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Deontay Wilder is a One-Man Rolling Tide in His Own Right

Bernard Fernandez

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Deontay Wilder

As a first-semester freshman at Shelton Community College in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Deontay Wilder had the same dream that many boys and young men in that state have harbored almost since birth. Tall, lean and athletically gifted, he would earn an associate degree at Shelton CC, then walk on at the University of Alabama where he could imagine himself starring for his beloved Crimson Tide as a wide receiver on the football team or a forward on the basketball squad. Maybe, he dared to believe, he could play and excel in both sports en route to being awarded the college degree his mother fervently hoped would be her son’s ticket to a better life.

But destiny had other plans for Wilder. His infant daughter, Naieya, was diagnosed with spina bifida, a congenital condition that affects the spine and usually is apparent at birth. Raised to believe that a real man is responsible for taking care of his children, Wilder dropped out of Shelton and took jobs that paid actual money, if not a whole lot of it, rather than hope to be drafted by the NFL or NBA, a long shot dependent, of course, on his even making one of Alabama’s varsity rosters and doing well enough to draw pro scouts’ attention.

It has been a meandering road for Wilder from former community college student to IHOP waiter to Red Lobster kitchen worker to Olympic bronze medalist in boxing and, since his unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne on Jan. 16, 2015, WBC heavyweight champion. The kid who once fantasized about catching touchdown passes and sinking jump shots in the cauldron of Southeastern Conference competition is now 33 years old, a multimillionaire and emerging state treasure famous enough to have been asked by Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who has led the powerhouse Tide to five national titles in the last 11 years and is bearing down on a sixth this season with a top-rated, undefeated team, to occasionally deliver motivational speeches to the red-clad players to whose ranks Wilder once hoped to join.

It wouldn’t be all that surprising if Saban again brought Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) — who makes the eighth defense of his WBC title Saturday night against former champ Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles — to give another rah-rah pep talk to the Crimson Tide if they make it to the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif. After all, Wilder has shone on a stage that stretches beyond the boundaries of his state or even his country. It has been said that the heavyweight champion of the world holds the most prestigious title any athlete can have, although the proliferation of sanctioning bodies and multiple claimants to that distinction have diluted its historical importance. But a victory over former lineal champ Fury, and especially if it comes in the form of another exclamation-point knockout, would do much to bolster Wilder’s contention that he truly is the best of the best, the “baddest man on the planet,” and worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with some of the greatest champions and hardest punchers ever to have graced the division.

“Alabama is the national champion,” noted Jay Deas, Wilder’s co-trainer and the man who introduced him to all the possibilities that a foray into boxing might offer someone with his signature skill. “Deontay is a world champion.”

And not just some itinerant holder of an alphabet title whose place in boxing history is written in pencil and not indelible ink. To Wilder’s way of thinking, it is the awesome power he brings to his work – primarily packed in an overhand right that can instantly turn an opponent into a twitching heap of humanity  – that stamps him as a special fighter, worthy of taking his eventual place in the pantheon of such big-man blasters as Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, George Foreman, Rocky Marciano, Earnie Shavers, Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier and Lennox Lewis. Put it this way: Wilder has no intention of letting the outcome of his high-visibility pairing with Fury rest in the hands of the judges.

“I say I’m the best. I say I hit the hardest. I say I’m the baddest man on the planet, and I believe every word that I say,” the confident-to-the-point-of-cockiness Wilder said of the great equalizer he possesses and will neutralize anything Fury might have going for him because, well, when hasn’t it? “I’m all about devastating knockouts. That’s what I do.  (Fury) knows he’s going to get knocked out. So he can whoop and he can holler, he can build himself up. But he’d better meditate on this situation because he’s going to feel pain that he never felt before.”

High-volume knockout heavyweights come in all shapes and sizes, and the power source from which they draw is not always readily evident to the untrained eye. Some fighters have ripped physiques that look more appropriate for contestants in a Mr. Universe contest, but they don’t hit especially hard, the impressively muscled Shavers being a notable exception. Foreman and Liston had thicker bodies and huge fists capable of almost casually dispensing blunt-force trauma. Tyson, Frazier and Marciano were stumpy, short-armed guys who could knock a brick building down with a single shot. And Wilder? Well, he’s 6-foot-7, with a stretched-out weight distribution that suggests an Olympic swimming champion more than a fighter capable of knocking larger men silly. To some – like, for instance, Fury, who at 6-foot-9 and 260 or so pounds is anything but lean – the WBC champ looks almost gaunt.

“How am I going to let this little, skinny spaghetti hoot beat me?” Fury asked, rhetorically.

Wilder doesn’t necessarily dispute the notion that he is pretty much a lightweight for a heavyweight in an era where more and more of the sport’s big boys are beginning to resemble the Alabama defensive ends that he could never have been unless he wolfed down maybe six or seven carb-loaded meals a day. A bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hence his nickname of the “Bronze Bomber,” the closest physical approximation to Wilder might be the welterweight version of Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, who also had a spindly build but a sledgehammer of a right hand.

“I don’t care how big he is,” Wilder said of the taller (by two inches), much heftier Fury. “I done fought big fighters. Everybody I’ve fought has outweighed me. (Actually, it’s only 35 of 40.) But when you possess my kind of power, you don’t worry about a lot of things, man. I got the killer instinct. I got the most feared, the most dangerous killer instinct in the boxing game. It’s natural. It’s born.”

It is axiomatic that big hitters are born, not made, which might not be entirely accurate when you consider that the very young Tommy Hearns, who found his way into the late, great Emanuel Steward’s Kronk Gym in Detroit, didn’t have much pop until he learned some of the finer points of power punching, like hip rotation and turning your fist over at the moment of impact. But Wilder was basically a grown man of 20 when he checked out Deas’ gym in Tuscaloosa and learned, as Deas soon did, that the tall, skinny guy had a gift that might translate into something of value greater than a weekly $400 check from Red Lobster.

After taking a bronze in Beijing as a relative neophyte (he had an OK but hardly extraordinary 30-5 amateur record), the still-learning Wilder turned pro at 23 with a second-round knockout of Ethan Cox on Nov. 15, 2008, in Nashville, Tenn. Wilder weighed a career-low 207¼ pounds for his debut and, in what would become something of an oddity, actually outweighed Cox by 6½ pounds. Over the course of his 10-year pro career, Wilder – who has come in for three fights at a career-high of 229 pounds – has averaged 220.2 pounds per bout to 242.9 for the guys he’s been blasting out, although that gap might not be quite so wide were it not for the two chubbos who made the scales groan at 398 and 352½, respectively, that a still-rough-around-the-edges Wilder got out of there in the first round.

Only one opponent – then-WBC champ Stiverne, whom Wilder dethroned – has gone the distance with the “Bronze Bomber,” but Stiverne was decked three times in losing a one-round quickie on Nov. 4, 2017, meaning that the heavyweight champion with the highest career knockout percentage has kayoed every man he has been paired with as a pro. True, Wilder’s victims haven’t all been top-shelf, but that hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Fury’s scoffing putdown that 35 of Wilder’s 40 victories have come against “total tomato cans who can’t fight back” notwithstanding, Deas correctly points out that Wilder was poised to go to Moscow to fight the very formidable Russian Alexander Povetkin, a bout that went by the wayside when Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance, and he was insistent on proceeding with a twice-postponed matchup with the even more formidable Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz after Ortiz twice tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Wilder, who was in trouble himself in the seventh round, won that slugfest on a 10th-round KO on March 3.

“Deontay and Tyson Fury both let their representatives know this was the fight they wanted, this was the fight the public wanted,” Deas said in holding the bout up as proof that his guy was willing to fight anyone, at any time and any place. “It’s a huge fight between undefeated fighters. Both guys should be commended for stepping up and giving the fans a fight they really want to see.

“But that’s Deontay Wilder. He will be involved in the two biggest heavyweight fights of 2018, having fought Ortiz and Fury. Nobody can match that resume. Joshua fighting (Joseph) Parker and Povetkin just doesn’t stack up. And if – when – Deontay beats Fury, I think he deserves to be recognized as Fighter of the Year.”

It is reasonable to believe Wilder will be one of two finalists for all the Fighter of the Year awards on the strength of wins over Ortiz and Fury, if he survives the upcoming test, arguably the biggest challenge of his career to date. His primary rival as the top fighter of 2018 would be undisputed cruiserweight ruler Oleksandr Usyk, who also has had a very commendable year with victories over quality opponents Mairis Breidis, Murat Gassiev and Tony Bellew.

But, as the recent mid-term U.S. elections should have demonstrated, the only sure thing in boxing, as in politics, is that there are no sure things. It’s wonderful to have confidence in yourself, but Wilder’s pronouncements of virtual invincibility call to mind Mike Tyson’s mistaken belief that he, too, was too good to ever lose to anyone inside a roped-off swatch of canvas. That idea went by the boards, of course, when Tyson was felled by 42-1 longshot Buster Douglas in Tokyo.

Reminded that Fury has always had a difficult style to decipher, Fury said with a vintage Mike Tyson-level of imperiousness, “I will figure him out. I don’t know when it’s coming, but when it does come, it’s good night, baby. I’m a true champion. A true champion knows how to adjust to anybody, any style. Fury has a lot of great attributes, but I’m the best in the world. And I’m going to prove it again. My confidence is over the roof.”

Whoever survives Saturday night’s fight likely moves on to a clear-the-decks showdown with WBA/WBO/IBF heavyweight champ Antony Joshua in 2019. But that won’t just be a fight to determine the best heavyweight of the here and now; to the winner likely goes the opportunity to sit at a table reserved only for the bluest-blooded members of heavyweight royalty. It’s a highly exclusive club, and Wilder is impatient to receive his invitation.

“I’ve worked my ass off to get to this very point in my life,” he said. “And now I’m here.”

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.

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

David A. Avila

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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.

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

Arne K. Lang

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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.

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

Bernard Fernandez

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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.”

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