Boxing has had plenty of rough patches since they started operating under the Queensberry rules. Oh but this one, it will stand out, because of the lack of certainty which is affecting the pugilism sphere while the coronavirus pandemic plays out all over the world.
In the US, the brand of havoc bedeviling boxing has a different tinge to it, because we are supposed to be a mighty and exceptional nation—only our collective efforts at flattening the virus' malevolent spread have proven to be disjointed at best, and murderously incompetent at worst.
After lunch on Wednesday, word started spreading online that Stephen Fulton had tested COVID positive and thus would be removed from his Saturday Showtime fight against Angelo Leo (click here for more info on Leo) at Mohegan Sun in CT.
The story started on Tha Boxing Voice radio show, and then podcaster Jonathan Leir picked up on it. He reached out to Fulton, who didn't take part in a Wednesday media call set up to promote the show, which, of course, will go on. Fulton admitted to Leir that yes, he'd tested positive, as did members of his team, and he was off the show.
On that media call, it didn't seem like Leo had an inkling that that game would change. “I definitely expect to be able to hurt Fulton,” the Mayweather Promotions talent stated. “He talks a lot about how he’s fought a lot of undefeated fighters, but if you look closely, he’s been hurt before. I just want to make that point clear that he’s not untouchable.”
I didn't get the sense Tramaine, the fighting pride of New Haven, CT, knew that a switcheroo would be to come, either. “It’s a bit of an unusual situation but I take every fight as if were just another day in the gym or another sparring session, so this will be nothing different,” said the fighter nicknamed ‘The Mighty Midget.' “As boxers, as fighters, as humans, we just have to adapt. No excuses, whatever comes our way we’ve got to figure it out and that’s what I’m going to do on Saturday. I’ll adapt to no crowd and you guys may hear me talk a little bit in the ring.
Williams was asked about how the virus affected him leading up to this Showtime slot. “My preparations changed a bit because of the social distancing and you want to be careful with who you interact with. If you’re sparring with a select few guys, you want to make sure those guys are practicing social distancing as well. It was kind of hard to get a lot of people to spar with because you want to be careful.”
Tramaine also got asked about the stakes in play. “If I win this fight, I definitely think a title shot could be next against the winner of Saturday’s main event. Or I would fight Figueroa or [Murodjon Akhmadaliev]. I’ve been ready for all of these guys. I should have already been in the position that Fulton and Leo are at right now, fighting for a world title.”
So, the development about the Fulton positive pin-balled around the internet and finally, around dinner time on the West Coast, official word came out.
Yes, Fulton got flagged for COVID, and Tramaine Williams, a Roc Nation contender, will meet Leo for a junior featherweight crown.
The release could have concluded with a word of warning–THIS CARD IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE, up until the day off the show. And, by he way, that's not a knock, it's simply an admission of how weird and unsettled the business is at this moment.
Make a note to yourself, but write it in pencil, because until fighters step into the ring Saturday, you really shouldn't assume that the matchups will stay in place. Ra’eese Aleem had been matched with Tramaine, but Aleem will now face 122-pound contender Marcus Bates in the co-main event in a 12-round WBA Super Bantamweight Title Eliminator.
And be prepared to wrap your brain around another reset, OK, because this is the new reality. The Showtime gang went into this with eyes wide open, Stephen Espinoza touched on the new normal in this interview. But this isn't ideal for most anyone. Showtime has to deal with last minute headaches way above and beyond what they usually deal with. And Fulton won't get his paycheck, though we hope that fighters are now having their managers add wording into their contract that they get a “kill fee” portion of their purse if COVID prevents them from fighting. The sport takes a hit, because, of course, “bad” news gets reported more heavily than does upbeat material. Tramaine isn't displeased, he gets a bump up the card. But this chaos does mess with peoples' nervous systems. Yeah, sure, pro athletes are NOT likely to be hit with a vicious case of COVID, these folks have immune systems that are A grade, typically. But unless your head is in the sand or up your ass, you know that this foe is much nastier overall than the typical winter flu that makes the rounds.
Here's the thing–this is the cost of doing business, in our business, because our society places a massive premium on “re-starting the economy” and “getting back to normal.” We will look back on it, and yes, it will still seem novel and whacky, as years go by. Even in this sport known as “the theater of the unexpected,” all of this coronavirus drama will resonate as being weird, even for boxing.
Here is the release Showtime put out, at 8:20 PM ET.
NEW YORK – July 29, 2020 – Undefeated contender Tramaine Williams will step in to face fellow unbeaten Angelo Leo for the vacant WBO Jr. Featherweight World Championship in the main event of SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING this Saturday, August 1, (live on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) in an event presented by Premier Boxing Champions from Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Williams replaces Stephen Fulton Jr., who tested positive for COVID-19 on the test provided by the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation and was removed from the 122-pound title bout versus Leo.
Undefeated Ra’eese Aleem will now face 122-pound contender Marcus Bates in the co-main event in a 12-round WBA Super Bantamweight Title Eliminator. Aleem had previously been scheduled to fight Williams, before Williams moved into the main event to fight Leo.
The 26-year-old Leo (19-0, 9 KOs) fights out of the Mayweather Promotions stable and will look to become the first world champion from his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico since Johnny Tapia. He will now seek the title against another unbeaten opponent in the 27-year-old Williams (19-0, 6 KOs). Williams represents his native New Haven, Connecticut and shot up the WBO rankings by defeating Yenifel Vicente in July 2019.
The 30-year-old Aleem (16-0, 10 KOs), who hails from Muskegon, Michigan, has continued his winning ways since beating Bates in 2018, adding five victories to his ledger. The 26-year-old Bates (11-1, 8 KOs) is currently ranked No. 7 by the WBA and hails from Washington, D.C. He will look to avenge his lone loss in this rematch against Aleem.
“Extensive protocols have been put in place to catch this very possibility and they’ve proven so far to be effective,” said Tom Brown, President of TGB Promotions. “We are supporting Stephen and his team as they self-quarantine off property and we will help with any medical assistance if needed.
“Fortunately, Williams was ready to move into the spot in the main event, which remains a battle of unbeaten young super bantamweights. In addition, Marcus Bates was in excellent shape and answered the call to face Aleem in a title eliminator. He is an aggressive super bantamweight who will make the most of this opportunity. I expect him to be on everyone’s radar after Saturday night.”
Fulton and his team never entered the closed system set up at Mohegan Sun for this week’s event. Upon arrival to the property, they and all fighters were tested and quarantined until their individual test results came back. There are no other positive tests to report at this time.
Before arrival to Mohegan Sun, Team Fulton and all of this Saturday’s fight teams had been tested multiple times over a period of weeks leading up to the event.
Team Fulton was tested six times prior to arrival, from June 25 through the most recent test he took on July 23 before traveling to Connecticut. All of those tests came back negative. Today’s result was the first positive test for Team Fulton.
Saturday night’s triple-header on SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING also features rising light heavyweight prospects Joe George (10-0, 6 KOs) and Marcos Escudero (10-1, 9 KOs) opening the telecast with a 10-round rematch of their November ShoBox showdown that saw George win a narrow-split decision.