Covid-19, The California Athletic Commission & The Promoters Taking On Social Distancing

By William Trillo

This past Monday, May 12th, the California State Athletic Commission held a stakeholder’s public teleconference to openly discuss the Covid-19 pandemic as it relates to combat sports in the state. Topics for review and discussion included: proposed plans from promoters for fight events once shelter in place and social distancing guidelines are lifted and/or relaxed for combat sports, increased and/or improved medical testing requirements as recommend by the advisory committee on medical and safety standards, potential liability issues for promoters, sanctioning bodies and the commission. After that there was an open dialogue with the participants concerning other covid-19/post-covid-19 related issues from the combat sports industry to the commission.

The meeting was highly informative regarding what will happen once the proverbial doors are opened to allow Combat sports back into California. It is clear mandatory testing, (twice), for everyone from the fighters to promotional staff will be status quo before being allowed into the venue. It is also clear the first fights to take place will be in an empty arena, i.e. no fans.

What is not so clear is when that first event will take place. California Athletic Commissioner Andy Foster stated without hesitation he has no idea when things will open up, but he did state it will coincide with with Gavin Newsome’s four phase plan. Combat sports will be a part of the Phase 3 stage, currently the state is moving to stage 2.

The Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory (SMRTL) will be doing the Covid-19 testing once things are underway.

When the teleconference was over, I reached out to some California promoters to get their thoughts on the proceedings. From promoters of World Champions to promoters on the local level I was interested to get a feel for how the ones who make the shows happen plan on moving forward.

The first person I reached out to was 360 Promotions Tom Loeffler. From the Klitschko brothers to GGG Loeffler has been promoting World Class boxing for many years. His current Hollywood Fight Nights shows at The Avalon have been doing well so it is no doubt Loeffler is ready to get rolling again.

Loeffler stated, “First I would like to thank Andy Foster for his hard work during this exceedingly difficult and unprecedented time. California’s Commission is one of the best in the country and without them who knows if we would even be having this discussion right now.”

When speaking about getting his guys back in the ring Loeffler seems confident shows in one form or another must start taking place in the early summer. “We have a lot of fighters who need to get back in the ring and fight right now for many reasons. Fighters need to fight regularly to stay sharp and more importantly this is how they earn their living. It’s imperative we get them back in the ring. Even fighters like GGG need to get back in and we are working on doing that soon.”

I asked Loeffler if fighters like Golovkin would be willing to fight in empty arenas. “They have to for now, there really isn’t any other choice. Fighters are going to have to understand the situation we are all in, and I think they will.”

Regarding his Hollywood Fight Nights, Loeffler noted that he has brought up many young fighters there and there still is a need for those type of shows. “Our fights at The Avalon have brought along quite a few fighters, Serhii Bohachuk and Brian Ceballo for instance have grown there. We need these types of “Double-A” fights to bring along the younger fighters. With sponsorships and streaming we hope to be able to make these fights return in the future. We are fortunate for that. Local promoters like Ed Holmes from Allstar boxing are not going to have it so easy. Now, that is not a reflection on Ed, he puts on exceptionally good local shows with competitive fights, but a promoter like that needs those ticket sales for revenue. Without that he is in a tough position right now.”

I spoke with long time promoter Holmes and he concurred with Loeffler. “Without ticket sales it is out of the question for me to put together shows. I’d like to sit down with anyone and show them the cost of promoting a show. Most people have no idea. And now they are talking about the promoters being responsible for the costs of the tests of the fighters? That’s ridiculous.”

I have been to plenty of Holmes promotions and the truth is he always has a full house. But due to the situation he is not going to be able to fill those seats until further notice. To which Holmes asks, “How can the airlines fill their jets right now? They are sitting people shoulder to shoulder in that cabin with recirculated air, but I can’t have a show? How does that make any sense at all?”

Another local promoter I spoke with was Ken Thompson from Thompson Boxing. For the last 20 years Thompson has not only promoted shows but has produced five world champions along the way. Fighters like Timothy Bradley up to Danny Roman have made their bones on Thompson shows. It’s pretty evident Thompson wants to keep that trend moving forward. An enthusiastic Thompson said, “I have a stable full of incredibly talented fighters who are ready to get back in the ring and I am going to make that happen. Our plan is to start having shows as soon as we can so we can get these fighters back in the ring. I met with Alex Camponova today and we are putting together ideas so we can get back in the business of boxing. In the meantime, we are going to find a way to meet with others involved in boxing to share ideas so we can work together to get us all back up and running.”

Another promoter I reached out to was Golden Boy Promotions. I simply asked if they had plans to throw shows of any kind soon. Vice President Eric Gomez stated, “We have a plan in place to do shows, (multiple), in July if the commission restrictions are lifted.”

Another promoter that has been very vocal in the media is Bob Arum from Top Rank. He is already laying out a blueprint for shows coming soon. Look for Arum to use ESPN’s platform to get his show on the road sooner rather than later.

Last but not least, I spoke to promoter Roy Englebrecht who was not shy to remind me he is the senior promoter in Southern California. “I’m older in years and time spent promoting than any other promoter in California. I started with longtime boxing promoter Don Fraser 33 years ago and have been doing my own shows for the last 28 years.”

Regarding if and when he can start promoting his local shows Englebrecht noted, “I am in a unique position. Once we begin Phase 4 and are allowed fans, with our VIP’s, Season Ticket Holders and Sponsors we generate $45,000 prior to opening the doors. That puts us in an exceptionally good position.”

Englebrecht went on, “As soon as we hit Phase 4 and I can go fill the arena to half capacity and I will be putting on shows. In fact, our next show is slated for August 27th and I fully expect to have the doors open for business that night.”

Whether it be his own shows or facilitating for Golden Boy and Top Rank Englebrecht is confident he will be open for business in 2020.

In closing Englebrecht said, “Thank goodness for Andy Foster and John Carvelli. I have seen plenty of commissions in my years, so I know what I am saying. This is a very unusual situation we have here, something like we have never seen before. If anyone can handle this it is Andy Foster.”

My takeaway from the teleconference and interviews is that everyone involved with bringing professional prizefighting back is doing everything they can at the present time. From commissioners, to judges, referees and promoters the concern for this situation is genuine and cautious.

As I think back to every other tragedy or difficult time we have gone through, the one thing we always had to fall back on was sports and entertainment. It wasn’t that we forgot about the struggle we were going through at the present time but rather, for that one moment, be it a three hour ball game, a movie at a theater or a couple hours ringside, it was cleansing if not therapeutic just to get away from everything for a moment and breathe.

We don’t have those outlets for release this time and it’s showing. Let’s all hope and pray that this season will soon pass.

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