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Making the Rounds: Behind the scenes of Top Rank's first show since pandemic began

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
A weekly look at boxing's hottest topics.

LAS VEGAS — For most cards that Top Rank puts on, Brad Jacobs, the company’s chief operating officer, has a checklist of 250 items he needs to accomplish.

On Tuesday night, Top Rank will produce its first boxing show since the coronavirus pandemic hit and Jacobs’ list expanded by 120 items.

It’s an incredibly detailed list that prioritizes making the event, which will begin at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and is headlined by Shakur Stevenson vs. Felix “La Sombra” Caraballo, as safe as possible. Jacobs took Yahoo Sports on a brief tour of the Top Rank bubble, which is at the MGM Grand.

All persons involved with the fight are staying on the same floor in the hotel. They aren’t allowed into the casino or to wander throughout the hotel, but everything they need is on the first floor of the MGM Grand Conference Center.

To get there, you take a service elevator and meet a shuttle that makes the short trip over. You are given a wristband after passing a COVID-19 test and have to be scanned in and out of the facility each time.

There is a room where meals are served, but there are no tablecloths on the table.

“Easier to sanitize the tables after each use,” Jacobs said.

A behind the scenes look at Top Rank's setup for Tuesday's card at the MGM Grand Conference Center Grand Ballroom. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

In the Top Rank office in the conference center is a table filled with blue buckets that have sealed packages inside of them. Each fighter gets his own bucket for the corner and nothing is re-used to minimize contact with others. Along the ring in the trainer’s room, there is a red hazardous materials trash can where fighters are to throw towels and hand wraps, and trainers can dispose of their rubber gloves.

Jacobs said the medical testing for this month of fights is costing Top Rank $500,000. He said he wasn’t able to identify at this point additional costs beyond what it takes to put on a show in normal, non-pandemic times.

This will be the first ESPN-produced event since the pandemic began. The UFC produces its events and makes the stream available to ESPN. But ESPN’s staff is doing this show.

ESPN’s announcers are not going to be on site. Play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore will be in a studio at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. Andre Ward, Tim Bradley and Mark Kriegel will work from their homes.

Roving reporter Bernardo Osuna is in Las Vegas and will conduct interviews from a platform in front of the ring. No one will be able to go into the ring except the fighters, the trainer and the referee.

The ring announcer will have a platform next to where Osuna’s is. The ring-card girls will hold up the round cards from their own platform, which will be next to the ring announcer.

Jacobs put Top Rank’s protocol together after seeing what other sports leagues and entertainment organizations had done, and applying those to Top Rank’s needs.

Tyson is serious

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has been getting a lot of attention for the training videos he’s been releasing via social media. There has been talk of a comeback, but it’s been pooh-poohed by many.

But if UFC president Dana White, a close friend of Tyson’s, is correct, the former heavyweight champ is serious about boxing again. At the post-fight news conference following UFC 250, White said Tyson told him he has the itch to fight.

“He said to me, ‘Dana, I can’t explain it to you, but I’m a fighter and I always will be until the day I die. And I feel it in my gut and I want to do it,’” White said. “He’s a grown man and he can do whatever he wants. So I said, ‘You know what, Mike? I love you, buddy, and I support you. Good luck and I’ll watch it.’”

That is not good news because the last thing boxing needs is a pair of 50-year-old men fighting.

He said it

“I’m done with the whole, ‘Well, they work with this promoter or this [network] so it can’t happen.’ I want to break down those barriers in boxing. I want to break down those doors. I don’t care about losing. How many times did Michael Jordan lose before he won his first championship? It wasn’t about the number of losses with Sugar Ray Leonard or Thomas Hearns. That marketing strategy worked for Floyd [Mayweather], but why has everyone been brainwashed to think that you have to stay undefeated? I’m a bad-ass fighter who isn’t afraid to lose.” — Lightweight Ryan Garcia, speaking to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

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