Is Philly still a fight city?
Tonight from the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, hometown favorite Jesse Hart faces Dashon Johnson for the USBA and NABO super middleweight titles. In many ways, it’s a card with an old-school feel that is being promoted by an old-school promoter, J Russell Peltz. Despite its rich history with the sport, there aren’t all that many cards in this city these days.
The question has to be asked: Is Philly still a fight city?
”No, not like it used to be,” answered Peltz, flatly, adding,”but maybe, maybe if some of these other prima donnas will take the cue from Jesse Hart and do what is best for the sport – not necessarily for each fighter – and that is fight at home, which is what they’re supposed to do.
So you’re saying that Bennie Briscoe is rolling over in his grave with the mentality of this generation of Philly boxers?
“Yeah, I think you could say that,” answered Peltz, chuckling.
When talking about the modern-day prizefighter from the “City of Brotherly Love,” an irked Peltz states, “They treat it as…they don’t get it. They don’t get what made Philly a great fight town. That was Philly versus Philly and they take freaky examples like (Bernard) Hopkins, who never really fought in Philly but made a lot of money, or Danny Garcia, ‘Well, those guys never had to fight those tough fights in Philly.’ Well, it’s good for a handful of guys who might have made it but, for Philly as a fight town, it’s killed it.
“It’s killed it as a place that used to draw people. but you could say that about a lot of towns. The only thing I’m thankful for is that the PBC (Premier Boxing Champions) hasn’t come in here and killed the market by giving away all the tickets – which is what they do wherever they go.”
Peltz, who promoted the heyday of the Spectrum in the ’70s and ’80s said of tonight’s card, “It’s nice to have a show – and I know it’s not a big place – but we’re going to sell out of the standing room before Friday night and so you’re talking 1,300 people. If we had more seats, this could’ve done at least 2,000 and I know that’s not the Spectrum but it’s a start and it’s good vibes. Jesse Hart gets it.”
Hart just happens to be the son of notable Philadelphia middleweight Eugene “Cyclone” Hart. And Peltz believes he can be the foundation of a boxing renaissance in his city, which harkens back to the days of Briscoe, Hart and Willie Monroe.
“There’s two things that have to happen: Jesse has to continue to fight at home. I’m not saying when he fights for a title, if he gets past Johnson and he fights for the title, that that fight has to be at home. But he’s got enough pull with (Top Rank Promotions CEO) Bob (Arum) to have a title defense in Philly and, the other thing is, Jesse has to grow into the kind of fighter those guys were and he’s not quite there yet.”
Top Rank promotes Hart, 19-0 (16), and has contracted Peltz as the local promoter. Peltz believes Hart has the right stuff. “I think he’s got unlimited potential. First of all, he’s got the attitude, which is so important in boxing and he’s overwhelming and sometimes that fact he’s so overwhelming when the fight starts, it can hide a lot of technical errors that he makes during the fight because he swarms guys.”
At this juncture, Hart is far from the most well-known fighter from this city. Putting aside the legendary Bernard Hopkins, Garcia and Julian Williams are higher on the pecking order – both happen to be advised by Al Haymon and under the PBC umbrella. So with what they’ve been earning, is there any real impetus to fight locally?
Peltz isn’t hearing any of that talk.
“Listen, yes, because Haymon is hemorrhaging money wherever he goes. So why not hemorrhage it in Philly and try to establish a fan-base for the future and get out of that attitude that, ‘I don’t care who buys tickets’? Because that’s outrageous not to care about tickets. There’s no successful professional sport in this country in which the fans don’t buy tickets to,” said a chagrined Peltz, who promoted in an era much less reliant on television money and was certainly never supported by a hedge fund.
The last time Garcia fought near the Liberty Bell was 13 fights ago in Oct. of 2010, when he stopped Mike Arnaoutis as a young prospect at the South Philly Arena.
The question has to be asked: Should fighters really care where they fight? And is it their job to be concerned about such issues?
“Why should it be any less of a payday if they fight in Philadelphia?” Peltz shoots back. “I mean, I was at Garcia’s fight in California (at the Staples Center) the Garcia-(Robert) Guerrero fight with Amir Mansour (versus Dominic Breazeale) and that was all papered.”
This is par for the course for the Papered Boxing Champions.
“Julian Williams fought up in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) and what were there, five people in the place? We used to sell out that place with Ronald Cruz. Now nobody goes,” says Peltz. Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, who trains and manages Williams, is a noted historian of the sport. He says he has asked the higher-ups to make a homecoming a priority. “I’ve actually been trying to get (Williams) a fight in Philly. They want to wait for him to win a world title. We’ve already found a venue. That’s why his last two fights have been in Bethlehem.”
Edwards added, “I tried to explain to them that’s not exactly Philly. That’s kinda like if you’re from L.A. and…”
Going to Riverside?
“You got it. It’s close but no cigar,” stated Edwards, who points out, for their last outing a couple of weeks ago against Marcello Matano, “We had a pretty good turnout, which was a Saturday night instead of Tuesday nights that they’ve been doing. I’m trying to push for it. Obviously, I don’t have much control of things but if I got a kid that can win a title, then we can start calling our own shots. But he wants to fight in Philly. I actually met with a couple of guys from Haymon or the PBC, I’m not sure which one it is and they’ve been looking at venues and trying to bring him to one of the universities here. Obviously he has to win a title first. I wish that wasn’t the prerequisite. I wish he could fight here with or without a title fight.”
But is there a market to be had in Philadelphia anymore?
Carl Moretti, vice president of Boxing Operations for Top Rank, states, “There’s a market if you do it right. If it’s guys that aren’t from Philadelphia and you don’t promote the show, there’s not a market anywhere. But if you have good lead time and you have a hometown fighter and some undercard kids that make sense, there’s a market anywhere if it’s done right.”
It seems that, since the Blue Horizon was shut down, cards are few and far between there. Even Peltz doesn’t do a regular rotation of shows these days. Will this be a bigger rebuilding job than that of the 76ers?
“I don’t know if ‘rebuild’ is the right word. I think it just has to be done right as opposed to ‘rebuild’ and there’s a difference. If you do it right for a city with maybe the greatest history for boxing there is, I think it’s more a matter of doing it right, which means the lead time, the right fight, the right pricing, the right fighters. Then you can have something there,” said Moretti.
Back in Dec. of 2014, Top Rank’s prized Puerto Rican prospect, Felix Verdejo played to a full house at the 2300 Arena. This city has a sizable Puerto Rican population from which to draw upon and it’s not inconceivable that he could one day co-headline with Hart and another local boxer with Puerto Rican roots, Jason Sosa.
“Sure, anytime you have a place that has a big Puerto Rico community that Philadelphia now has and you combine it with another local hero, it’s a natural to do that,” says Moretti. “That’s always on our minds for somebody like Verdejo or anybody else.”
So looking ahead a couple of years, and if Hart progresses to a true world-class level and is able to pick up a major title of some sort, where does this go?
Peltz says, “Well, the Wells Fargo Center is out of the question, right now, because that’s 18-20,000 (seats). There’s not a super middleweight that I can think of, offhand, that has any real name value. So your next logical step would be Temple’s old basketball gym (McGonigle Hall) where Bryant Jennings knocked out Bowie Tupou and we can put 5,000 in there. Otherwise, we can go down the street to Temple’s current basketball arena, the Liacouras Center. These are all in North Philly, which is Jesse’s neighborhood, and that would hold about 11,000 for a fight. So those are next in line.”
Peltz, who lauds Brittany Rogers for her work in this promotion, says this has been a fun venture. This was promoting as it was in the old days, when tickets had to sell. Both Rogers and Hart went out into the community to civic organizations, old-age homes and youth places (as Peltz put them) to spread the word. “Doing things haven’t been done in 50 years. Nobody does that anymore; they’re just waiting for the paycheck,” he says.
In many ways, Hart is a throwback.
“He gets it because he’s the son of a guy who was a Philly legend. So he’s probably heard the stories,” said Peltz.
Another way this card is old-school is that it’s not televised, meaning the gate is absolutely important to the bottom line.
“Well, a lot of our shows don’t have TV because we can’t get TV anymore,” said Peltz, laughing. “So we stream it or whatever, sometimes we have it delayed on Comcast. That’s all you can do.”
This card will be streamed on GoFightLive( GFL.tv) via pay-per-view for $14.99. But, in the future, getting television will be vital. “You can’t make money in a city like Philadelphia. There’s too much competition for the sports dollar and you can’t do it,” said Peltz, referring to the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers.
But you can see it now, right Russell? Jesse Hart headlining at Temple!
“Yeah, if I’m even going to be around that long,” replied Peltz, as he only he can.
So do Atlantic City’s recent struggles help Philadelphia, in terms of the boxing business?
“I don’t know,” said Peltz, who did plenty of business there throughout the years. “We did well at Bally’s because the deals we had at Bally were four-wall deals and we sold tickets, so it was like watching Philly fights but you were watching them down the shore. Atlantic City, right now, the hotel deals are so outrageous that, why would you even make a deal down there?
“So does it help us? Yeah, it doesn’t hurt us at all.”
Here’s this week’s edition of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly.
Yes, this is the one-year anniversary of “The 3 Knockdown Rule” with Mario Lopez and Yours Truly.
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Peltz says they will show Hart-Briscoe I on the video screens inside the venue tonight as part of the card…So David Lemieux will face Glen Tapia on the “Khanelo” undercard? That should be fun as long as it lasts…Ms. Rogers’ Twitter handle is @BAMRogers…”Billions” on Showtime is really heating up…Yeah, every year it seems that a 12th seed will upset a 5 seed in the NCAA tourney…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.