I recently read in a press release where there were 5000 tickets sold in the first three hours for the Antonio Tarver-Roy Jones rubber match, to be held at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa on October 1. Reportedly 15,000 paying customers were present for the Jeff Lacy-Robin Reid fight, which was held at the same location. All of a sudden it seems the Tampa Bay area is hot for boxing. It wasn’t always that way.
I worked for a promoter in Tampa starting in 1985. During that time there was a terrific attraction developed in the area – John “The Beast” Mugabi. Fans bought tickets for Mugabi’s fights, to be sure, gut instead of using that to develop his entire program of twice monthly fights around it, the promoter – Phil Alessi – found that he could get a lot of people around town to do him favors in exchange for the coveted tickets. Well, when all was said and done, so many tickets were comped that no one wanted to come back and buy tickets if they weren’t on the arm. That kind of killed the fight cards Mugabi DIDN’T appear on.
And the residual effect was felt. In March of 1990 Mugabi defended his WBC 154-pound title at the Sun Dome, in what was Tampa’s first world title fight since 1971 (when Bob Foster fought Ray Anderson in a light heavyweight title bout), and the arena was, well, half filled. Mugabi got knocked out in the first round by Terry Norris, and that was the end of big-time boxing in the area.
Until Jones, and Tarver, and Lacy.
And I’m left wondering what Mugabi – a legitimate star like the aforementioned – could have drawn, given the right fight and the right circumstances.