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Steve Farhood describes experience calling empty arena ShoBox: ‘Once we started, it was just another show’

The veteran analyst and commentator talks about Friday night’s unusual event in Minnesota.

Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend of Champions Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

It was going to be different, Steve Farhood knew, but he wasn’t sure just how so. No fans would be allowed in to watch the fights the Hall of Fame analyst would be calling at the Grand Casino Friday evening in Hinckley, Minnesota; just the fighters, their corners, commissioners, TV crew, and select family.

“I’m guessing there were a hundred people in there,” Farhood told me the day after helping Barry Tompkins and fellow analyst Raul Marquez describe four fights, including Brandun Lee’s TKO win in the main event.

All in all, Farhood said, it didn’t feel much different than the other gigs he’s done in his four decades in boxing.

Leading up to the fight night, though, it was different.

“It was quite harrowing. There was new news every five minutes. There was big picture news about the virus, and then about the show. We weren’t sure what was gonna happen. There was definitely a sense of being unsettled. But we had to go on, as we’d normally prepare.”

On Thursday, Farhood and the boys did the usual fighter meetings.

“In the eight meetings, I started it with the same question: ‘How have you been affected by the fact that this show will be different?’ And to a man, they answered the same: ‘Not at all.’

“To me it was an indication of how much tunnel vision you need to be properly prepared for the fight,” he stated.

Was Farhood affected? Well, certainly the routine leading up to the call was not normal. Coronavirus is just about all everyone was talking about.

“We knew it would be a different kind of show,” he continued. “But once we started, it was just another show. There was noise in the arena. No, it wasn’t like there were 18,000 in Madison Square Garden, but there was noise.”

Yes, the intimate staging wasn’t totally novel to Farhood. He’s called PPV fights, where the first bout has 11 people in the stands. With Don King marathon cards, there’d be a 4 pm start, and there’d be more ushers walking around than patrons. Now and again, a card would start before fans got let in the arena.

Deeper down memory lane; it was the early 80s at the Sands in Atlantic City. Farhood was there, covering for a boxing mag, a world title fight. Maybe Johnny Bumphus. Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy were on the call for CBS, and Tim’s crisp vocal notes resonated off the plush carpets pocked with butt burns, and cut through the Marlboro clouds.

“That’s because the people in the room were all gamblers, comped,” Farhood recalled. “Nothing ever happens for the first time.”

In case you were wondering — I was! — no, Barry, Raul and Steve didn’t modulate the decibels, lower the volume, because there wasn’t so much background noise in Hinckley. He said he wasn’t worried that if he critiqued hard, a fighter would hear it, stop, call timeout, and beg to differ.

“Nah, we didn’t go into the ‘15th hole at the Master’s’ voice. My attitude about that is, if someone heard us, and paid attention to it, they’d be having bigger problems than the critique.

”I was very critical during two fights of one judge, and he could have been seated five feet from me,” Farhood noted.

For the record, in fact, I asked the headliner, 20-year-old Brandun Lee (19-0, 17 KO), about the dynamic, and if he heard the TV crew as they described his fight versus Camilo Prieto. Farhood even said that such a scrap didn’t aid Lee’s development much, that he’d be better served by meeting tougher outs.

No, Lee informed BLH, he didn’t hear that while he was basting Prieto, en route to getting a TKO-3 win. “They were too far away.”

But, yes, the vibe at the casino, he said.

“It was different. I feel like with a larger crowd my adrenaline would have been pumping and I could’ve gotten him out earlier.”

He also said he liked being able to hear his father/trainer, Bobby Lee, better during the clash.

So the experience wasn’t so different from the others. But one moment did stand out for Farhood. When Thomas Trieber did his intro call, he usually gets a nice pop on “ShooooBox: The NEW Generation!” This time, not so much.

“He didn’t hear two claps, there was no response.”

Now Farhood does what we all do, in so many parts of the world, inside the sport and out. He waits. Time is more of a foe than ally for many, because odds are immense that things will get much worse before they get better. It’s just a question of who will be touched.

The analyst and historian knows that boxing is different among most pro sports, in that it is subject to the rulings of government. States have commissions, run by persons appointed by public servants, so a public health crisis could impact boxing in an unexpected manner.

“It can be vulnerable to political pressure. In Minnesota, everything changed every five minutes,” Farhood finished. “No one has an idea the arc of how this all plays out, we just have to wait and see.”

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