- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

Jimmy Lange, with his sunglasses, looked as if he brought a little bit of Hollywood with him from his stint on the boxing show, “The Contender,” to Northern Virginia yesterday at a press conference to announce his next fight.

Promoters better hope he picked up some special effects skills in Tinseltown because they might need some to turn what likely will be thousands of empty seats for that Sept.17 fight into a crowded arena.

Lange, a 29-year-old from Great Falls, is hoping to give boxing a boost in Northern Virginia by headlining the first boxing show at 10,000-seat Patriot Center in Fairfax.

No, Mike Tyson isn’t on the card. Nor are Oscar De La Hoya or Butterbean or any other draw who would lead anyone to believe a crowd will emerge from of a place live boxing pretty much has been nonexistent. Just Lange and a host of local fighters who usually draw crowds at other venues that would be hard-pressed to fill some classrooms at George Mason University.

Lange, with a record of 25-2-1, is a local favorite among fight fans, a charismatic, talented fighter who caught the attention of the creators of the Sylvester Stallone’s boxing show, “The Contender,” and got some nice attention and a pretty nice paycheck — $200,000. His next fight will be some sort of junior middleweight blood feud against a 38-year-old rival named Perry Ballard, who tried to present this fight yesterday at a press conference at Champps in Fairfax as Ali-Frazier reincarnate.

“When you have two fighters who can draw like we can, it can work,” said Ballard, a fighter with a 17-0 record from Martinsburg, W.Va. “As long as people know it, there will be a lot of fans who will come to see us. It could put boxing on the map. We hope to fill the seats. … Bring your family, bring your friends, but leave the kids at home because the blood is going to be flying.”

Leave the kids at home? Heck, they may have to recruit Boy Scout troops to show up for community service. Can they earn boxing badges?

Organizers are hoping to attract George Mason and other college students to the show with a $10 discount. And apparently Moose members as well. “There will be a discount for them, too,” Ballard said.

They had better offer discounts to the Elks, Eagles, Raccoons, Water Buffaloes and any other organizations that identify with the animal kingdom if they want to get any kind of crowd in there.

Live boxing in and around the Washington area has been, for the most part, a small-time affair. Even with national media and a meal ticket like Mike Tyson, promoters still couldn’t fill MCI Center in June, and other fights in the past featuring well known local fighters with legitimate world championships — fighters like Williams Joppy, Sharmba Mitchell and Mark Johnson — couldn’t fill even half of MCI Center or Washington Convention Center.

Let’s face it, this is a club fighting town — and one guy, Scott Wagner in Glen Burnie, Md., has hit upon a formula that works with his Ballroom Boxing shows at Michael’s Eighth Avenue, a banquet hall that regularly draws about 1,300 people who hang from the rafters.

Put that crowd into the Patriot Center and you have an atmosphere with all the intimacy and drama of a women’s college volleyball game — junior varsity.

Yet that is all this scheduled show at Patriot Center is — a club fighting show, even with another local favorite, junior lightweight Lamont “Bay” Pearson from Capitol Heights, fighting against an undetermined opponent. Organizers are promoting the professional debut of a George Mason graduate named Mike Sawyer. That’s a club fight, baby, even if they pretend it is something else because it is on a big stage.

The promoter for this ambitious show is Keystone Boxing and Gene Molovinsky out of Waldorf, Md. He has promoted shows in Washington and Maryland but nothing as big as they hope this is.

“This is the biggest thing I have ever done,” Molovinsky said. “Fortunately, we have some well known names, and with the press and the attention we are getting, getting the word out won’t be a problem. Getting the word out is probably the most important thing in boxing. The tickets are reasonably priced, starting at $30. … You can’t get anything cheaper than that. And it is a terrific venue for boxing because it is a basketball court, so the seats will be perfect viewing for the ring.”

They are a perfect view for basketball as well, but they don’t fill the arena for George Mason games.

Molovinsky said Lange has a chance to be the “Joe Mesi” of Fairfax, referring to the heavyweight contender who became a big draw in his hometown of Buffalo (before being suspended from fighting because of a brain bleed). Well, one difference is that Mesi is a heavyweight, and heavyweights draw. The second is that, well, that was Buffalo. Enough said.

Lange dismissed any fear of failure, though.

“You ain’t going to get nowhere if you play it safe all the time,” he said. “I think that we can build something. He has a lot of fans. I have a lot of fans. We will generate a lot of interest for this fight. We will see what happens. You have to shoot high. You can’t just look to get by all the time. We want to make boxing big, whether it is Virginia, D.C. or Maryland. It may be ambitious, but that is what you are supposed to be doing.”

If Jimmy Lange can put fannies in the seats at Patriot Center, he may be going back to Hollywood because anyone who can get that many people to come out and watch boxing here deserves his own show. Heck, with Sylvester Stallone.

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