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Peltz Boxing Celebrates 46th Year Anniversary

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In the beginning…

While preparing for Friday’s Puerto Rican Boxing Classic at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, promoter J Russell Peltz, International Boxing Hall of Fame, class of 2004, recalls his start in boxing 46 years ago.

Today I celebrate—or perhaps observe—the 46th anniversary of my first fight as a boxing promoter. I could have waited another four years to write this story, but that seems like a long time from now and an even longer bet to reach that milestone.

I saw only a few minutes of my first boxing card. It was Sept. 30, 1969, at the Blue Horizon—not yet legendary—and I was busy in the box office with mom, selling tickets to the last of the 1,606 people we squeezed in there that night to watch middleweight Bennie Briscoe destroy Tito Marshall in their rematch. We actually turned people away that night and that’s something I would never do again. What was I thinking?

There was a miscommunication with the union that supplied the ticket sellers so when they failed to show, I hired mom—gratis, of course—and she helped to sell the tickets.

I was 22 years old, 15 months after graduating from Temple University and less than 30 days removed from working full-time on the sports staff at The Evening Bulletin. I had coveted the boxingbeat at The Bulletin, but I got impatient when Jack Fried, the boxing writer, got an extension on his mandatory retirement at age 65 and I wasn’t about to hang around waiting for him to retire or, as dad would say, kick the bucket.

So I did what every 22-year-old college grad who was raised on the prestigious Main Line would do—I became a boxing promoter.

I had saved about $5,000 in college since I had worked full-time on what they called the Lobster Shift at The Bulletin, starting the summer after my junior year at Temple. I worked from midnight to 8 am, editing stories, writing captions and headlines and doing re-writes. Then I’d drive from 30th & Market Street to North Broad Street for my senior year at Temple, go to class from 9 am to 1 pm, then drive home to Bala Cynwyd to go to sleep.

It was a post-Olympic year in Philly and there was talent on every street corner. I remember the late summer of 1969, driving up Columbia Avenue—now Cecil B. Moore—and turning right after 22d Street where Columbia turns into Ridge. Two buildings from the corner stood the aptly named Roach’s Café. On top of Roach’s Café, up a steep flight of stairs, was Champs Gym, run by Quenzell McCall, who had made his bones training Percy Bassett and Leotis Martin and Kitten Hayward and Briscoe and many other top Philly fighters.

I met Sam Solomon, a friendly round-faced man who owned a Laundromat in West Philadelphia, and he introduced me to his new fighter, a 17-year-old stud who was looking to turn pro. His name was Eugene Hart. Sam nicknamed him Cyclone.

A year earlier, at a gym in the basement of the Annunciation Church at 12th & Norris, just off Temple’s campus, I had interviewed another young amateur boxer for a story I wrote for The Bulletin. His name was Bobby Watts. They called him Boogaloo.

There had not been a pro fight card in Philly since May and local fans were ready for some action.

I had dreamed of having my boyhood idol, Hall-of-Famer Harold Johnson, in the main event but I could not afford the $2,000 he wanted. I had become friendly with Pat Duffy, having written some stories about amateur boxing while I was at The Bulletin. Duffy controlled the amateurs in the tri-state area and he had his hand in the pros as well. He was involved with Leotis Martin and Sammy Goss and Bennie Briscoe and for a guarantee of $1,000 against a percentage of the gate receipts I got Briscoe to fight a rematch with Marshall, who had beaten Bennie four years earlier.

Duffy also had a heavyweight named Jerry Judge, from the Kensington section of Philly, and I added him to the card in his pro debut. On the poster I identified Judge as the Kensington Heavyweight Champion. Really!

George Hill, who was training at Champs Gym, agreed to make his own pro debut against Judge.

Jimmy Toppi, Jr., owned the Blue Horizon. He had promoted fights at various Philly venues in the 1940s and 1950s and as soon as he heard about my main event, he predicted a sellout. Toppi would close his office every day at 2 pm, so I would drive over to the Blue Horizon from my apartment in the Germantown section of the city, park outside and wait to see if any customers would show up to buy tickets. Whenever I saw someone ring the doorbell at the Blue Horizon, I’d get out of my car, call over to them and sell them tickets out of my trunk.

The card came together, although Watts’ original opponent, North Philly neighbor Lloyd Bad NewsNelson, canceled out a couple of weeks before the show and it wasn’t until close to Sept. 30 that I found Ron Nesby, who was training at Gil Clancy’s gym in New York.

Dad was in the plumbing, heating and air-conditioning business and he took 100 ringside tickets and gave them out to his business associates. He paid me for all of them—they were $5 apiece. I guess he was worried I wouldn’t make it in boxing. My uncle Bob came to the fight and he got sick after eating a Blue Horizon hotdog.

I was at the gyms every night, Champs and the 23rd PAL in North Philly, Passyunk and the Juniper Gym in South Philly. There were others but those were the Fab Four.

Malcolm “Flash” Gordon, a long-haired New York boxing junkie who had bought a mimeograph machine with his Bar Mitzvah money years earlier, agreed to sell his now-legendary programs at the fight for 25 cents each.

Tom Cushman, the boxing writer for the Daily News, was a major player. I had met Cushman in Oklahoma City a few years earlier. He had stopped there–on his way East from Denver to start his new job at the Daily News—to cover Temple’s basketball team in a Christmas tournament and I was there as a correspondent for The Bulletin.

Cushman knew that boxing writers from other newspapers in town took money under the table from promoters to write pre-fight stories and he told me if he ever caught me doing that I could kiss our friendship goodbye. Not a chance!

The Inquirer headline the day before my card: Is Peltz Ready To Get Skinned?

We sold out. At the time, the 1,606 fans in attendance represented the largest crowd in the Blue Horizon’s history. The gate was $6,010 with tickets priced at $3 and $5. Briscoe’s percentage came to $1,314.58 and Marshall walked out with $788.75.

Middleweight Oscar Coor beat Clarence Finney in an all-local four-rounder to open the card—on time, naturally, at 8 pm—and Cyclone Hart blew away South Philly’s Sheldon Moore, who didn’t answer the bell for round two. Jerry Judge worked hard and stopped George Hill in the fourth round and Boogaloo Watts out-boxed Ron Nesby in a 6. In the main event, Briscoe had a blast. He nailed Marshall below the belt early and when Tito complained to the ref, Bennie went upstairs and it was all over in 60 seconds. Marshall never boxed again.

Columnist Sandy Grady was there from The Bulletin. His story the next day–Crazy Dream Comes True–told about my prediction in college that one day my friends would be coming to my fight cards. He also wrote that my (first) wife and I were living in an apartment in Germantown and the only things in it were a mattress, a TV set and a cat named Ophelia. With the money we made that night ($1,438.83), Grady wrote that perhaps now we would buy some furniture.

A few months earlier, my wife had asked me what made me think I could be successful in this business. I told her that it would take me about six months to blow my savings but I’d have a great scrapbook one day to show our kids about the time their daddy was a boxing promoter.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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