Connect with us

Featured Articles

Oleksandr Usyk Continues to Replicate Evander Holyfield’s Career Blueprint

Bernard Fernandez

Published

on

holyfield

They are, by consensus, the two greatest fighters in the 39-year history of the largely ignored cruiserweight division. Evander Holyfield, who already held the IBF and WBA versions of the title, fully unified the then-190-pound division when he summarily dismissed WBC champion Carlos “Sugar” DeLeon on an eighth-round stoppage at the Caesars Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas on April 9, 1988, savoring the accomplishment for only a moment before confirming his intention to move up to heavyweight and target WBC/WBA/IBF champ Mike Tyson.

Thirty years and change later, Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, so different from Holyfield in some ways and yet so alike in others, has torn another page from the Holyfield career playbook. Already holder of all four widely recognized cruiserweight championship belts (the WBO did not exist in 1988) as the result of his three-victory run through the first World Boxing Super Series, the stylish southpaw, behind on two of the three official scorecards, defended his collection of 200-pound titles a final time when he knocked out Tony Bellew with a ripping left cross in the eighth round on Nov. 10 in Bellew’s hometown of Manchester, England. He savored the accomplishment for only a moment before confirming his intention to move up to heavyweight and target IBF/WBA/WBO champion Anthony Joshua, or possibly the winner of the Dec. 1 matchup of WBC titlist Deontay Wilder and former unified champ Tyson Fury, should that fellow aspirant get to and take down Joshua beforehand.

“I’m on the way to Anthony Joshua,” Usyk said of his farewell to the cruisers in the hope of attaining bigger and better objectives. “It’ll definitely happen. People just need to wait a little bit.”

Sound familiar? Listen to what Holyfield said after his thrashing of DeLeon, which took place with Tyson, already anticipating what the future might hold for each, sitting at ringside on an ostensible scouting mission. “The heavyweight champion is king of the hill,” Holyfield said, an assertion as true then as it is now. “That’s a motivating factor for me because I want to be king of the hill.”

Although separated by three decades and 10 pounds, Holyfield and Usyk are representative of the sort of tunnel vision that has led so many elite cruiserweights to test the waters at heavyweight. True heavyweight champions – at least those more recognized as such than passing-through holders of splintered alphabet titles – are regal monarchs of their sport, all right. Cruiserweight titlists, fairly or not, might not even qualify as crown princes. Until recently consigned by body size to a weight class that generally has been regarded as a sort of purgatory between light heavyweight and heavyweight, they are more like dukes or earls in the royal pecking order.

Most fight fans are far more likely to recognize and celebrate Holyfield, a 2017 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, as the only four-time heavyweight champion than for his relatively brief reign as a cruiserweight when he was younger, lighter and less-affluent. The “Real Deal” was paid $300,000 for his unification showdown with DeLeon, and don’t think for a moment that he and his promoter, Dan Duva, weren’t aware of the fact that Tyson was set to receive $17 million and Michael Spinks $13.5 million for their megafight 2½ months later in Atlantic City.

The gulf between cruiserweight and heavyweight, at least financially, has narrowed somewhat, at least in Europe where the division is much more popular than it is in the United States. But Usyk, at 31, no doubt is aware that his window of opportunity for striking it rich in the land of the really big boys is tighter than it was for the then-25-year-old Holyfield. A potential matchup with Joshua, Wilder or Fury, especially were he to win, would yield far more in terms of pay and prestige than any cruiserweight fight could.

It is a gamble Usyk, like Holyfield, believes must be taken, but make no mistake, it is a gamble. Since Marvin Camel became the first cruiserweight champion (in a division only recently created by the WBC) when he scored a 15-round unanimous decision over Mate Parlov on March 31, 1980, there have been 64 men who have held some version of the title. Only two, Holyfield and England’s David Haye, have gone on to enjoy the view from the heavyweight summit.

So who deserves the top spot as the finest cruiserweight of all time? Is it Holyfield, still a work in progress when he established himself as the best of his or any succeeding era until Usyk arrived on the scene? Or is it Usyk, older, more polished and the beneficiary of having come along when the division was deeper and more competitive? It’s a matter of opinion and cause for some debate.

ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael has weighed in on the subject, and he casts his ballot for Usyk, on the basis of the Ukrainian being in the division longer and having accomplished more while there. Rafael wrote that Usyk, as a cruiser, has “trumped Holyfield time and again” by virtue of his winning his first title in his 10th pro bout to 12 for Holyfield, and having defended or unified six times to four for Evander. He also notes, correctly, that the opposition Usyk has faced in cruiser title bouts – Krzysztof Glowacki, Thabiso Mchunu, Michael Hunter, Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, Murat Gassiev and Bellew – for the most part is a cut above Holyfield’s lineup of Dwight Muhammad Qawi (twice), Henry Tillman, Ricky Parkey, Ossie Ocasio and DeLeon. Bonus points, however, should be awarded for Holyfield’s 15-round split decision over then-WBA champ and future International Boxing Hall of Famer Qawi in their first meeting on July 12, 1986, which many still consider to be the best cruiserweight scrap ever.

Mere statistics, however, never tell the full story of any fight, or fighter. There is the eye test and individual gut reaction that influence any discussion as to who would or would not fare better in a hypothetical matchup. For the purpose of comparing the cruiserweight credentials of Holyfield vis-à-vis Usyk, I contacted four knowledgeable observers – Showtime’s Steve Farhood, ESPN’s Mark Kriegel, HBO’s Jim Lampley and Holyfield himself – to blend their thoughts into the bubbling cauldron.

Farhood: “They so clearly are the best two cruiserweights ever. Until now, with cruiserweights, it’s always been Holyfield, Holyfield, Holyfield. For the first time, I think there’s a challenger to Evander for that designation. A mythical matchup of Holyfield and Usyk is very interesting to me because of their very different styles. It’s not the kind of fight where most people would say that one guy would win easily. I see a very competitive fight, and a very tough fight for Evander. Usyk would use his height and reach to try to keep the fight on the outside. Evander would have to wear him down. Remember, Evander was fighting 15-round championship fights at cruiserweight for the most part. (The DeLeon fight was scheduled for 12.) A fight at 12 rounds, I think, would favor Usyk. A 15-round fight probably would serve Evander better because he would have been the pressure fighter, and pressure fighters generally have things their way in the later rounds. I think it’d probably be a distance fight and very close at 12 rounds. I’d have trouble picking a winner. My tendency is to lean toward Evander, but I think the reason for that is we all know how great a fighter he was on the basis of his whole career. It’s hard to separate what he did as a heavyweight from what he did as a cruiserweight. He’s one of the greatest fighters of all time. Usyk has a lot of career in front of him and we don’t know yet what he’ll do.”

Kriegel: “To me, Holyfield represents the triumph of the heart. I can’t recall a big guy who fought regularly whose heart was so often on full display. He was a very valiant fighter. Usyk, to me, would represent a triumph of technique. I’ve heard it said that he’s a larger Lomachenko, which is pretty accurate. He’s a southpaw, he’s Ukrainian, he trains with Loma and they have a lot of the same boxing characteristics. Against Holyfield, it’d be a perfect matchup of the violence of one fighter vs. the mathematical precision of the other. So who would win? I wouldn’t bet against Evander, especially against someone who’s about his size. I could see him losing to Bowe and I could see him losing to Lennox Lewis, but against a guy more or less his own size, like Usyk, I can’t see Evander losing.”

Lampley: “That’s a tough one. It’s a pick ’em fight. But if I have to choose between the Evander the night he beat DeLeon and the Usyk who beat Bellew, I’d have to go with Usyk by 51-49, something like that. The sort of parallel equation that I have settled on in my mind as a way of judging it is, assuming for a moment there isn’t a significant size differential, would be Crawford against Lomachenko. I see considerable commonality between Crawford and Lomachenko in terms of their athletic qualities, their competitiveness, their mean streaks and late-fight punching power. All those things were there with Holyfield, and they’re there with Crawford. Usyk clearly has benefited from his exposure to Lomachenko’s father (Anatoly) and therefore fights in a style that we haven’t really seen in that weight class, with the same kind of technical brilliance and creativity that Lomachenko shows you. So would I take Crawford or would I take Lomachenko? It’s an extremely difficult choice, just as it is with Usyk vs. Holyfield. But Usyk is a more finished product at this stage. He has settled into the upper range of what you’d expect him to be.”

Holyfield: “I only seen Usyk fight once (against Bellew). You have to see a guy fight against different styles to get a better feel for what he’s all about. Seeing him one time, I can’t say for sure that’s the way he is. But if he ain’t got a short game, he’d have trouble with me. I have very quick hands, so I could fight inside as well as outside. I tried to take things from the people that came before me. I took some things from Muhammad Ali, but I took more things from what Joe Frazier did because I was the shorter guy a lot of times and I had to get inside. I don’t know how good of a short game Usyk has because he didn’t show one against (Bellew), and I don’t know how he’d do against a guy who fights on the inside because the guy he beat didn’t really try to work inside.”

It should be noted that Holyfield had four heavyweight fights before he fought for the title, winning it on a third-round knockout of Tyson conqueror Buster Douglas on Oct. 25, 1990. Lampley, for one, thinks Usyk might require only two heavyweight bouts for familiarization purposes before he goes for the title, his timetable moved up by the fact he’s six years older than Holyfield was when Evander decided to swim with the sharks instead of the barracudas.

As cruisers, Holyfield and Usyk’s resumes are impeccable. After Holyfield disassembled DeLeon, who would hold versions of the cruiser title on three separate occasions, the impressed Puerto Rican said, “He is so strong. There is no question he will make a great heavyweight.”

Bellew was no less complimentary toward Usyk, saying “Oleksandr Usyk is a great, great champion. He’s fantastic, an amazing fighter and the greatest man I’ve ever shared the ring with. Anyone who faces him is in a lot of trouble. He’s tactically brilliant. Strong. He has everything.”

So what say you, TSS nation? In a dream matchup for cruiserweight supremacy, do you go with the 1988 Holyfield? Or the 2018 Usyk?

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

 Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this article at The Fight Forum, CLICK HERE.

Featured Articles

The Avila Perspective, Chap. 35: Bam Bam Rios, Heavyweights and More

David A. Avila

Published

on

Rios

They don’t make fighters like “Bam Bam” Brandon Rios every day you know. But there was a time when it was as common as a Helms Bakery truck arriving in the morning.

He talks like a snarling character out of a Mickey Spillane novel and looks like a guy who eats nuts and bolts for breakfast, not Wheaties.

And when you put on a pair of mitts on his fists look out.

Rios (35-4-1, 26 KOs) won his last bout and now takes on another Mexican veteran Humberto Soto (68-9-2) in a welterweight battle of tough guys at Tijuana, Mexico. Its home turf for Soto and the match will be streamed on DAZN.

Time can be a sonofagun and even the toughest get taken down a notch or two. Since losing the WBO welterweight world title to Timothy Bradley in 2015, the road has been covered with spiked strips for the Garden City, Kansas native who now lives in Oxnard, Calif.

Before a win two months ago, he was stopped by former welterweight and super lightweight world champion Danny Garcia in the ninth round a year ago in February. It always seems to be the ninth round when things happen or not for Rios. When he lost to Bradley the end also took place in the ninth.

But that’s OK for Rios. When your family grows up working in the slaughter houses in temperatures not fit for human beings, that kind of labor hardens a person’s grit to not quit. No matter what other normal people might do, it’s not an option for Rios. And that’s the way he’s always fought.

“Anything can happen though, at the end of the day it’s not about who has what, it’s about me and him in the ring,” said Rios, 32.

Just last November the Oxnard-based fighter, who trains in Riverside with Robert Garcia, engaged in a Mexican war with Ramon Alvarez. He’s the older brother of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and he traded cannon blows with Rios until the pivotal ninth round when the back and forth battle was finally stopped by referee Tom Taylor. It was the kind of fight you might have seen in the 1940s; a kind of Tony Zale vs Rocky Graziano war of attrition that Rios was groomed for since a child in the Kansas gyms.

Like we mentioned before, they don’t make fighters like Rios any more.

When he crosses the Mexican border on Saturday in Tijuana, don’t expect him to feel out of place. He’s been there many times and his family comes from Mexico.

“Even though Soto will be in his own country, I have a lot of Mexican fans, my dad was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and LA is just a couple hours away so I hope to see my fans there supporting me,” said Rios.

This time he has Soto in front of him, a former world champion who lives in Tijuana and can recite word for word the book on dirty fighting. He’s not shy about elbowing and hitting below the belt or butting you with his head. He knows every dark trick known to prizefighters. When he fought John Molina Jr. a while back he feigned getting hit below the belt after that fighter dropped him with a legal body shot. Soto’s act was so convincing the referee deducted a point though he never actually saw the blow, unless he has X-ray vision. Soto is as wily as they come. And don’t expect the referee to keep the fight legal. I’ve seen battles in Tijuana where a veteran fighter was actually hitting another guy’s kneecaps and thighs. True story.

Rios will have his hands full. He’s run into these types of fighters before. Remember Argentina’s Diego Chaves? That fighter was ultimately disqualified for elbows and intentional head butts.

“Soto is a veteran, he’s 30 years old. he knows some tricks, he’s a former three-time world champion, so we’ve got to be ready for whatever he brings,” said Rios. “That’s why I’m working so hard to correct the mistakes.”

It’s Rios style of fighting that seems to attract those kind of fights. It’s not for the squeamish. But if you prefer Rios “two for two” style of bang it out in the boxing ring, then, this is for you. His three wars with Mike Alvarado were brutal and beautiful at the same time.

DAZN signed up Rios for this reason.

Also, East L.A.’s Seniesa Estrada defends the WBC Silver light flyweight title she recently won against Venezuela’s Yenifer Leon on the co-main event at Auditorio Municipal. DAZN will stream the fight.

Estrada (15-0, 5 KOs) meets hard-hitting Leon (9-1, 6 KOs) in a female bout set for 10 rounds. Estrada has stretched three consecutive opponents. She will be fighting in the hometown of interim WBC light flyweight titlist Kenia Enriquez. It should make for an interesting development.

Heavyweights

In a move that caught the boxing world by surprise, giant heavyweight Tyson Fury signed a multi-year contract with Top Rank and ESPN. Frank Warren remains his co-promoter with Queensberry Promotions.

The contract requires a minimum of two Fury fights in the US a year. His fights will still be shown in the United Kingdom by BT Sport. Fury has the lineal heavyweight championship title because he beat Wladimir Klitschko the previous lineal champion.

Most of the boxing world anticipated a Fury rematch with WBC champion Deontay Wilder especially after their torrid – for a heavyweight match – fight that took place this past December at the Staples Center and ended in a split draw. Fans of both were eager to see a rematch and rumors were flying like one of those shotgun machine saucers.

Now, Fury has ESPN, Wilder has Showtime and Anthony Joshua is with DAZN. Basically each has a bargaining position now.

Joshua was in New York City recently to pump up his IBO, WBA, WBO and IBF title defense against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller at Madison Square Garden on June 1, 2019. DAZN will stream that heavyweight world title event.

What’s next for Wilder the WBC titlist?

If anything it puts the heavyweight scenario to the forefront for hard core boxing fans. For casual fans it dilutes it.

More UK- Super Middleweights

London, England will be ground zero on Saturday afternoon as British super middleweights James DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KOs) and Chris Eubank Jr. (27-2, 21 KOs) battle for the vacant IBO world title. Showtime will televise.

These Brits have no love for each other.

Eubank, 29, is the former IBO super middleweight titlist and wants it back. He was beaten by George Groves a year ago who gives everyone trouble. The son of hard-hitting Chris Eubank Sr. depends heavily on those heavy hands and it gets him into trouble.

DeGale, 33, is a gritty southpaw and former IBF super middleweight titlist who doesn’t punch like Eubank but has that something, something that keeps him in every fight. He surprisingly knocked out Mexico’s Marco Periban who was known for having a rock solid chin. You just never know who can knock out who? But in this fight, we do know they don’t like each other.

“If I’m honest, if his surname was Smith, you wouldn’t know who he was. He’s riding off his dad’s name,” said DeGale. “There are levels in boxing and I’m on a level above him. Come fight night, it’s going to be a schooling. Eubank Jr is gonna get schooled. I’ve dubbed this a ‘retirement’ fight. When he loses, he’s finished, he’s done. This will be his last fight.”

Eubank has heard it all before.

“He knows I’m a livewire and that I’m dangerous; he knows being ill-prepared is dangerous for his health. I don’t think he’s going to put himself in that position,” said Eubank.

On the same fight card shown by Showtime, heavyweight Joe Joyce meets Bermane Stiverne.

Joyce (7-0, 7 KOs) looks like the real deal. Known as the “Juggernaut,” the London heavyweight blew out Joe Hanks at Staples Center on the undercard of the Wilder-Fury match. I expected Hanks and his heavy hands to give Joyce pause, especially if he connected. Well, Hanks connected but then Joyce connected and blew out Hank’s candle. It was impressive.

Stiverne (25-3-1), the former WBC heavyweight world titlist, hasn’t been too impressive lately. In his last fight with Wilder he was blown out in less than one round. He didn’t look like he wanted to be there. Joyce is a serious heavyweight contender and at age 33 knows he doesn’t have much time to prove his worth. Expect an execution.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Continue Reading

Featured Articles

James DeGale vs. Chris Eubank Jr is the Quintessential Crossroads Fight   

Arne K. Lang

Published

on

DeGale vs Eubank

After winning back his IBF 168-pound world title in his rematch with Caleb Truax, James “Chunky” DeGale surrendered the belt rather than honor his mandatory against Jose Uzcategui. This was a smart business decision. More lucrative opportunities awaited him on the domestic front.

There’s no meaningful title at stake when DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KOs) meets Chris Eubank Jr. (25-2, 21 KOs) in a 12-round contest at London’s 02 Arena on Saturday, but this is an important match in the careers of both men as the loser, notes Eubank in a nice metaphor, “will be left in no-man’s land.” A fight between DeGale and Uzcategui (or Uzcategui’s conqueror Caleb Plant) wouldn’t have attracted nearly as much buzz.

The winner may go on to fight Liverpool’s undefeated Callum Smith, the WBA 168-pound champion, or Hatfield’s undefeated Billy Joe Saunders who is expected to breeze past Germany’s little known Shefat Isufi in his first go at 168 on April 13 at Wembley with the vacant WBO title at stake. And don’t rule out George Groves, 30, notwithstanding the fact that Groves announced his retirement late last month. Retirements in boxing are notoriously frangible.

DeGale was rooting for Groves to upend Callum Smith when they met on Sept. 28 at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There’s no love lost between DeGale and Eubank, whose social media squabbles date back several years, but DeGale felt a greater enmity toward Groves, a former amateur teammate and rival. Groves nipped DeGale in a terrific fight back in 2011 – Chunky disputed the decision – and it has always grated on him that Groves would go on to rake in substantially more loot as their careers moved forward.

Chris Eubank Jr. would also welcome a rematch with “Saint George” who outpointed him before a packed house at the Manchester Arena in February of last year. And while there was no disputing this decision, Eubank is certain the result would have been different if not for an accidental clash of heads in the third round that left him with blurred vision in his right eye.

Eubank appeared on the Groves-Smith card in Saudi Arabia. He was fed a soft touch in Ireland’s J.J. McDonaugh who could not continue after the third round. Two days later, DeGale, who is advised by Al Haymon, had his potboiler. He stopped no-hoper Fidel Munoz in the third round of a fight buried on a show in Ontario, CA. It was important for him to take out Munoz early as each of his six previous fights had gone to the scorecards.

If the odds hold up, Eubank (whose career has been less impacted by injuries) will go to post a small favorite, this despite the fact that Chunky is a former Olympic gold medalist and two-time world title holder and Eubank has come up short in his two biggest fights, losing to Groves and the aforementioned Billy Joe Saunders who was awarded a split decision when they met in November of 2014. Eubank started slow in that fight and it cost him. Saunders is a southpaw, as is DeGale.

James DeGale doesn’t have a fan-friendly style, but based on the odds this should be a competitive and entertaining fight. And it is pinned to an interesting undercard.

Selby-Douglas

The chief supporting bout is a 12-round affair pitting Lee Selby (26-2, 9 KOs) against Omar Douglas (19-2, 13 KOs). Selby is a former IBF featherweight champion who came a cropper in his fifth defense, losing a split decision to Josh Warrington. This will be his first fight at 130 pounds. Douglas, from Wilmington, Delaware, was a five time Pennsylvania Golden Gloves champion. He has won two straight after suffering back-to-back defeats to Javier Fortuna and Edner Cherry.

Selby, whose younger brother Andrew is rated #1 at flyweight by the WBC, aspires to become the first fighter from Wales to win world titles in two weight divisions. If he gets past Douglas, he may secure a date with WBA title-holder Andrew Cancio, boxing’s newest Cinderella Man.

Joyce-Stiverne

More compelling than the Selby-Douglas match is the contest between heavyweights Joe Joyce (7-0) and Bermane Stiverne (25-3-1).

As a pro, Joyce has answered the bell for only 19 rounds, but the 33-year-old Englishman, who is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent, is far more experienced than his record suggests. He was 12-1 in the World Series of Boxing where all bouts are scheduled for five rounds. His lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk. In his final amateur fight he lost a controversial split decision to Tony Yoka in the gold medal round of the 2016 Olympics.

Joyce has been training in Big Bear, California, under the tutelage of Abel Sanchez. Customarily carrying about 260 pounds on his six-foot-six frame, he should have little difficulty turning away Stiverne who is now 40 years old and has had only one fight in the last 39 months. But Stiverne briefly held the WBC version of the world heavyweight title and that makes him far and away Joe Joyce’s most notable opponent to this date and theoretically a good measuring rod as to whether Joyce can stay on the fast track or perhaps needs to slow down his mad rush to a world title fight.

Joyce vs. Stiverne and Selby vs. Douglas will appear on the TV portion of the DeGale-Eubank card. The fights will air live on Showtime in the U.S. (the telecast begins at 3:45 p.m. ET) and on ITV Box Office in the UK.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

Continue Reading

Featured Articles

Don’t Be Blue! The Met Philly is a Great Fight Town’s New (Yet Old) Boxing Venue

Bernard Fernandez

Published

on

boxing Met Philly

Bernard Hopkins, the renowned former middleweight and light heavyweight champion from Philadelphia, once explained his compulsion for adding layers to his boxing legacy by noting that “history is forever.”

Well, sometimes it is. But history, while seldom if ever completely vanishing, can fade with the passage of time. Which is not to say adjustments to what once was can’t be made; in a remarkable trade-off, one chapter in the regal boxing history of B-Hop’s hometown is permanently slamming shut while another just a few blocks away on North Broad Street is about to be rewritten for a new generation and possibly succeeding ones. It is as if Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of physics – “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – is being played out in real life.

Goodbye forever, iconic fight club Blue Horizon. Hello, Metropolitan Opera House, or as it is now known, The Met Philadelphia, again pristine and gorgeous after a $56 million transformation over the past 18 months. The first of what is being promised as regularly scheduled boxing events at The Met takes place this Saturday night with an 11-bout card, the headliner an eight-rounder pitting undefeated local prospects Jeremy Cuevas (11-0, 8 KOs) against Steven Ortiz (9-0, 3 KOs), for the vacant Pennsylvania lightweight championship. It is a nostalgic nod toward the neighborhood turf wars that once fed the city’s reputation as an incubator of hard-as-nails fighters who made their bones by slugging it out with one another.

Other matchups of interest have Samuel Teah (15-2-1, 7 KOs), of Northeast Philly by way of his native Liberia, going against Tre’Sean Wiggins (10-4-1, 6 KOs), of Johnstown, Pa., in an eight-rounder for the vacant Pennsylvania junior welterweight belt; welterweight Malik Hawkins (13-0, 9 KOs), of Baltimore, swapping punches with Gledwin Ortiz (6-2, 5 KOs), of the Bronx, N.Y., in an eight-rounder, and junior welter Branden Pizarro (13-1, 6 KOs), of the Juniata Park section of Philly, taking on Zack Ramsey (8-5, 4 KOs), of Springfield, Mass., in a six-rounder.

“The place is definitely beautiful. Breathtaking,” Cuevas, 23, a North Philadelphia native now residing in South Philly, said after a tour of The Met on Tuesday. “Who wouldn’t want to fight in such a beautiful venue in his hometown? I’ve always wanted to be involved in something like this, and now I’m here. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. But I have to win. Do that and what’s already a special occasion becomes a little more so.

“The hype is astounding, as it should be. I have a chance to help bring it all back to Philly, and to do it in style.”

Manny Rivera, president of Philadelphia-based Hard Hitting Promotions, is excited about the prospect of a long and mutually beneficial partnership with Live Nation Philadelphia, a company whose primary business is concert promotion and whose list of recording artists is topped by popular Philly rapper Meek Mill. Although Saturday’s fight card is the launch of The Met Philly’s reincarnation as a boxing venue, the facility, which first opened in 1908 and hosted boxing events from 1934 to 1954, has been operational since Dec. 3, when 77-year-old folk-rock legend Bob Dylan prophetically ushered in a new yet somehow familiar era by performing many of his hits that dated back to the 1960s, as did the majority of his audience.

Maybe what goes around really does come back around again, if someone with the will and the finances is determined to make it so.

Rivera said Hard Hitting Promotions expects to stage six fight cards at The Met in 2019, the next on a yet-unspecified date in April, “and go on from there,” adding layers onto the next-phase legacy of an again-grand facility that had fallen into disrepair and might have been marked for demolition were it not been for the intervention of Geoff Gordon, regional president of Live Nation Philadelphia, who saw the potential of the crumbling old palace and was willing to back his vision of a glorious future with a massive financial infusion.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for boxing and we have a wonderful spot to watch competitive boxing on North Broad Street,” Gordon said of the restored, multi-purpose Met, whose 858 North Broad Street address is just five blocks below the site once occupied by the Blue Horizon at the 1314-16 North Broad. But the Blue Horizon (as it had been known since 1961, so dubbed by fight promoter and then-owner Jimmy Toppi), which was constructed in 1865, hadn’t staged a fight card since June 4,  2010,  when featherweight Coy Evans scored a six-round unanimous decision over Barbaro Zepeda in the main event. Almost immediately thereafter, Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspection again cited the Blue for electrical code violations, among other things, and co-owners Vernoca Michael and Carol Ray, unable to pay for necessary repairs and mounting tax bills, were obliged to shutter the building until the debt rose to a point where they had no alternative but to sell.

Historical preservationists – hey, it’s Philadelphia, where tens of thousands of tourists come annually to check out Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other 18th-century monuments to a significant period in America’s past – argued that it was imperative to prevent the Blue Horizon from decaying to the point where it might be unsalvageable. Boxing aficionados were also at the forefront of the ultimately failed crusade, noting that The Ring magazine had declared the 1,346-seat Blue as the very best place in the world to watch boxing, while an article in Sports Illustrated contended it was the “last great boxing venue in the country.” But those tributes were ultimately negated by pragmatic politicians who argued that while the Blue was indeed historic, it wasn’t “historic enough” for another governmental bailout after the facility had received a $1 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as a $1 million low-cost loan from the Delaware River Port Authority.

Although Michael and Ray, African-American women who had quit their jobs and gone $500,000 into debt to purchase the building, used the funds to make several cosmetic touch-ups, Michael complained that the Blue was “in continual need of repair” and they would require another $5 million in grants or private contributions to make enough renovations to bring it up to code. The people controlling the purse strings in Philly and Harrisburg said thanks but no thanks, which is why the Marriott hotel chain is sinking more than $25 million into the former Blue Horizon site, which is being transformed into a 140-room micro-hotel as part of the chain’s new Moxy brand, which a press release promises will “bring a lifestyle experience to a new level.”

Maybe that indeed will be the case, but you have to wonder if the ghosts of Bennie Briscoe, Matthew Saad Muhammad and other beloved and departed Philly fighters who learned to ply their brutal trade at the Blue will wander the corridors of the Moxy like restless spirits on an endless flight.

The Met Philadelphia – at least in its original incarnation – is in its own way just as rich in boxing history as the Blue Horizon. Built in 1908 by Oscar Hammerstein, it started out as the home of the Philadelphia Opera Company. Toppi, who later owned the Blue Horizon, began staging regular fight cards there in the 1930s, during which time the Cuban great, Kid Gavilan (a record eight appearances), Lew Jenkins, Percy Bassett and George Costner were among the headliners. And, unlike the “not historic enough” (at least in some people’s estimation) Blue, The Met has been certified by the Philadelphia Historic Commission by its listing on both the Pennsylvania State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Perhaps of most significance to fight fans, The Met’s configuration for boxing should make for a rewarding viewing experience. With a seating capacity of 4,000 or so for concerts, 800 floor seats will be removed on boxing nights for placement of the ring, which will be surrounded on three sides by curved rows of seats, all of which will offer splendid sight lines, with additional seating on the elevated stage. Rivera said he anticipates a turnout of 2,500 to 3,000 spectators.

“This building is like the Blue Horizon 5.0,” gushed Rivera, who points out that, unlike the Blue, The Met offers patrons multiple and modern concession stands and rest rooms.

All that remains is for The Met to live up to its obvious potential as a fight site that fans will want to keep returning to, which has not been the case with several one-and-done venues that were tried out as replacement or augmentary alternatives to the Blue.  Other Philly boxing sites that were more than suitable for the purpose and for a time found their niche were allowed to slip away for whatever reason, victims by turn of progress or abandonment.

So say goodbye not only to the Blue, but to Sesquicentennial/Municipal Stadium, site of the first Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney heavyweight title bout on Sept. 23, 1926, which drew a crowd of 120,757, and Rocky Marciano’s dethronement of heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott on Sept. 23, 1952 (attendance: 40,379), and to the Spectrum, home to so many well-attended fights in the 1970s, which was demolished from Nov. 2010 to May 2011. Say goodbye also to Convention Hall, the Pennsylvania Hall at the Civic Center (demolished in 2005), the Cambria (affectionately known as the “Bucket of Blood,” closed in 1963); the Arena in West Philly, the Hotel Philadelphia in Center City, the Alhambra, Olympia, Broadway Athletic Club and National Athletic Club (all in South Philly) and Eli’s Pier 34 along the Delaware River waterfront. Less-entrenched in Philly’s boxing culture, in some cases still standing but seldom if ever still utilized as boxing venues, are Poor Henry’s Brewery in Northern Liberties, the National Guard Armory in Northeast Philly, Woodhaven Centre, Felton Supper Club, Wagner’s Ballroom and the University of the Arts.

It should be pointed out that The Met is not and will not be the sole destination for boxing in Philadelphia moving forward. There is the Liacouras Center on the Temple University campus, which on March 15  will be  the site for an IBF junior lightweight defense by champion Tevin Farmer (28-4-1, 6 KOs), of North Philly, against Ireland’s Jono Carroll (16-0-1, 3 KOs), as well as a women’s lightweight unification matchup of IBF/WBA ruler Katie Taylor (12-0, 5 KOs) of Ireland and WBO titlist Rose Volante (14-0, 8 KOs)) of Brazil. Fifteen days later at the 2300 Arena in South Philly, the converted warehouse (capacity: 2,000) which has undergone a number of name changes (among them Viking Hall and the New Alhambra), it’ll be WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk (16-0, 13 KOs), of Ukraine, defending his belt against Doudou Ngumbu (38-8, 14 KOs), of Congo. There also are periodic cards at the SugarHouse Casino, with a nice but small room that can accommodate maybe 1,100 fans.

Hall of Fame promoter J Russell Peltz, who has been staging fight cards in Philadelphia since 1969, is still going strong at 72 and he welcomes the addition of The Met as a local outlet for boxing and hustling promoters, such as Rivera, to provide the sort of competition that can only make for an improved overall product. He got a peek inside The Met during its restoration and said it represents a long step toward a Philly pugilistic rebirth, but it will take more than spiffy new digs to bring the glory days all the way back.

“It’s all good if the fights are good,” said Peltz, who is co-promoting the two world championship cards in March. “If the fights aren’t good, the site won’t matter quite as much. It all depends on the quality of the fights.”

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Continue Reading

Trending