As the calendar turns to July, fights are set to continue inside "The Bubble" at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. In the lead-up to the Fourth of July holiday weekend, shows on Tuesday and Thursday each feature main events with potential world title ramifications. It might be bigger news that both of these cards, for the most part, have stayed intact.
That in itself can be considered at least a mild upset. In the past week or so there has been a spate of bouts -- from Eleider Alvarez-Joe Smith to Ivan Baranchyk-Jose Zepeda and Jarrell Miller-Jerry Forrest -- that have either been postponed or just flat out canceled for a variety of reasons.
The effort Top Rank is putting in to fill out each of these cards from top to bottom is staggering and constant, as circumstances continue to change from one day to the next.
Amid the chaos, we've seen some really entertaining fights. The Moloney twins split in two of last week's main events, as Andrew lost a hard-fought decision -- and his WBA 115-pound title -- to Joshua Franco on Tuesday, while Jason put forth a sharp effort in carving up Leonardo Baez in seven rounds.
Tuesday's card features Alex Saucedo and Sonny Fredrickson in the headlining bout, while Thursday sees a fight originally scheduled for June 18 -- Mikkel LesPierre vs. Jose Pedraza -- close out the night after its original date was postponed because a member of LesPierre's camp tested positive for COVID-19.
Tuesday also will bring more news on what's next for Jamel Herring, who was initially scheduled to headline Thursday night's card before a positive COVID-19 test of his own.
Now, on to the fights.
Junior welterweight Alex Saucedo (29-1, 19 KOs) faces Sonny Fredrickson (21-2, 14 KOs) in what he hopes is a step back toward another junior welterweight title shot. In November 2018, Saucedo faced Maurice Hooker for the vacant WBO belt in his hometown of Oklahoma City. What was thought to be a coronation in front of a friendly crowd for Saucedo was instead the most disappointing night of his career, as he was stopped in seven rounds.
It was a bitter pill for the 26-year-old Saucedo, who still hasn't found the stomach to review that fight, even to this day. He doesn't feel like there's much to be learned from the footage.
"I was just pissed off at myself because I didn't go into that fight ready. I felt like it was just 50 percent of myself in that fight because of the weight issues and everything that happened before camp," Saucedo told ESPN. "I'm not going to learn anything from it. That was not Alex Saucedo that night."
Manager Sam Katvoski indicated the downfall for Saucedo against Hooker began in the lead-up to that fight. And in hindsight, Saucedo's bloody battle with Lenny Zappavigna the fight prior in June 2018, in which Saucedo scored a seventh-round knockout, was something that should've given the team some pause about the overall development of its fighter. The problem is that winning can be a great deodorant.
One of the issues, according to Saucedo's team, was that trainer Abel Sanchez, whose services were in great demand because of his work with the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Murat Gassiev, missed a couple of weeks in camp as he was working other bouts. After the defeat to Hooker, the relationship came to an end.
"Looking back now, do I look back at it and say, 'That was a mistake on my part to not push for a switch, back then, a different atmosphere?' Yeah, you could probably say that," Katvoski said. "I'll admit, maybe it could've, should've, but it's very hard to do after you win like that. You have to keep in mind, coming off a victory like that and telling a fighter that something is broken, it's the hardest job in the world."
When asked if he would change anything for that particular training camp, Sanchez deflected responsibility for the loss to Hooker.
"Bottom line is that for you to be a good writer, you're going to have to put the time in. It doesn't matter about your editor, it doesn't matter if you have a good interview -- you have to put the time in. He wanted to be in L.A. with the Hollywood people, the TV people, doing all those special videos on him and promoting him -- that's not going to win him the fights.
"What's going to win him the fights,'' Sanchez continued, "is concentration and getting away from things he didn't need to have. He did real well when he was in Oklahoma, away from the limelight. I hope that where he's at now, that environment is good for him."
When asked what he thought he needed to improve on, Saucedo said, "Everything," pointing out an emphasis on a bit more head movement and more intelligent usage of his jab, both as an offensive weapon and a defensive barrier.
"I got that world championship fight by just fighting, and just relying on my power," Saucedo said.
Katvoski turned to a trainer he was familiar with in Pedro Neme, who has worked with other boxers at the Churchill Boxing Club in Santa Monica, California, where Saucedo is now situated.
"He needed to go back to someone who really spent time with him and paid attention to him and improved a lot of the mistakes. There was never any correcting," Katvoski said.
Last November, Saucedo blew away Rod Salka in less than a minute in his return. After what he calls a ''year of learning," Saucedo said he is the best version of himself that he's ever been.
"I felt like everything was there," Saucedo said. "That was Alex Saucedo in there. That's what happens when Alex Saucedo shows up."
Catching up with: Brad Goodman
Three weeks into fights in "The Bubble," what has this stretch been like for Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman, who has worked alongside Bruce Trampler to build and then adjust each card in Las Vegas?
"It's been very, very hard, trying to get fights at the last second, the new medical requirements with the COVID-19, and the testing. It takes about three to four days, which means I've got to get guys even earlier in advance," Goodman said.
The job of matchmaker is already hectic when things go perfectly on a card during the most ideal of circumstances. But from positive tests to camp injuries and fighters not making weight, the past few weeks have run the gamut of challenges.
"Thank God the fights have been going the rounds," Goodman said.
With more boxers getting back into gyms in June, the hope is that a deeper fighter pool will reduce some of the biggest stresses that were part of the process Top Rank started in May.
Jamel Herring in good spirits after positive COVID-19 test
Jamel Herring details when he found out about his positive test for the coronavirus and says he did not spread the virus to anyone else.
"I think starting in the middle of July, we're going to be fine," Goodman said. "It was hard at the beginning -- the four- and six-round kids were available. All credit to those who are putting their undefeated records on the line -- they get all the credit in the world."
In addition to everyone under contract, Goodman is starting to get calls from managers who have boxers not affiliated with Top Rank asking about spots on these cards. While he's listening and considering every possibility, with more of his own contracted boxers available, the Top Rank fighters take precedence for those slots.
It has been a whirlwind for Goodman, who is constantly on the phone, looking to make fights and replace ones that have dropped. Cards are laid out through the middle of July, but by the end of what will be a nonstop three-month effort, Top Rank might take a brief hiatus to reset before plotting out the rest of the year.
"I think once July 21 is over, we'll have like a two-week break, then it's back to the grind again," Goodman said. "It's a team effort, and without the team, it makes it that much harder. But having everybody do their job, it makes it that much easier.''
But there's still a lot of work to be done to reach that milestone, and little room to relax. Shortly after hopping off the call on Friday, a period in which Goodman thought he could exhale, Baranchyk pulled out of his July 7 fight against Zepeda with a rib injury. Just like that, it was back to work.
Fifteen of Alex Saucedo's 19 wins by KO have come in the first three rounds, and Saucedo has never had a fight last longer than eight rounds.
The full card
Alex Saucedo vs. Sonny Fredrickson, 10 rounds, junior welterweight
Josue Vargas vs. Salvador Briceno, 10 rounds, junior welterweight
John Bauza vs. Larry Fryers, eight rounds, junior welterweight
Adrian Valdovinos vs Gerardo Alvarez, six rounds, junior welterweight
Saucedo vs Fredrickson: This should be a good barometer of just where Saucedo is under his new trainer. The Salka fight, against a guy who simply isn't a junior welterweight, wasn't much of a test. But Fredrickson is, and a competent one at that. Saucedo should get some quality rounds under his belt in this fight. Look for Saucedo to impose his strength and punching power starting in the middle rounds to eventually score a late TKO.
Mikkel LesPierre was originally scheduled to face Jose Pedraza on June 18, until his manager, Jose Tavares, tested positive for COVID-19.
Instead of facing Pedraza, the former two-time world champion LesPierre and the rest of his team checked out of the MGM Grand and were quarantined at a hotel off the strip. LesPierre was keenly aware of the seriousness at hand, as he had worked on the front lines against the pandemic at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York.
Rather than worry about what was to come in terms of fighting, the 35-year-old LesPierre knew enough to keep his composure intact.
"They assured me that they were going to reschedule the fight, so I didn't really put a damper on it," LesPierre said. "I looked at it from a positive perspective, like I had more time to train -- that's it."
LesPierre spent that Thursday in Las Vegas by himself after getting tested. On Friday, LesPierre did work out a bit -- ''nothing too crazy,'' he said -- but by Saturday he had flown back to the East Coast. He took Sunday off, but by Monday, believing that the fight could be back on the itinerary for July 14, LesPierre was back full throttle at the gym. He was surprised when he got the call for July 2, after Herring tested positive for COVID-19, but he was appreciative of the chance for an even shorter window.
"The quicker turnaround plays in my favor," LesPierre said. "I was more concerned about it because of work -- I do work a 9-to-5, but my job didn't have a problem; they supported me. So I said, 'You know what? Let's do it.'"
With hopes of making a big splash at 140 against Pedraza, LesPierre is in good spirits heading into the fight. When he looks back at the circumstances around the postponement, LesPierre's experiences in New York allow him to understand the abundance of caution -- both in protecting his manager as well as everyone involved in the Top Rank production.
"Dealing with COVID firsthand, I know the severity of it," LesPierre said. "I was just more concerned about his health, and making sure he was good."
"It's all part of God's plan and we'll tackle it, I have to tackle it. I didn't blame him for anything."
LesPierre has averaged 4.8 rounds per fight over 24 career bouts, and Pedraza has averaged 7.2 rounds per fight in 29 bouts.
The full card
Jose Pedraza vs. Mikkel LesPierre, 10 rounds, junior welterweights
Carlos Jackson vs. Enrique Vivas, 10 rounds, featherweights
Mark Bernaldez vs. Albert Bell, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Elvis Rodriguez vs. Daniel Murray, 6 rounds, junior welterweights
Adan Gonzalez vs. Robeisy Ramirez, 6 rounds, featherweights
Luis Melendez vs. TBA, 8 rounds, featherweights
Pedraza-LesPierre: It will be interesting to see who is more adversely impacted by this delay. There are doubts about Pedraza being a legitimate 140-pounder, but you wonder if LesPierre can muster up enough offense to pull off the upset. My presumption here is that he won't, and it will be Pedraza by decision.
Ramirez vs Gonzales: There will be no element of surprise this time around for Gonzales. Since his defeat in his professional debut last August, Ramirez has improved rapidly under the direction of trainer Ismael Salas and shown the form that made him such a highly touted prospect coming from Cuba after winning two Olympic gold medals. Look for Ramirez to make a statement and score a third-round KO.