Staging a 'socially distanced' boxing match

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image source, Carlos Herrera

Boxing is on hiatus worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic, but, on Saturday night, Nicaragua made the controversial decision to press on with a big match, attracting global attention. Photographer Carlos Herrera captured the build-up and the main event.

It was the first professional boxing match in a month.

When the television channel ESPN Knockout found out it was going ahead, they bought the rights to show it across Latin America.

The two little-known local competitors, Robin Zamora and Ramiro Blanco, were suddenly thrust into the spotlight.

image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionRobin Zamora, 22, has been boxing since he was seven years old
image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionRamiro Blanco splits his time between training and working as a mechanic

The international press also took note, largely with incredulity, as contact sports taking place in front of an audience have been temporarily paused almost everywhere.

However, while much of the world is under lockdown, Nicaragua has rejected enforced social distancing, citing concerns about the economic impact.

"Nicaragua has not and will not establish any type of quarantine," said a presidential statement in February, and that stance has been maintained.

image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionMost of the country's sports centres are run by local governments and have remained open
image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionRobin Zamora says his last prize money was $340 (£270), five months ago

The latest government figures show 13 positive cases of Covid-19 and three deaths since 19 March.

However, independent experts have questioned the official data. Neighbouring Costa Rica and Honduras have each reported more than 700 cases.

Across the region, there is concern that the impact of the virus is yet to hit and could be devastating, given the levels of poverty and the stretched resources of health services.

image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionBlanco says God will protect him, but he is also using a face mask, washing his hands regularly and using sanitiser gel

Currently life in Nicaragua is carrying on almost as normal.

Rosendo Álvarez, a world-champion fighter turned promoter, says boxers, who mostly come from working-class backgrounds, have urged him to continue holding matches.

He organised Saturday's event in the capital, Managua, through his company, Búfalo Boxing Promotions.

"We are going to do boxing, even if they [critics] want to make me look stupid and irresponsible," he wrote on Facebook ahead of the night. "Boxers have families and children to feed. If they don't fight, they don't have money."

image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionRosendo Álvarez (in red, left) supervised the weigh-in
image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionThe match took place at Managua's Alexis Argüello gymnasium

The organisers implemented various safety measures for the event, including mandatory mask-wearing for all attendees.

image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionFans had to sit at least one seat away from each other

Before the fight, Zamora said his career highlight was a tournament in London four years ago and he hoped he would get chance to compete abroad in the future. "They don't pay very well here, but overseas you get more in your pocket."

image source, Carlos Herrera
image captionZamora with coach René Aguilar, who was asked to wear a mask and gloves

The fighters lasted eight rounds before the judges unanimously declared Zamora the winner.

image source, Carlos Herrera

All photographs taken by Carlos Herrera

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