There was a moment during Thursday’s press conference at Chase Square inside of Madison Square Garden where Miguel Marriaga reached over to shake Shakur Stevenson’s hand as a sign of respect before their featherweight title fight. Stevenson, the WBO featherweight champion, cautiously offered his opponent a fist bump, instead.
Moments later, Marriaga playfully reached for Stevenson’s title, but the 22-year-old wasn’t amused, as he quickly pulled his belt away and took a step to his right. Marriaga's gestures were a little too close for comfort during these trying days, as we embark into our new normal and flat out — the unknown.
Earlier in the day, the coronavirus had forced the NBA, NCAA and many other sports leagues to postpone or cancel their events. Top Rank had first announced that the Saturday night fight would go on — just without a crowd. Later that the evening, the promotion amended that announcement by postponing the bout, altogether.
Stevenson, a Newark, N.J. native who was looking forward to a home-away-from-home reception Saturday night, responded by taking to his Instagram and Twitter accounts and offering his heartfelt reaction.
8 weeks of putting nothing but hard work and dedication just to find out 2 days before the fight that I’m not fighting - I’m hurt but I’m gone stay in the gym and stay on my job and stay in the best shape as possible 🖤
A post shared by Shakur Stevenson (@shakurstevenson) on
😕— Shakur Stevenson (@ShakurStevenson) March 13, 2020
Michael Conlan, who was supposed to fight Belmar Preciado at the Garden on Tuesday night, went through the whirlwind of emotions of learning that the St. Patrick’s Day parade was being canceled and then that he’d fight in front of no fans at MSG, only for the bout to be scratched altogether. He, too, took the news hard.
Fight is off, gutted to say the least spent alot of time away from my family & spent alot of money on training for this but unfortunately it’s been postponed to hopefully a date very soon! Wishing everyone health at this weird time. What a crazy fucking day 😳🙏🏼 #ConlanRevolution https://t.co/kyQYJoop7o— Michael Conlan (@mickconlan11) March 13, 2020
While it’s a fighter’s call of duty to fight, sometimes fighters have to be saved from themselves. It's better late than never that the New York State Athletic Commission and Top Rank came to the conclusion that even having boxing bouts in an empty arena poses a coronavirus concern. Think about the fighters who traveled to New York City and all the people they might have come in contact with along the way. Utah Jazz teammates Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are proof of just how quickly COVID-19 can spread.
You feel for the boxers involved, considering they spent all that time training only to have their bouts scrapped. But it's better safe than sorry and these fights can always be rescheduled during a safer time.
Until then, Conlan has the right idea on how to treat his fight-cancellation blues.
No point wasting time 🍕 pic.twitter.com/3qgkG06nwB— Michael Conlan (@mickconlan11) March 13, 2020