How top boxers are staying fit and coping with quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic

The current coronavirus pandemic has brought about unforeseen levels of uncertainty across all professional sports, including that of boxing. 

With return dates unknown as the death toll within the United States gets closer to leveling out, many top boxers have been forced to stay as sharp as possible from home in preparation for when the call comes. The reality of not being paid unless they fight is also a harsh reality for many fighters, especially given the uncertain future.

“It’s hard, honestly. I thought that I was gaining a lot of weight, I’ll be real with you. I can’t have that,” IBF lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. told CBS Sports last week. “If I keep going and shoot up to 180 and 200, I’m screwing myself for a potential fight with [Vasilily] Lomachenko and screwing myself to eventually defend my belt at 135 that I just won. I just have to always keep that Mamba mentality (rest in peace, Kobe [Bryant]). It’s tough with everything that is going on and you try to make the best out of it.”

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Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) was close to formally agreeing to a May 30 lightweight unification bout at New York’s Madison Square Garden against Lomachenko, to many the pound-for-pound king of the sport. He expects the potential career-defining fight to still take place this fall but has gone to great lengths to try and keep himself preserved until then. 

The 22-year-old rising star left his home in New York in order to protect himself from the virus given his history with asthma. Lopez and his wife moved in with his in-laws in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and were forced to survive a tornado shortly after arriving, which caused damage to the house. 

“[Arkansas] is not as bad as it is in New York right now, that’s why I had to leave. If I didn’t, I probably would have had the coronavirus and it’s not good for me,” Lopez said. “This could be death for me so we tried to prevent that from happening.”

Lopez has been regulated to training inside of his in-law’s garage, hitting a heavy bag while mixing in sit-ups, push-ups and calisthenics. He has also regularly worked in Epsom salt baths while leaving the shopping for food and training supplies to his wife in order to keep him safe in quarantine. 

Unified junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor has endured a similar reality. The unbeaten southpaw, who recently signed a promotional deal with Top Rank that would bring his fights to America, saw his scheduled May 2 title defense against Thailand’s Apinun Khongsong postponed, leaving him treading water regarding a rescheduling. 

Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) was forced to leave his training camp in Las Vegas and return to his native Scotland. The main problem with that was this halted a plan in place for Taylor, who rose to fame in 2019 by winning the World Boxing Super Series tournament, to face fellow unbeaten two-belt champion Jose Ramirez later this year to crown an undisputed king at 140 pounds. 

“I’m just a little bit pissed that this year has suddenly been put on a hold because I was on a real good roll and the momentum was flowing,” Taylor told CBS Sports’ “State of Combat” podcast on Tuesday. “It has been put on hold now. It’s a pain in the backside but nothing can be done about that right now. I’ve still been working out every day and going running every other day, as well. I’m still keeping myself fit and in shape.”


Taylor is staying ready for a return to action.
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Along with his roadwork, Taylor has installed a heavy bag in the back garden behind his garage and a speed bag, free weights and sand bags inside his garage to stay fit. While he considers himself ready now should the call come in, “The Tartan Tornado” said ideally he would need six weeks should boxing return to “sharpen the tools” in order to peak entering a fight. 

“It actually has been a little bit of a blessing in disguise because it has given me a timeframe where I can work on a few things where I wasn’t so strong at in terms of my physical strength,” Taylor said. “It has given me a little bit of window to work on things I couldn’t really do when I was in camp.”

The major downside for Taylor is that the mandatory social distancing has robbed him of important time working with new trainer Ben Davison, who helped guide Tyson Fury through his 2018 comeback. The virus outbreak hit just as Taylor began working with Davison, shortly after parting ways with trainer Shane McGuigan and his father, manager Barry McGuigan, on less than ideal terms. 

Lopez and Taylor might just see the window open sooner than later after Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced this week that professional sports would be deemed “essential business” provided they don’t compete in front of spectators. Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters, told ESPN on Tuesday that he would be interested in promoting such empty arena shows at the WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando.

While both fighters look forward to getting back in the ring, the idea of doing so without fans cheering them on is less than ideal. 

“My father [trainer Teofmio Lopez Sr.] would say yes, right away. But for me to say? No,” Lopez said. “It ain’t the same without the fans. I would say no. The reason why I do so great when I am out there performing is because I hear the fans and they hype me up. I love a big audience and it’s a drug that I’m addicted to. It’s my drug. There is no sport without the fans. You have to have the fans. If you don’t have them with you to celebrate and enjoy, I think it’s not as exciting.”

Taylor, who has fought his last eight bouts and all but three of his 16 as a professional in the boxing-crazed United Kingdom, agreed.

“That would be my worst nightmare fighting in a studio with no guests and no nothing and just TV cameras,” Taylor said. “That would be my worst nightmare and it would be just like a sparring match on TV, which would be no good. It would be hard to get up for that one, I’d bet.”

While boxing returning to televised cards, despite the lack of fans in attendance, is certainly helpful for the big-name fighters at the championship level, it certainly leaves out those who rely on paydays from non-televised fights until state commissions begin allowing mass gatherings. This is a reality that could extend until as far as 2021 before arenas will be allowed to sell tickets.

Chris Jay, a boxing lifer who has done everything from train and manage fighters to calling broadcasts as an analyst and serving as a boxing writer and reporter, is hoping to have a hand in giving back. 

“As much as we talk about how much we want the big fights back, there is a world of four-round and six-round fighters who are the B-sides and they either supplement or, in some cases, make their entire income through fighting off TV shows and on walk-out and undercard bouts,” Jay said. “We want to do something to help these guys. We know situations of guys who are flat-out unemployed.”

Jay works for Contenders Clothing and has helped the company outfit a number of fighters — from undercard newcomers to heavyweight champion Tyson Fury — with their themed t-shirts, hats and boxer briefs which includes licensing deals with Muhammad Ali and both the “Rocky” and “Karate Kid” movie franchises.

Contenders is giving 10% of its April sales to a fund to help support pro fighters of all kinds. Boxers can sign up on the company’s website. In addition, Contenders has created an exclusive “Going the Social Distance” fundraiser t-shirt in which all sales will go into the fund. 

“We put our heads together and came up with an idea of a fund for fighters with no strings attached or red tape,” Jay said. “We don’t care how big you are or what your record is. As long as you are an active pro you can sign up and we are going to split the pot and send money out to every single person. We don’t know the reach this is going to have and this is not a savior check but if we can pay somebody’s electrical bill next month through this or the family gets groceries for a week, we want to do that. Nobody is looking out for these guys.”

“What about the club show fighters that only exist on ticket sales but are not televised? Those guys are not going to get work. Just because boxing is back will not mean it will be back for everybody. If we don’t have fans in venues, there will be a whole segment of fighters who won’t be fighting. They may have to retire or switch careers and this will change the boxing landscape.”

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