I’ve been careful over the past year. I haven’t seen my family as much as I would have liked and worked out at a gym last month for the first time in a year after getting vaccinated.
And I tell everyone who listens to mask up and avoid big crowds. “We should open things back up slowly,” I say.
But, the fight this weekend between Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) and British Champion Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) has me singing to a different tune.
Over 60,000 people are expected to pack AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday to watch the super-middleweights vie to become the undisputed king at 168 pounds.
What pandemic? Boxing is back.
If the gate holds, it will break Texas’ record for the largest crowd to attend a boxing event in the state.
It will also be the biggest crowd for a sporting event in the U.S. since COVID-19 forced athletes to compete under the empty stares of cardboard cutouts in silent arenas.
Sure, its probably not the most responsible thing to do, especially since we aren’t close to reaching mythical herd immunity from vaccinations in the U.S. But a big fight deserves a big crowd, especially in Texas.
To be clear, the health crisis didn’t stop important fights from happening last year. In October, Teofimo Lopez upset former pound-for-pound number one Vasyl Lomachenko in what was arguably the most anticipated fight of 2020.
But, the lightweight unification showdown was held in a bubble with no crowd. In a normal year, a match up of that caliber would have had tens of thousands of screaming fans pushing their favorite fighter on, especially during that electric 12th round.
Yes, the fight lived up to the hype, and promoters did a good job in conveying the significance of the moment, but when watching it at home I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. For me, it boiled down to this: flashing Twitter reactions on the screen isn’t the same as panning over to a fan’s face after a great right hand.
Would Andy Ruiz’s all-time upset of heavyweight Adonis Anthony Joshua in 2019 have been the same without the shocked expressions on all the British fans that crammed Madison Square Garden that night?
That’s why Saturday’s fight should be thrilling. No doubt, Canelo and Saunders present an intriguing clash of styles; an aggressive counter-puncher versus a slick southpaw. And Saunders’ confidence and ability for self-promotion would have probably made this fight a success regardless.
But the fans will add that extra dimension that’s been sorely missing from these kinds of events. The fight offers a glimpse into what may be on the post-pandemic horizon. Even if it is a little premature.
I can already hear the roar of the national anthems, the boos, “Cielito Lindo” and “Sweet Caroline.”
Forget icing on the cake, its all icing.