Top Rank hits the road…Next stop: Fresno
(Editor’s note: This article was filed for publishing prior to the unfortunate medical emergency involving WBC junior welterweight title challenger Danny O’ Connor, which resulted in his hospitalization for extreme dehydration. The article was changed accordingly to reflect all pertinent changes.)
Top Rank is in the midst of its traveling road show, which saw them touch down in Oklahoma City last week, and they will arrive in New Orleans soon. But their latest destination is Fresno, California, where Jose Ramirez – one of the best regional draws in the sport – was scheduled to make the first defense of his WBC 140-pound title at the Save Mart Arena, versus Danny O’Connor tonight (ESPN 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT).
Other than their June 9 card featuring Terence Crawford-Jeff Horn at the MGM Grand, the overwhelming majority of Top Rank’s ESPN cards have been held in non-casino settings, in cities spread throughout America, from New York to Los Angeles – and everywhere else in between – for the past year or so.
Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank explained that there really is no mission statement to get away from Las Vegas but he notes that this city “relies on tourists and, unless its a big tourist attraction like (Saul) ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez) and (Gennady) Golovkin, you’re better off doing it in other cities, where there is a hometown hook.”
The 86-year-old Arum still enjoys hitting the road.
“I love it because it gives me an opportunity to combine boxing with politics, and tell everybody to get ‘the blue wave’ going for the mid-term elections,” said the diehard Democrat, a couple of weeks ago. “You’re going to hear me, when I get off to Fresno early, and get on the radio with Fresno and try to get people to give the shitcan to (Representative for California’s 22nd District) Devin Nunes, the (Donald) Trump enabler.
“So I’ve got a lot of work to do with the Mexicans to get him beat.”
But getting off his political soapbox, Arum added, “I’m having a ball and I want to do fights in Houston, do fights all over the country. It’s a national sport. That doesn’t mean I’m going to turn my back on Vegas but to do a fight between a (WBO super middleweight titleholder) Gilberto Ramirez and, say, Jose Uzcategui, which is a great fight, but it really doesn’t belong in Vegas.”
Earlier in the week, Arum was still buzzing over the performance of Alex Saucedo, who turned back the courageous Lenny Zappavigna. Saucedo took a huge step in becoming a star in the “Sooner State.”
“Everybody is talking about it around the world, and ESPN scheduled and did a (Manny) Pacquiao-(Juan Manuel) Marquez replay they showed on the main channel, on Sunday, and (Golden Boy Promotions founder Oscar) De La Hoya-(Julio) Cesar Chavez and then followed it up with the Saucedo replay,” said Arum, who believes Saucedo is another warrior in the vain of ”like a (Erik)Morales and (Marco Antonio) Barrera, in other words, a real Mexican, real Mexican blood-and-guts, fighting their hearts out. I mean, this kid is a real warrior and he’s only going to get better with (trainer) Abel (Sanchez).”
And with that, OKC is now a boxing market much how Fresno is with Ramirez and Omaha with WBO welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford. “That’s what everybody told me. (Promoter) Tony Holden was there; he was getting calls from all over Oklahoma. All the casinos, they want to be a part of Saucedo. We can’t do his fight with (WBO junior welterweight beltholder Maurice) Hooker in Oklahoma; that’s the deal. So we’ll probably do that in Dallas; that’s only two hours away from Oklahoma City.”
Last week, legendary former Sooners coach Barry Switzer participated in the press conference for the card that took place at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“So it’s really becoming a big thing; that’s what this ESPN platform is doing – it’s bringing back boxing all over the country,” said an excited Arum, who envisions a scenario in which Saucedo and Ramirez meet in 2019, should they maintain their victorious ways.
“Absolutely,” said Arum, who explained, “To make it a huge event – and if that’s the way it occurs – we expect to do that fight at the Staples Center and it’ll be like a massive, massive, massive attendance. It’s going to be a big tentpole fight. I mean, we’re dreaming. They obviously have to win fights and all that other stuff for next year.
“But no question about it: That fight is going to generate such interest and have such a fan-base because what they’re talking about with Saucedo, we had about 5,000 people there because we only did the lower bowl. They said the next time he fights in OKC, there would be 15,000 people there. He’s becoming like the Thunder for OKC. People are crazy for him.”
And next week, it’s Bourbon Street with Regis Prograis and Teofimo Lopez topping the bill.
“I did a lot of fights in New Orelans,” recalled Arum, most notably the 1978 rematch between Leon Spinks and Muhammad Ali at the Superdome. “I’ve done a lot of fights, not recently though in New Orleans. We look at the ratings and New Orleans is always up there in the Top Ten.
“So it’s clear that there is interest, particularly in the urban community.”
Speaking of Saucedo, will trainer Abel Sanchez focus on tightening up his defense moving forward?
”The focus is going to make him the best Alex I can make him,” he answered. “Look, Arturo Gatti, everybody made him an idol, HBO made him a hero. He was a great fighter to everybody because of the way he fought. There are going to be guys who fight like that. That’s Alex Saucedo.
“As the fights get tougher – as this one was – as the opponents get tougher and he fights the elite, if that’s the way he chooses to fight, and regardless of what we do in the gym or what we work on in the gym, that’s the Alex we have to deal with.”
So how does he see the fight with the WBO beltholder Hooker shaping up?
Sanchez states, “Maurice was in my camp several times for sparring, and for preparation, for some of his fights. I think that’s it’s a good fight but I think that Alex is going to be too much for him. Eventually towards the end of the fight, Maurice is going to have to deal with Alex being in front of him and the pressure, and I think that Alex stops him late, if he doesn’t beat him in a decision.”
LIVE FROM MALAYSIA
So what’s the latest on the platform that will air the Lucas Matthysse-Manny Pacquiao fight next week from Malaysia?
Arum said on Thursday afternoon, while in Fresno, “We’re in contact with Manny’s company and we’re trying to get all the language correct. We’re not going to have an announcement till everything is correct. We’re not going to just leave any loose ends, then it blows up in our face.”
Top Rank – which is not directly involved in the promotion – struck a deal to distribute the fight in America. In the end, it was announced that ESPN+ will carry the fight, stateside.
Here’s this week’s episode of “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” in which Mario Lopez and I talk about the current leaders for “Fight of the Year,” halfway through 2018, and everything else in boxing:
Nonito Donaire drop two weight classes to join the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tourney…Due to the Jose Ramirez-Danny O’ Connor main event being canceled (due to O’Connor suffering a medical emergency, as a result of extreme dehydration) on ESPN, Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas takes the spotlight versus Juan Carlos Abreu. With a strong outing tonight, Kavaliauskas could be in line to face WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford in October…With James DeGale dropping the IBF 168-pound belt, Jose Uzcategui has been named the sanctioning body’s new champion. He and No. 2-ranked Caleb Plant have till August 5 to come to an agreement or that bout will go to a purse bid…Speaking of purse bids, the one for the vacant IBF middleweight title between Danny Jacobs and Sergey Derevyanchenko was scheduled for July 5 but both parties were given a five-day extension…On August 4, Devon Alexander will face Andre Berto, as the headliner on FOX…Yes, Mario Lopez busted his Achilles. Ouch. He’ll be up and running in no time…Currently “Marlon” on NBC is my favorite sitcom…Isn’t “Insecure” coming back on HBO soon?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.