Brandun Lee talks fighting in arena with no fans because of coronavirus fears

Sporting News

Brandun Lee bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, gingerly shadowboxing with his robe on.

The undefeated boxer had blinders on for his opponent, Camilo Prieto, while making his ring walk at the Grand Casino Hinckley in Hinckley, Minn., on Friday night. Brandun Lee the boxer was locked in with laser focus.

"When I first walked out, I was in the zone — I didn’t see anybody, I didn’t hear anybody, and that’s how it is for all my fights," Lee began as he spoke with Sporting News on Monday.

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But Brandun Lee the 20-year-old man couldn't help but notice the seats in the arena and the lack of behinds in them. The coronavirus had forced him to fight in an empty venue aside from fighters’ friends and family and accredited staff. Then it finally hit the rising super lightweight prospect.

"I got into the ring and looked into the crowd," he continued, "and I didn’t really see anybody."

That didn't stop Lee from pummeling Prieto toward a third-round TKO .

When he watched the replay of the "ShoBox" card on Showtime, the desolate circumstance in which Lee recorded the victory hit him even harder.

"The arena looked dead … and it was," he added. "There’s nothing much to say about that. There were about 30 people there.

"I honestly feel like if there was a big crowd — or just a crowd — my adrenaline would have been pumping and I would have taken the guy out much quicker."

The "ShoBox" card that Lee headlined was practically the only sporting event that wasn't canceled or postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. WWE's "SmackDown Live" also happened Friday night, from the company's Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., without any fans present. The UFC held a Fight Night card in an empty arena in Brazil on Saturday night. Those events were in the minority, however, as league suspensions, postponements and cancellations wiped out the sports calendar amid the spread of the coronavirus.

WBO featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson was slated to make his first title defense without any fans inside Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, only for Top Rank to cancel that card and Michael Conlan's scheduled headliner Tuesday, March 17 . The moves followed major sports leagues such as the NBA and NHL suspending their seasons and the NCAA canceling its men's and women's basketball tournaments. In that regard, Lee was happy to provide relief to anyone tuning into his fight.

"That makes me feel very excited," he said about giving people the chance to breathe and relax for a moment. "I didn’t feel any pressure (to perform)."

That being said, Lee did take precautions to simply make it to his fight.

"At the airport I wore latex gloves (and) a mask and I carried a whole lot of hand sanitizer," said Lee, who flew from his La Quinta, Calif., residence to Minnesota for the fight.

While Lee was able to squeeze in his bout, a lot more fights will be canceled in the upcoming weeks. On Monday alone, Matchroom Boxing USA announced that it was postponing the Regis Prograis vs. Maurice Hooker fight , originally set for April 17, because of coronavirus concerns. Premier Boxing Champions canceled its scheduled events for the remainder of March and April.

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"The health and safety of the boxers, fans and those working the events are of utmost importance to us," Tom Brown, president of TGB Promotions and lead promoter for the canceled shows, said in a PBC press release. "We are all disappointed and as we get more information we will address future events.''

As boxing's — and society's — new normal sets in during this global pandemic, Lee is pressed with one question: "How are athletes going to provide for their families if they continue to postpone or cancel events?"

Lee, who improved to 19-0 with 17 KOs on Friday night, is torn as far as the sweet science goes.

"There’s two parts of looking at that. I think (boxers) should continue (fighting) without a crowd. Yes, they should (be allowed to fight in empty arenas)," he said initially. "Of course, they should be tested, their teams should be tested, but yes, they should (be allowed to fight).

"But looking at it the business way, absolutely not, because (promoters are) going to lose millions of dollars.

"So, it’s like stuck in the middle."

But as Lee continues to think about it, he believes the postponements and cancellations are the only way to go, especially given the uncertainty of what the world is dealing with.

"Our health is more important than fighting for money," he said. "Your health is your wealth. This is a very serious (pandemic).

"Hopefully, it gets solved. Hopefully, they could put an end to this."

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