A poster for Top Rank's Lomachenko-Lopez fight.

Top Rank Boxing has been putting on fights in a bubble in Vegas since June, but their biggest one yet is coming up Saturday. That event will see Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) battling Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) in a lightweight world title unification fight. And interestingly enough, rather than being on pay-per-view, that fight is going to be shown on ESPN. Top Rank COO Brad Jacobs spoke to AA in June about how their bubble setup was going, and he then spoke to AA last week about how it’s worked out so far through 20 events (on ESPN and ESPN+, where they’ve had fights since 2018), how they’ve been working towards bigger and bigger fights, and how putting a massive fight like Lomachenko-Lopez on ESPN rather than pay-per-view fits into their overall strategy.

“We are just really, really thrilled with what’s happened, from our first event on June 9 and now building towards some real name fighters in the bubble coming up with Vasily Lomachenko versus Teofimo Lopez and others,” Jacobs said. “We’re thrilled and happy to be where we are.”

“The point from the beginning of this was to try to build towards the biggest-name fighters on our broadcast no matter what, regardless of what kind of broadcast environment we were in, and we’re now entering that phase with some of the stuff coming this month. Particularly Lomachenko-Lopez, that’s a fight that could literally sell out Madison Square Garden. But given the circumstances, we are where we are, and both fighters agreed there’s no sense in waiting until something potentially clears up. They’re both willing and able, and we definitely wanted to make it happen.”

“It’s one of those fights that fight fans, sports fans, certainly have been anticipating for a long period of time, and were anticipating they’d have to shill out money from their pockets to watch [on pay-per-view], and that’s not the case. They’ll be able to see it live on ESPN, and it will be sensational.”

Getting a fight like this on ESPN rather than pay-per-view is certainly beneficial for many fans, but Jacobs said this move also made sense for Top Rank and for the fighters involved.

“It helps for the down-the-road exposure of both fighters. They’re well-known in boxing circles, and we want them to get to the next level of being sports personalities, and this is one way that they can do it. And it’s a showdown that’s in the interests of everyone, to put it on ESPN in prime time Saturday night and unlimit it, so the fanbase will be able to watch that live event.”

Jacobs said it is unfortunate that they can’t have a giant crowd in attendance for a fight of this caliber the way they would in normal times outside the COVID-19 pandemic, but a bubble fight like this is a way for everyone involved to the best of the situation.

“You cannot replace 20,000 fans screaming and yelling, especially with the crowd that you would get for something like this. But unfortunately, times dictate that you cannot do that now. And that doesn’t mean fold your tents, go home and wait until you can. We spoke with both camps, they’re willing and able, and of course we are and our partners at ESPN are. Everyone is focused, and we were able to negotiate it with the fight camps, and now we’re all just looking forward to October 17.”

And he said the bubble protocols have worked out well for Top Rank and their fighters so far, and they haven’t had to alter them much even through 20 fights.

“We created our protocols and we’ve been following those ever since, and really not much has changed. The fighters change, but that’s mostly it.”

The bubble and the lack of a crowd does mean that the fight experience looks and sounds a little different than a sold-out Madison Square Garden. But Jacobs said ESPN’s broadcasting team will bring a lot of pre-match storytelling and in-match audio to the table, and there will be a lot for fans to be excited about.

“Selfishly, I think we have the finest broadcast team in all of boxing with Joe Tessitore, Andre Ward, Tim Bradley, Mark Kriegel, Bernardo Osuna and more on the air. And the storytelling that they’ll put in place, the anticipation of the match that they’ll build up…our coverage is second to none, with our production crew. And it’s just one of the elements that’s not there, the crowd, but I think it’s somewhat replaced by incredible audio capturing the trainers, the sounds, the emotion of what’s going on in the actual match.”

“Once the bell rings, I don’t think it really makes a difference in what will happen in the ring, what the result will be. At that point, it’s up to the fighters. What happens before is slightly different in a bubble than it would be at Madison Square Garden, but I think fans will get even more than they might imagine. The coverage will have some added twists.”

Coverage of the Lopez-Lomachenko fight will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN and ESPN+.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.