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FUCK YOU, CORONAVIRUS: Top Rank MSG Theater Shows Saturday & Tuesday POSTPONED

Michael Woods

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On Thursday evening, word trickled out, first on the Mike Coppinger and Lance Pugmire Twitter accounts. The Top Rank boxing events at the MSG Theater, on March 14 and March 17, will not take place on those dates.

The shows will be moved, to another date, after the coronavirus curse has been lifted. The NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday afternoon  that gatherings with more than 500 people are forbidden in New York state, starting Friday at 5 PM ET.

Schools, hospitals, nursing homes and mass transit are exempt from the rule called to lessen frequency of viral transmission.

I had messaged the NY State Athletic Commission after lunch, asking what measures would be taken to attempt to insure the people in the arena, especially the boxers trading sweat and spit and blood, would not be infected, and had not yet heard back, when the plug-pulling call dropped.

Here is the release that went out earlier in the day, when it was put forth that the shows would occur, but with no fans present:

NEW YORK (March 12, 2020) — WBO featherweight world champion Shakur Stevenson will defend his world title Saturday against Miguel Marriaga (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET), and WBO No. 1 featherweight contender Michael “Mick” Conlan will headline a special St. Patrick’s Day card on Tuesday against Belmar Preciado (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET).

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, these shows at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden will occur without any fans in the arena.

Only essential production and support staff, in addition to fighters and necessary team members, and credentialed media will be granted access to the event.

The Stevenson-Marriaga co-feature will see former junior featherweight world champion Jessie Magdaleno against unbeaten Namibian contender Sakaria Lukas in a 10-round featherweight showdown. The undercard, streaming live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:15 p.m. ET, will feature Brooklyn/Puerto Rican knockout king Edgar Berlanga in an eight-round super middleweight bout against Alan Campa. The 13-0 Berlanga has scored 13 first-round knockouts to begin his pro career.

The Conlan-Preciado co-feature will showcase female fighting sensation Mikaela Mayer against former world champion Melissa Hernandez. The undercard, which will stream live on ESPN+ beginning at 5 p.m. ET, will include top prospects Josue “The Prodigy” Vargas, Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez and Irishman Paddy “Real Deal” Donovan.

This is what the fighters had to say at Thursday’s press conference to promote both events.

Shakur Stevenson (below, left, with Terence Crawford, right, picture by Mikey Williams)

On fighting to a mostly empty arena

“I look at it like when I spar in the gym, there will be a lot of people in the gym. I feel like it’s going to be a little sparring match. Marriaga is tough. He’s going to bring the fight, and it’s going to be a good fight.”

On having added motivation now that he’s a world champion

“It definitely does now that I’m a world champion because he wants my belt from me. It’s not like me chasing someone else for their belt. He lost {world title fights} to Nicholas Walters, gave him hell. He lost to Oscar Valdez, gave him hell. Lomachenko couldn’t really do whatever he wanted to him. I think I’m going to be the first fighter to actually beat him up.”

“I want to be a lot more offensive. I want to go out there and get these guys out of there. And especially with nobody being there, I ain’t getting paid for overtime.”

“The only thing that will keep me at 126 is if the money’s right. If the money isn’t right, I’ll go to 130. I got a hard test in front of me. It’s not like I got an easy fight in front of me. So I ain’t even looking there right now. I’m focused on Marriaga.”

Miguel Marriaga

“It’s no secret what I’m coming to do. Like always, I’m coming to fight and I plan to take full advantage of this great opportunity to become world champion.”

“I always want to face the best. It will be a great fight. I have great desire to become a world champion. This is my fourth world title opportunity. I’m coming well prepared for whatever he brings to the ring.”

Sakaria Lukas

“I’m very excited for this opportunity. It’s everybody’s dream to fight in America, and here we are. I’m ready to go.”

On Magdaleno as an opponent

“We’re going to break him down, and I know him as a former world champion. I know he beat Nonito {Donaire}. He beat another guy from Brazil {Adeilson Dos Santos}, and I think that guy was washed up already. When he was in his first mandatory defense {against Isaac Dogboe} fighting an African guy, he went down, he went down again, and he never came back. Saturday night, you are going to go down again and never come back against this African.”

Jessie Magdaleno

“He has to come. He has to keep himself motivated. He’s an older guy. That’s all the motivation he needs. He knows I’m a ready fighter. I’ve been a world champion before, and God knows I’ll be a two-time world champion very soon.”

On fighting a guy who is largely unknown without a lot of available fight footage

“We prepare on everything. We work on ourselves. We work on our opponent. I’ve seen clips of him. I’ve seen how he fights. {Trainer Jorge Capetillo} and I have a game plan we’re ready to showcase Saturday night.”

On closing in on a featherweight title shot

“It’s been God’s plan. I came back off of a loss and now off two great wins. In 2020, I’m already a mandatory for the {WBC} world title. It says a lot about what my skill sets are, where my mindset is, and we’re just ready to show it out on Saturday.”

Edgar Berlanga

“It’s a huge opportunity once again to be fighting in my hometown. I’m sorry that the fans can’t attend this Saturday, but it’s another day in the office. I gotta handle my business and get the win.”

On his first-round KO streak

“I’m getting the rounds in the gym, and I’m sparring elite fighters. I’m not really worried about it. My main concern is that when I get to that level, that top level with lions in the {super middleweight} division, that we are very prepared to go the full 12 rounds if we have to.”

 Michael Conlan (Conlan, left, poses in Mikey Williams photo, with Belmar Preciado)

Watch it Tuesday (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET), a featherweight battle

“It’s great being here again in The Garden. They support me so well. I’m always thankful and always grateful for that, but this one is going to be a bit different. It doesn’t really matter about the crowd. It is going to be different in terms of the atmosphere, but I’ve been training. I’ve done the work. I’m ready to rock. It doesn’t really matter who’s there and who’s not. I just gotta do the business. I’m a fighter. I fight.”

On a potential title shot next

“It doesn’t matter what happens next. What happens on Tuesday night is the most important thing, and I can’t overlook that. Come fight night, once I win, I’ll think about what’s next. But, yeah, I’m number one, the mandatory, whatever you want to call it, eliminator. I believe this year I’ll be world champion.”

“What means more to me is having to adapt to the new scenery and focusing on what has to be a dominant performance. I believe I will do that.”

Closing statement

“I can’t apologize. It’s not my fault, but I’m devastated because there were thousands coming over that had to cancel flights and tickets and stuff because the {St. Patrick’s Day} parade was canceled also. It’s not nice, but it is what it is. I’m a fighter. I have to do my job Tuesday night.

Belmar Preciado

“I’m very happy and excited about getting this opportunity. I’m going to show everyone why I’m in this position. I’m here because I’ve been working extremely hard and because I deserve it.”

“I have seen some of his fights. I even watched his last fight live without knowing that I was going to face him next. He is a skillful fighter with great conditioning. He also has a great amateur background, but I’m here to fight and show the fighter that I am.”

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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