LAS VEGAS (AP) — Shakur Stevenson will try to win a championship in a third weight class Thursday, something that by itself would be an easy sell for a TV network and boxing promoter.
That’s certainly what ESPN executives thought, and they wanted to tie in Stevenson’s fight against Edwin De Los Santos for the vacant WBC lightweight world championship with the opening night of the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix.
It certainly makes sense from a programming standpoint, giving ESPN a Las Vegas lead-in as it promotes both events. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum told fighthype.com that’s also why a fight will take place on the Thursday before the Super Bowl, which is Feb. 11 in Las Vegas.
“Thursday night is a very tough night to do a big fight because people have to work on Friday, and I’m not sure the Formula One people care about boxing,” Arum said.
Top Rank president Todd duBoef said, however, other events such as the NFL draft in Las Vegas last year had other attractions tied to them that made the overall experience a success.
“And then you link together a common media partner like we have ESPN with Formula One, it just allows (us) to create something more,” duBoef said. “And create some cohesiveness between sports franchises crossing over and cross-pollinating those fan bases and creating momentum where you can lean in on a whole week of content rather than just one or two nights.”
Though the F1 race could become a smashing success, the lead-up to the event has been accompanied by headlines of traffic nightmares for locals and sky-high ticket and hotel prices for tourists.
It was those high prices that directly affected slow early ticket sales for the fight. But as secondary race tickets and hotel room rates began to crash back to Earth, boxing officials said there has been a surge in sales for the bout. The upper portion of T-Mobile Arena will be curtained off, making the capacity about 10,000.
“We see a lot of momentum in the last 10 days,” duBoef said last week. “Years ago, people would plan much more in advance. But we’ve seen with all of our fights — and with COVID, specifically — people started buying at the last minute more, and you see more demand that way.”
This week is the first of a 10-year deal between Las Vegas and Formula One and, duBoef hopes, an accompanying boxing card.
“We all decided: Let’s try this. Let’s take the risk and create an evergreen product, something that happens every year with F1 because we know F1 is going to keep coming back to Vegas,” duBoef said. “How do we build around that? That’s how we’re looking at it. I think it’ll be successful. I think right now we’re relatively very happy with the way things have gone.”
DuBoef said talks began with ESPN two years ago about putting on some sort of card in conjunction with the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. That led to discussions about staging a fight night that could feed off the F1 publicity and even draw those in town primarily to see the race.
The fight conflicts with the race’s first practice session. But qualifying isn’t until Friday night and the race itself takes place on Saturday night.
Stevenson, 26, brings a 20-10 record with 10 knockouts into this fight. The Newark, New Jersey, native won the WBO featherweight title in 2019 and the WBO junior lightweight championship in 2021.
De Los Santos, a 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic, is 16-1 with 14 knockouts.
The top undercard fight is between Mexico’s Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete against Brazil’s Robson Conceição. Naverrete, 28, is the WBO junior lightweight champion, entering this match with a 38-1 record with 31 knockouts. Conceição, 35, is 17-2 with eight KOs, and he won gold at the 2016 Olympic Games.
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