Arum lays out Top Rank plans for rest of 2021, thoughts on Nico Ali Walsh


COVID uncertainty is still impacting the fight game, cementing the adage that if you wanna make God laugh, make plans for the future and assume they are immutable. But Bob Arum and Top Rank are proceeding full steam ahead, as fast as is prudent.

Top Rank have a show in Tucson, Arizona, topped by WBC junior lightweight titlist Oscar Valdez, on Friday, Sept 10. Valdez defends his crown against Robson Conceicao, a former Olympic gold medalist from Brazil stepping up about 1.5 levels from previous tests. In his last outing, the 30-year-old Valdez (29-0, 23 KO)) impressed mightily in stopping Miguel Berchelt in February.

Then there’s the Oct. 9 Tyson Fury ring return against old “pal” Deontay Wilder, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. My fingers and two toes are crossed that this fight gets off the runway, takes flight, and reaches its destination.

Arum also mentioned an Oct. 23 Top Rank show, headlined by a Jamel Herring defending his WBO junior lightweight title against Shakur Stevenson. “That’s a very interesting fight,” Arum said.

I straight up told Bob that Shakur’s last fight, on June 12 against Jeremia Nakathila, was a sleeper, not in a good way. I think that Shakur could well be in a mode to shut up critics like me, and that could make for a bout that possesses more spark and fire than some assume.

“Shakur did apologize, basically, and say he’d do better next time, so we’ll see,” I said to Bob.

“That’s what he’s saying,” the promoter replied.

We also touched on the pro debut of Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of Muhammad Ali, who won his first bout on Aug. 14. I wondered, is that deal considered sort of a novelty, or does this kid have real promise?

“I know the family very well, they are nice people. He’s serious about it. He has very little background in boxing, he was working with trainer Sugarhill (Steward), who likes how he’s developing. And did I see any mannerisms or anything which reminded me of Ali? He’s like a middle class kid, he’s very intelligent.”

Arum noted that “The Today Show” did a hit on Nico, and he liked that buzz. Those morning shows used to do more stories from the boxing space, understanding that select stories about resilient and charismatic pugilists can and do resonate with “regular” Joes and Janes.

“We’ll take stories like that, period,” Arum said. “That sort of story hadn’t appeared on there in years!”

Specifics on the whens and wheres for a Joe Smith light heavyweight title defense against Umar Salamov will be firmed up soon, Arum said. That’s an October/November proposition. If things align — and this is boxing, it’s a big if — and Smith wins, he then maybe would fight Daniel Jacobs in the first quarter of 2022.

Looking a bit further down the near line, Top Rank will be back in New York City in a big way, with Vasiliy Lomachenko at Madison Square Garden, for a Dec. 11 show. Top Rank would again segue from the Heisman Trophy presentation on ESPN, which they’ve done the last few years. I will presume no softball will be scheduled for that time frame

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