In May, mixed martial arts and boxing were two of the first professional sports to return to national and global competition amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those efforts have been supported by major media eager for programming such as ESPN, Fox Sports and Showtime along with global sports organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Top Rank Boxing and Premier Boxing Champions.
Combat sports at the regional level aren’t nearly as well financed — even in the best of times — let alone amid a coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic has eliminated large crowds and the gate receipts they provide to help subsidize most sporting events, including MMA and boxing shows.
That hasn’t stopped Boston-area boxing promoter Peter Czymbor from remaining active in New England. His reach stretches to West Forks, from which Brandon “The Cannon” Berry will travel to resume his boxing career Saturday after an 11-month absence.
Berry is scheduled for an eight-round welterweight bout against Bryan Timmons of Saint Joseph, Missouri, as part of a 13-fight card at the Castleton Conference Center in Windham, New Hampshire.
It is the second show Czymbor and business partner Nick DiSalvo have staged during the pandemic without a crowd present. The card will be held in a private room open only to essential personnel and officials. All fighters will be tested for COVID-19 and all corners and officials must wear face coverings.
“It will be weird,” Berry said. “I’ve spoken to a few guys who fought on Peter’s card in August and they claim it was like a real hard sparring session where there wasn’t any crowd noise or music, but they also said for the most part it didn’t affect them.”
This show, like the Aug. 25 event, will be available beginning at 2 p.m. for free via live streaming at youtube.com/bostonboxing.
“I’m so thankful I can rely on these guys to keep boxing going because it’s a huge headache to put on these shows anyway and then they have to go by all these guidelines and know that there’s really no chance to make any money,” Berry said. “They’re doing it strictly to keep their brand alive and keep fighters busy.”
Czymbor’s Boston Boxing Promotions is among just a handful of combat sports organizations still operating on the East Coast during the pandemic.
“In lieu of no audience, we are relying on sponsors to foot the bill so we can make sure everyone who needs to get paid gets paid,” Czymbor said. “If a local business can see their commercial on our web stream and help a local fighter get the chance to compete, it helps the fighter stay active and if we run that ad right before their fight and in between rounds all of their local fans see it. It’s a simple business model, but can be effective.”
The only other option during the pandemic, he said, is to sit and wait it out.
The 33-year-old Berry, who owns a 17-5-2 record with 11 knockouts, last fought Nov. 9, 2019, at the Portland Expo, where he defeated James Roach by technical knockout.
“I was excited to see where this year was going and then things happened, but I’m going to try to pick up right where I left off,” Berry said. “I’ve stayed in very good shape and I hope that shows Saturday.”
Berry was set to promote a Maine boxing card in April and then fight again in early summer, but both shows were canceled due to the coronavirus.
He then was scheduled to battle Bryan Goldsby on Boston Boxing Promotions’ August YouTube show but that bout was called off after Goldsby sustained a foot injury.
“It’s the longest layoff I’ve ever had without being injured,” Berry said. “Mentally it’s frustrating, of course, but there’s people out there that are losing their lives and jobs so for me to be complaining about not being able to fight would be petty.”
The TKO of Roach was Berry’s fourth consecutive win, his longest undefeated streak since starting his pro boxing career in 2013 with eight straight victories.
“Last year I was on a really good roll and in a good place physically and mentally. With every fight I was in so much better shape and the people who were paying attention could see that,” he said.
Timmons, 39, is 6-12-1 with five knockouts, but three of his last four opponents were unbeaten when he fought them. He battled David Griffith, then 9-0, to a majority draw in his most recent fight on Feb. 28 in Louisville, Kentucky.
While Berry won’t be backed by the steady stream of boxing fans along Route 201 in northern Somerset County that have regularly traveled south to watch him fight in person, he’s excited that free access to the card via YouTube will bring the fight to the fans.
“I’ve been going to peoples’ houses and setting up their YouTube channels for them because they didn’t know how to do it on TV,” he said. “We’re not fighting in front of a live crowd, but there are so many people at home who will still get to see this live. That’s pretty special.”