Pandemic Pugilism Brings Pay-Per-View Boxing to Pittsburgh

Basyzbek "Baz" Baratov training in prepartation for his return fight on May 15th at the Sokol Club on the South Side. Photo by Ty Polk.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted some of Pittsburgh boxing’s up-and-comers opportunities from fighters to promoters last March. 

More than a year later, the local professional scene is picking itself off the canvas.

“There’s a lot of unknowns, and it’s not easy organizing a show right now,” said J.J. Richardson, manager for Integrity Fighter Management. “We’re excited to be back in business, and our fighters are excited to have a platform again to fight on.”

Integrity Fighter Management and Conn-Greb Boxing Gym will host “Old School Fight Series: Pandemic Pugilism” from the Sokol Club on the South Side, Saturday, May 15th.

This is the third night of boxing to take place in the area since the shutdown last March.

Gionta Management’s fight night at the Washington County Fairgrounds was the first professional action the city held since the bouts they scheduled in Cheswick in March 2020. 

Lyubomyr Pinchuk training for his fight on May 15th from the Sokol Club on the South Side. Photo by Ty Polk.

The USS Fight Academy in North Versailles brought amateur boxing back on March 13th, a year to the shutdown that canceled the returning Pittsburgh vs. Ireland Donnybrook.

McSorley and Integrity initially were hesitant to run a show during the pandemic, but a friend in Ohio did a few pay-per-view shows that gave them ideas.

“It was the only way we could cover our expenses was a pay-per-view,” said McSorley in between a training session at Conn-Greb Boxing Gym. “And we thought this would be, you know, a good time to try it.”

Due to Allegheny County’s restrictions, the event will have a paid attendance of 96 people, and it has already sold out. The low attendance figures gave them the idea to stream the pay per view online for $26

.It will be the first opportunity for some to get back in the ring, but for most, this is their first chance on pay-per-view.

It’s both for Jordan Zlacki (2-2) of Cheswick. His last fight was in December 2019, and he’s been itching to get back into the ring.

“I’m focused on the fight, the game plan, and what I got to do, said Zlacki before his training session. “I’ve never felt better working with Mike [McSorley], and I’m happy to get back on track.”

Michael McSorley (left) talking with Jordan Zlacki (left) in between a sparring session with Deon Goodlow. Photo by Tyler Polk.

The event takes place two weeks before Pennsylvania goes back to allowing 100 percent capacity for all occasions. Despite a baptism by fire in their entry into the PPV business, they still have plans to continue.

“We’re looking forward to [a show with full capacity and a pay-per-view] maybe late summer, early fall, getting back to full capacity shows,” said Richardson.

The Pay-Per-View will cost 26 dollars to catch all the fights, and the commentary duo for the night is Matt “The Lyrical Gangster” Antonucci and the Pittsburgh Luchador. They have been frequent attendees at training sessions and producing a series of promos for bouts on the card.

“There will be a difference with us, the direct knowledge and passion [of the fighters],” said Luchador in a conference call. “We’re bringing some real energy to this, and you’ll feel it.

Antonucci was already in for play-by-play because he was already scheduled to be the ring announcer. The luchador wasn’t the first choice to provide color commentary, but Antonucci hoped that he would be the eventual pick.

“The Lyrical Gangster” Matt Antonucci in between fights at Spring Slugfest hosted by Integrity Fighter Management March 2nd, 2019. Antonucci will be the ring announcer and broadcaster alongside the Pittsburgh Luchador for the pay-per-view on May 15th. Photo by Ty Polk.

“I had my fingers crossed waiting for [the luchador to be officially named his broadcast partner],” said Antonucci. “It’s a huge opportunity for us, just like for the fighters on the card.”

The luchador will be a first-time commentator at the event, and many would typically be nervous compared to his broadcast partner, who boasts 14 years of experience. 

A fan of sports growing up as a kid in the ’70s, and his experiences being in the corner for fighters has him thinking age and savviness will overcome any nerves.

“I’m too old and savvy to be nervous about this, and my life has always been about sports,” said the Luchador. “I’m preparing and working my ass off. I think it’s gonna go really well.”

The card features regulars to cards around Pittsburgh like Lyubomyr Pinchuk, Johnny Spell, Zlacki, Rosalindo Morales, Michael Manna, and Ryan Covert.

The newest combatant and Pittsburgh will be well worth the price of admission.

Basyzbek “Baz” Baratov (2-1-2), from Philadelphia by way of Kyrgyzstan, will be making his return to the ring a little over to his last fight four years ago. He’s already gunning for some of boxing’s top prizes.

“I’m ready for this fight. It’s been a long time waiting for this moment”, said Baratov. “I’m coming back as soon as possible for a title.”

This is his first fight after what he described as a “vacation.” He’ll fight at 125 lbs, but he’s typically fighting at 122-118 lbs. This will also be his second pay-per-view fight. He made a previous appearance on a Top Rank Boxing card in Nevada.

McSorley described Baz as very entertaining and could dazzle the crowd both in person and on pay-per-view.

Mike McSorley (left) and Basyzbek “Baz” Baratov (right) training for the Pandemic Pugilism event on May 15th. Photo by Ty Polk.

“It’s an interesting matchup because a much taller guy who’s a big puncher against a smaller guy who has a lot of amateur experience,” said McSorley.

A few of the 96 attending in person and watching the pay-per-view will be from Kyrzgstan. Living in Pittsburgh for the past three years, he’s already made the city his home.

“This is my second home,” said Baratov. “I will do my best and do everything for a title and show the people Kyrzgstan boxing.”

A combination of local fighters and international flavor will come to the South Side with eight fights scheduled to take place.

“Just wait until May 15th”, said Antonucci. “We’ll be like Public Enemy and bring the noise,”

You can pay and stream the pay-per-view here. Referrals from the fighters also give full access as well.