A Short History of Boxing at the Turning Stone Resort Casino

On Saturday, boxing returns to the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY, when WBO 154-pound champion Sadam Ali defends his belt against undefeated challenger Jaime Munguia. This will mark the 58th live boxing event at the Upstate New York venue which is located about 30 miles east of Syracuse. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the first boxing show, it seems appropriate to look back on the history of boxing at Turning Stone.

Turning Stone Resort Casino in the little town of Verona (population about 6,000) is owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation. It first opened as a casino in 1993 and since has undergone several major expansions to become one of the area’s premier attractions. With the International Boxing Hall of Fame located a short distance away in Canastota, NY, and a passionate local fan base, it was natural for the growing venue to embrace the sport of boxing.

Early Years

The first boxing event took place on Friday June 12th, 1998, in conjunction with Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend. The card was headlined by Hector Camacho who was returning to the ring for the first time since losing to Oscar De La Hoya that past September. Camacho would be victorious in this inaugural card at Turning Stone, stopping veteran journeyman Tommy Small in round six of their scheduled 10-round contest. This would be the first of three appearances for Camacho at Turning Stone.

One month later, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson headlined a card defending his flyweight world title against Luis Rolon. It was not only the first world title fight at Turning Stone, but the first nationally televised event as ABC showed the main event. Johnson outclassed a very tough Rolon in cruising to a wide unanimous decision win.

On October 8th, 1999, Turning Stone hosted a card that made national headlines. The main event featured Donovan “Razor” Ruddock against Jose Ribalta in a heavyweight contest but that was not the bout that everyone was talking about. Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, would make her professional debut on the undercard. With her legendary father sitting ringside, Ali dispatched her opponent April Fowler in 31 seconds in a bout that generated headlines around the world.

ESPN2 would bring its Friday Night Fights series to Turning Stone on March 3rd, 2000, with a card headlined by lightweight title belt holder Paul Spadafora making a defense of his title against Victoriano Sosa. It was supposed to be a showcase for Spadafora but turned into quite a fight. Sosa dropped Spadafora twice in round three and nearly had the champion knocked out. But Spadafora survived the round and put on a strong rally in the second half of the fight to win by unanimous decision.

Ali-Frazier IV

Turning Stone found itself making boxing history on June 8th, 2001, as it hosted the first ever pay-per-view card headlined by women. The aforementioned Laila Ali took on the daughter of Joe Frazier, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, in an event billed as Ali-Frazier IV.

The match was somewhat controversial. Many saw it as a publicity stunt. But it was not a farce, as many feared, and did not set women’s boxing backwards, as some suggested. Ali and Frazier, both undefeated at this young stage in their respective careers, turned out to be evenly matched and put on a good show. Though they certainly lacked some technique, they were not afraid to slug it out in spots and the bout was entertaining. In the end the bout would go the full scheduled eight with Ali being awarded a majority decision victory.

Post Ali-Frazier IV

In the years following the historic fight between Ali and Frazier-Lyde, there was a lull in the action. Yes there was still boxing, but it was more of the club show variety. During this time, some name fighters appeared at Turning Stone looking to revive what was left in their careers including Angel Manfredy, Andrew Golota and Shannon Briggs. On February 24th, 2006, ESPN2’s Friday Night Fight Series would make a return to Turning Stone. However, following this nationally televised event, boxing at Turning Stone would go dark for a period of four years.

Boxing Returns To Turning Stone

On February 26th, 2010, boxing finally returned to Turning Stone with a club level type show. Although this wasn’t a major card, it was yet significant in that Turning Stone was still showing itself to be a player in the sport. And incidentally, one of the undercard bouts on this show featured future women’s star Amanda Serrano who improved to 5-0-1 with a six round unanimous decision over Lucia Larcinese.

There would be two more club level type shows at Turning Stone in 2010. That was followed by another similar type show in 2011 and another in January of 2012. Turning Stone was clearly showing an interest in the sport again but had not yet gotten that big card to come its way. But things would soon change.

Triple G Invades Upstate New York

Entering 2012, middleweight belt holder Gennady Golovkin wanted to fight in the U.S. on U.S. television. HBO expressed an interest after his team informed HBO that he would fight anyone the network wanted. HBO pitched a fight with Dmitry Pirog and Team Golovkin willingly accepted, but Pirog ruptured a disk in his back in training, forcing him out of the fight.

Golovkin vs. Pirog would take place in August, presumably in Nevada. With Pirog out, it was unclear if HBO would keep the card together. But HBO found a replacement for Pirog in European middleweight champion Grzegorz Proksa, pushed the date back to early September, and succeeded in placing it at Turning Stone which was able to accommodate the date.

The U.S. debut for Golovkin was of course a smashing success as he tore apart Proksa in five rounds. Not only did Golovkin announce his formal presence on the big stage this night, but so did Turning Stone. The Golovkin fight was the first HBO card at the Verona casino resort.

More Televised Boxing

It wouldn’t take long for HBO to return to Turning Stone. Later that year, on October 27th, the network televised a tripleheader. The event was headlined by fast rising prospect welterweight prospect Thomas Dulorme against rugged veteran Luis Carlos Abregu. In an exciting fight, Abregu upset Dulorme, stopping him in the seventh round of their scheduled 10-round contest.

ESPN2’s Friday Night Fight Series would return to Turning Stone with a pair of televised shows in January and March of 2013. Showtime would make its debut at Turning Stone in June of 2013 with a broadcast of their ever popular ShoBox series. ESPN2 was back in August and then in November NBC broadcast a card. 2013 was a big year for boxing at Turning Stone and things were just getting started.

In 2014, five nationally televised boxing cards were staged here and there were two more in the first two months of 2015. Though they were good fight cards, none were of the major event variety. But Turning Stone was making it clear to those in the sport that they were interested in big time fights. And as luck would have it, one was about to fall right into their lap.

Matthysse-Provodnikov

A fight between brawlers Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov was a dream matchup for boxing fans. With all parties on board to make it happen, the only item to settle upon was the venue. The promoters preferred to have the fight in the Los Angeles area with the StubHub Center being eyed as the venue. But there were issues getting StubHub booked for the dates that were available for the fight. Other venues were also sought but they also turned out to be unavailable. With the promoters scrambling, Turning Stone stepped up and brought the much anticipated showdown to Upstate New York.

The fight, staged on April 18th, 2015, was contested before a packed house and lived up to all expectations. It was a shootout from the opening bell with both giving and taking a lot of punishment. The bout would go the distance with Matthysse getting the nod by majority decision. To this point, Matthysse-Provodnikov undoubtedly ranks as the biggest fight in the 20 years of boxing at Turning Stone.

Wrap Up

Turning Stone has continued to stay very active in the boxing business. There have been nine more cards since Matthysse-Provodnikov, some of which were very significant events. This included a major heavyweight fight between Luis Ortiz and Bryant Jennings televised by HBO in which Ortiz scored a break out knockout victory. Another significant contest, also televised by HBO, was the March 11th, 2017, bout between David Lemieux and Curtis Stevens. Lemieux scored a devastating one-punch knockout that was an early contender for Knockout of the Year.

In the fall of 2017, Turning Stone announced a partnership with the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Among other things, the new partnership will aim to make Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend in June even bigger with Turning Stone now using their facility to host some events in conjunction with it. This will include a Friday boxing card.

Boxing events at Turning Stone have appeared on a multitude of networks ESPN, ABC, NBC, HBO and Showtime, and the resort is seemingly more committed to boxing today than it has ever been. We should continue to see major cards here for the foreseeable future.

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