Coronavirus limitations to hit elite boxers hardest, according to promoters

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Elite boxers will be hit harder than lower level fighters due to the limitations on sports events caused by the coronavirus pandemic, MTK Global vice-president Jamie Conlan has said.

As restrictions are being lifted in some parts of the world, boxers are weighing up whether to box sooner for less money without crowds or wait for a bigger pay day when crowds are allowed back.

Some boxers don't have a choice and face more months of inactivity before it will be possible for them to box again due to government restrictions on public gatherings.

Professional boxing events without crowds will be limited to five bouts per show and are expected to be staged in the United Kingdom (UK) from July after the sport was shut down in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, Conlan says it is the top names who could potentially lose out when boxing resumes again.

"I think the elite fighters will be in a worse position then the lower level fighters," Conlan told ESPN.

"The top guys rely on ticket deals, but now you are going to have to rely on a purse [without any crowds]. With the big names the money they were being guaranteed before is going to be skimmed down for these behind closed doors shows."

MTK is planning behind-closed-doors events in July and August, held at venues around the UK.

Former two division world champion Carl Frampton, now operating at junior lightweight, and featherweight contender Michael Conlan -- brother of Jamie -- are being lined up to box on the same bill in non-title bouts, against British or Irish opponents, in August.

Josh Taylor, the WBA-IBF super lightweight champion, is another MTK-managed boxer and Conlan hopes he will box again in August or September.

Both Frampton and Conlan had been hoping for WBO world title shots this summer, but now face keep-busy fights next.

"We are looking to get out on ESPN+ in July, maybe on mainland UK or in Belfast, and then again in August in Belfast," Conlan added.

"Michael, Carl and Josh all need to get out as part of their Top Rank deals. We are still waiting for government guidelines before we say we can go here or there for sure but we are looking at kicking off in July and then another one after that.

"All three of them need to get out at this stage of their careers. It's calculated risks for all three."

Conlan says some boxers may walk away from the sport after potentially losing out on a year's income.

"It could potentially push some out of the sport," Conlan said.

"They might be living fight by fight with purses and have a second job to get by. If you are 28 or 29, your mind might be willing but your body might be saying otherwise when things return to normal.

"It's going to be vital to get the boxing circuit alive again after this and it all rides on how the next four or five months go and how we integrate into this new boxing normal. The longevity of boxing depends on how we adjust, and if boxing promoters can come together."

While promoters like Eddie Hearn are planning on resuming boxing in July without crowds at events staged in the garden of Matchroom Sport's headquarters in Essex, those promoters without a television income cannot say for sure when they will be back in business.

Steve Wood, a small hall boxing promoter and manager based in the north of England, says some of his stable have concerns over the future.

"It's just started to worry a few of them now," Wood told ESPN.

"Boxers are used to bot boxing, not getting an income for two or three months at a time so it wasn't a concern for them when all this started because they were used to gaps. But now that gap period is going on and on and they asking me if they are going to fight this year. I can't answer that at the moment.

"No small promoter can afford to do a show behind closed doors. I used to lose money even when there was a gate."

Wood manages the likes of IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington, who was scheduled to box China's Can Xu in a world title unification fight in Leeds, England, this summer.

Now Warrington has no idea when, or if, that fight will take place and Wood says the opposite end of the scale -- the journeymen and prospects -- will also be impacted.

"Kids who are in the early stage of development will not be on these initial TV shows of five fights, they will be 50-50 fights because there will be a lot of fighters putting their hands up for it," Wood added.

"While boxing will be these five-fight shows behind closed doors, the journeymen will suffer because there will be no need for them. The broadcasters and top promoters will want reasonable fights, good opposition.

"The elite level will also suffer because unless they do pay-per-view, it doesn't make sense what so ever doing big fights. Would you take a risk with an elite fighter getting cut or injured in one of these fights, and if he does he then loses out on a big pay day later down the line.

"I don't think it will work for the elite level either so it's the ones in the middle who are coming through and getting ready for title fights who will be fighting first.

"We're not sure yet what it will be like when crowds do come back. I think everyone is going to reassess what they are doing. Are people going to be willing to come to shows like they were before? We don't know at the moment."

Conlan agrees that younger boxers will also suffer while there are restrictions on crowds attending boxing, while others are seeing this period as an opportunity to progress their careers.

"You might see 50-50 fights more and the prospects could be pushed back in their progress because of this," Conlan said.

"You have five fights on these shows in the UK, and you have to put on your best fights to get the television audiences. There's no room for building fights on a bill like that. That guy who is 10-0 will have to take a big risk if he wants to fight soon.

"But some fighters could look at this opportunistically, the ones who are not main event fighters who are perhaps 8-0, 9-0, 10-0, and they have a chance to get themselves out there. That's what we are looking at in the UK right now. We will be asked, 'is so-and-so willing to take a risk against our guy?' We have 160 boxers on our books and some guys are looking at it glass half full, others glass half empty.

"People are looking at it with their age in mind too -- maybe they need to take that leap, or others who are 22 or 23 will feel they are willing to sit out five or six months and meanwhile develop themselves in the gym."