BOXING IN THE BIG APPLE — Residents of New York City, even those who have arrived there from somewhere else, either are born with or soon acquire an attitude of superiority endemic to the five boroughs. They tend to regard inhabitants of such relatively nearby East Coast metropolises as Philadelphia and Boston as veritable rubes from the sticks who are perpetually jealous that their towns aren’t as big or important as the Big Apple. There might even be some justification for that smugness on the part of New Yorkers; like the lyrics to the song New York, New York go, “I want to wake up in a city/That doesn’t sleep/And find I’m king of the hill/Top of the heap.”
That we’re-No. 1-at-everything certainty has long applied to boxing. The biggest and best fights once were tethered to the United States’ most populous and self-aggrandizing urban area. Fighters from all parts of America and around the world spoke dreamily of their desire to make it to Madison Square Garden, in any of its four incarnations, or even to sling punches outdoors in a ballpark, Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds. The most celebrated annual amateur tournament in the country for nearly a century has been the New York Golden Gloves, first held under the auspices of the New York Daily News on March 28, 1927.
The most glorious of New York’s boxing days and nights are distant memories, but the city is staging something of a pugilistic revival with two major fight cards scheduled within a two-week period in March. And if that delightful double-dip doesn’t qualify as a full return to how things used to be, at least it is cause for celebration in a fight town where the sweet science, until recently, was a patient in sports’ intensive care unit and is still nursing something of a hacking cough.
At a Wednesday press conference at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to announce the March 4 welterweight unification matchup of undefeated champions Danny “Swift” Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs), of Philadelphia and Keith “One Time” Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs), of Clearwater, Fla., all of the principals spoke with the requisite enthusiasm. It will be just the second primetime boxing presentation on the CBS Television Network in nearly 40 years.
“Say what you will about what is the cathedral of boxing in the U.S., but I’ll take this building over just about any venue in the world,” said Lou DiBella, president of DiBella Entertainment, the Brooklyn native who is promoting another high-interest event in his beloved hometown.
Added Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment: “This is the best welterweight fight of the year, with two spectacular, undefeated fighters … We expect to host the biggest fight night crowd ever at Barclays Center.”
It will be interesting to see how high the bar is raised by Garcia (the WBC champion) and Thurman (WBA), and whether the big middleweight showdown pitting IBF/WBC/IBO/WBA “super” titlist Gennady Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) and WBA “regular” champ Daniel Jacobs (32-1, 29 KOs) on March 18 at the Garden, which will be televised by HBO Pay Per View, can clear it. But for a magical spring fortnight, New York fight fans who have recently been subsisting on a restricted diet can gorge themselves on a pair of main events that appear to be near-evenly matched and feature in-their-prime standouts with a combined record of 125-1 with 103 knockouts. The Boxing Writers Association of America has taken note, moving its annual awards dinner up to March 16 in New York, its earliest date ever, to capitalize on widening public frenzy for the GGG-Jacobs scrap.
And if all that weren’t enough, observers interested more in the business side of things will want to ascertain which megafight draws the bigger crowd and live gate in the ongoing competition between the current Garden (which opened on Feb. 11, 1968) and Barclays Center (which opened on Sept. 21, 2012). In its own way, the blood duel between the Garden and Barclays is Ali-Frazier, except that the combatants are wearing tailored $2,000 suits instead of boxing trunks.
A peek behind the curtain in this gilded Oz, however, reveals that all is not as well as might appear at first glance. On Aug. 31, the New York State Athletic Commission significantly raised insurance premiums that promoters must pay to put on a show, with minimum coverage skyrocketing from $10,000 to $50,000 for general medical coverage per fighter per card. But the real sticking point was the mandating of a $1 million brain-injury insurance policy for each fighter that might be stricken, which has had the effect of virtually eliminating smaller and mid-level cards from what used to be a crowded boxing calendar. DiBella has a right to revel in a return to the spotlight with Garcia-Thurman, but his popular Broadway Boxing series has been shelved, perhaps permanently, until reductions in the insurance premiums are made. As it is, the Barclays Center is picking up the insurance tab for Garcia-Thurman to alleviate some of the financial burden on Sweet Lou.
But the insurance conundrum is another matter for another day. The once-crumbling, 44-year-old Nassau Coliseum no longer is the home of the NHL’s New York Islanders (they’re settled in at Barclays now), but it is undergoing a facelift and promoter Joe DeGuardia, with a surefire local draw in fast-rising light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr., could install him as the house fighter in the refurbished arena that once played host to heavyweight bouts involving George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Gerry Cooney and Mike Tyson. In the meantime, Garcia-Thurman and Golovkin-Jacobs offer hope that boxing, at least at a high enough level, is still viable in a city that has never settled for much less than the best.
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