It is essentially a basement. But for the last 38 years, it has been an essential part of boxing. It has been renamed, renovated and ridiculed. Madison Square Garden may always be the Mecca of Boxing, but its basement isn’t too shabby either. Whether you know it as The Felt Forum, The Paramount or, now, simply, The Theater, if you are boxing fan you know what we’re talking about.
While all the legends have played the big room upstairs, some pretty big names have also played MSG’s small room.
The Theater cannot compare to the long and illustrious history of The Garden – how many venues can? – but when Ike Quartey meets Vernon Forrest on Saturday it will be another quality night of boxing for the best “small room” in the sport.
The Felt Forum opened in 1968 and was named after MSG CEO Irving Mitchell Felt. The room has continually been a venue at which boxing has been the star. It has hosted world championships fights, the New York Golden Gloves, the 1979 World Cup amateur championships and the finals of the 1998 Goodwill Games. Sugar Ray Leonard fought there as an amateur and future world champions Kevin Kelley, Junior Jones, Hector Camacho and Aaron Davis all turned pro there.
Kelley, Jones, Davis and other champions such as Lonnie Bradley, Lou Del Valle and Zab Judah captured Golden Gloves titles there and in 1995 The Theater hosted the first Golden Gloves championship fight between a pair of women.
George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Pernell Whitaker, Marlon Starling and Alexis Arguello have all fought at the Felt. Buddy McGirt, under contract to MSG for much of his career, went 21-0 at the venue and Juan LaPorte was 17-0.
Here are some classic shows from downstairs at the Garden:
The Felt Forum
Frankie DePaula KO 4 Jimmy McDermott, 9/11/68:3,889 watch light heavyweight contender and area favorite DePaula drop McDermott five times to win the first main event.
George Foreman KO 2 James J. Woody, 4/17/70:3,361 watch future heavyweight champion and Hall-of-Famer improve to 18-0.
Bobby Cassidy W10 Don Fullmer, 4/26/71:Cassidy outboxes Fullmer before 2,919 in a matchup between top-10 middleweight contenders. After the main event, heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, a month removed from beating Muhammad Ali, performs a mini concert in the ring with his band, “The Knockouts.”
Alexis Arguello KO 11 Bazooka Limon, 7/8/79:Future Hall-of-Famer Arguello stops Limon, himself a future champion, via cuts in the 11th round to retain the WBC super featherweight title. It is the Felt Forum’s first title fight.
Mark Breland KO 2 Antonio Ratliff, 3/14/84: It’s the semifinals of the New York Golden Gloves tournament. In his next bout, upstairs at the Garden, Breland makes history by becoming the first man to win five New York Golden Gloves titles.
IranBarkley KO 5 Michael Olajide, 3/6/88: This heavily hyped showdown between New York City middleweights is televised nationally. After the win, Barkley upsets Thomas Hearns in his next bout.
IranBarkley KO 2 Darrin Van Horn 1/10/92:Barkley resurrects his career with a devastating second-round knockout to capture the IBF super middleweight title. Roy Jones Jr. blows out Jorge Vaca on the undercard.
Kevin Kelley W 12 Troy Dorsey, 2/18/92: In a thrilling shootout, future featherweight king Kelley out-slugs former featherweight king with unanimous decision in nationally televised bout. It is reported that Kelley and Dorsey throw 2,806 punches, a Compubox record at the time. Kelley’s averages throwing 127 per round.
Buddy McGirt W12 Genaro Leon, 1/12/93: McGirt, the house favorite at the Paramount, decisions the tough Mexican for the second defense of his WBC welterweight title.
Roy Jones KO 2 Bryant Brannon and Ike Quartey W 12 Oba Carr, 10/4/96: A title fight doubleheader as Jones retains the IBF super middleweight crown and Quartey retains the WBA welterweight title. Zab Judah wins 2nd pro bout on the undercard.
Felix Savon KO 1 DaVarryl Williamson, 7/31/98:The Cuban legend and three-time Olympic champion Savon starches current heavyweight contender Williamson with a single right hand. Savon wins the Goodwill Games gold medal. Also that night, Cuban greats Mario Kindelan and Ariel Hernandez win gold medals. Hernandez squeaks past France’s Jean-Paul Mendy with a 15-14 decision. Mendy is currently 22-0 as a pro.
Shane Mosley KO 6 Antonio Diaz, 11/4/2000:With 5,149 in attendance, it marks the first time the building is soldout for boxing. Mosley retains the WBC welterweight title. Referee Arthur Mercante senior can now boast that he has officiated all three of boxing’s great “Sugars” – Robinson, Leonard and Mosley.
Bernard Hopkins W12 Keith Holmes 4/14/01:The first step in Don King’s middleweight unification tournament and Hopkins’ first step toward Canastota.