancio’s opponent only for the NSAC to again refuse to sanction the fight. Bizarrely, Cancio vs. Rojas or Valenzuela were not worse mismatches than many other fights the NSAC had no problem giving the go-ahead.

Being one of the major sports entities trying to “bring sports back” was always going to be complicated. Top Rank’s plans to establish a “bubble” are not dissimilar from how the UFC has operated or how many of the major sports leagues plan to move forward.

But pulling off such a risky plan requires a lot of good luck. If there’s one positive thing to be said about all the bad breaks that have come Top Rank’s way, maybe it’s simply finding appreciation that they’ve yet had a card fall through to the point of being completely canceled.

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