In his latest column for Boxing Social, boxing’s master of all trades Russ Anber shares his reflections on working in the Top Rank ‘bubble’ with Eleider Alvarez and pays tribute to Ukrainian maestro Vasiliy Lomachenko.

I couldn’t believe the butterflies I was experiencing as the taxi drove south along Highway 13 on the way to Trudeau International Airport here in Montreal.

My destination was Las Vegas, one of my favourite cities in the world, and my first trip since I returned from New York in March after Mick Conlan’s scheduled St. Patrick’s Day fight got cancelled at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. I cannot remember anytime in the last five years where I had been at home for such a long period of time.

Almost nine months removed since his one-punch knockout of Michael Seals, Eleider Alvarez was about to face an always dangerous opponent in perennial contender Joe Smith. 

Truth be told, it felt great to be back in the corner again alongside Eleider’s trainer Marc Ramsay and I have to say that the Las Vegas bubble that Top Rank have going is a great thing, a brilliant initiative.

I applaud the measures taken by everyone to get these shows going, from Top Rank, who promote them; to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, who allowed it all to happen; to the MGM Grand, where the shows are based, and who couldn’t have been more accommodating. It would have been easy for everyone from the NSAC to MGM or even Top Rank to put up as many obstacles as they could to stop boxing from coming back. Instead, they jumped through hoops to make this all possible.

Take a bow, you all did an outstanding job.

From the moment I arrived until the moment I left the MGM via a special passageway that prevented us mingling with anyone in the casino or the hotel lobby, everything was so well thought out.

The dangerous Smith was too heavy-handed and lively for Alvarez.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Normally, I would love to pick fault with things and be the guy to say, ‘Why are we doing this? It’s stupid!’, but in this case I’m proud to say I couldn’t identify one thing that was wrong with how everything was structured and run. No one missed a beat. It was clockwork, like a fine Swiss watch!

Clearly, being in the bubble was a far cry from what we have all been accustomed to, and I kind of hate to say this, but there were also some things that were kind of cool and far more ‘stress-free’ about working in a closed door environment fight, compared to a normal night of boxing.

Adapting to all the obvious differences in this new-world of boxing was a little strange, but the greatest thing of all was that there wasn’t the huge number of hangers-on you usually get at a fight. All these people who follow a fighter around and create mayhem and trouble! They were nowhere to be seen and that made a lot of things much more stress-free. For instance, at the press conference you didn’t have to worry about hecklers or idiots yelling stupid shit out. It was a far more civil approach! Without question, this applied to the weigh-in as well.

On the other side of the coin, it certainly wasn’t the ideal situation not having fans in the venue. Being in the corner felt a bit like being at a show where they hadn’t sold many tickets and I’ve been at plenty of those before! We’ve all been there at some time in our careers. I’ve been at amateur shows where you could hear a pin drop!

So, yes, the lack of fans felt a little bit funny, but when the action was going on, the punches were real and, of course, you become oblivious to the lack of fans in much the same manner you ignore the fans once you are in the heat of the action.

Unfortunately, it was a disappointing night for Eleider. We were looking for one last chance for him, but in fairness he hasn’t really been the same since he beat Sergey Kovalev.

In the rematch, which he lost, he just stood there for 12 rounds and didn’t really do much. We shrugged it off at the time as a case of him coming off the high of the first fight and struggling for motivation.

Then he fought Seals in what was a stinker of a fight until he produced a knockout of the year candidate with one punch that he threw – probably the only meaningful punch he’d thrown since beating Kovalev.\

So we got him one last shot in this elimination contest and sadly he just couldn’t deliver. 

When Marc first told me that the match was made, it wasn’t a fight I liked for Eleider. Joe Smith is trouble! He fights at a pace that most fighters, including Eleider don’t like. It was, however, an eliminator, and you can’t pick and choose in those situations. You take the fight or you don’t fight.

We also have to give credit where it is due. Whoever you are, you know are going to be in a fight if you fight Joe Smith. The only guys who can separate themselves from him are the absolute elite of the division. Joe Smith is one of those guys you just don’t want to fight because even if you win you’re sore for a week afterwards. He has consistently proved to be a tough out for any light-heavyweight in the world.

Travelling to Vegas rekindled the flame and made me hungry to travel and work again. I’m going to work as many fights as I can and as the current restrictions permit. The post-fight restrictions are particularly difficult; after getting back from Vegas I have had to quarantine for 14 days. Hopefully, this changes as we move forward.

But I’m like a dog – I’m loyal, sometimes to a fault. I love the people I work with and, if they ask me to be there, then I will be there for them!

So, hopefully, next on the agenda, I will be off to Russia for Artur Beterbiev’s fight against Adam Deines, then back home to quarantine for two weeks before I leave for Vegas for Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Teofimo Lopez in October.

The Loma vs Lopez fight is easily one of the – if not the most – anticipated and important fights of the year and, like all fight fans, I’m really looking forward to it. Plenty of people are backing Lopez, but Lomachenko is my man and he’s a special talent.

Lomachenko is motivated by greatness, says Anber.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Besides his obvious boxing talent, there is another thing that is also special about Loma. His determination to prove his greatness is unlike anyone in the game today.  I understand he’s taken a pay cut to make this fight happen, and that is typical of him as a man.

While many top fighters aren’t willing to take a shorter purse during this pandemic, and are happy to sit on the sidelines, Loma is the exception to the rule. He’s never involved in contractual disputes or anything of that sort. That’s not his style. He wants to fight, he wants to prove his greatness and secure his place in history and I firmly believe he will do just that on October 17.

In closing, I have to comment on two other recent fights. Firstly, Katie Taylor’s win against Delfine Persoon. Katie is part of the #RivalFamily and we couldn’t be prouder of her. She conducts herself with such class, she is so easy to deal with and she accepts any challenge. She’s the Queen of boxing as far as I’m concerned. We would do anything for her.

As for Dillian Whyte’s loss to Alexander Povetkin, for me that was a case of karma in action. I worked in Oscar Rivas’ corner the night he lost to Whyte and so much went on. From the adverse finding that we, in the Rivas camp, weren’t told about before the fight, to switching gloves in the dressing room and not using the gloves he and his team had selected at the official rules meeting the day before. I have no love lost for what happened to him against Povetkin.

Russ is the founder/CEO of Rival Boxing, as well as a highly respected trainer (of both pros and amateurs), a gym owner, a cut-man, an entrepreneur, a broadcaster and one of the best hand wrappers in the boxing business. Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev and Callum Smith are among the many top boxers Russ currently works with.

Main image: Top Rank’s boxing ‘bubble’ at the MGM Grand. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.