- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Any list of sports franchises in the D.C. area starts with the Redskins and includes other prominent clubs like the Capitals and Nationals. Then there are the not-so-prominent outfits like the Washington Freedom and D.C. Armor.

Somewhere on that list is Jimmy Lange Enterprises.

Lange, an Arlington-based fighter, has become more than just a fan favorite in the local boxing scene. He has become the area’s boxing franchise, reviving a sport that has been on the ropes around the country.

He has done this through an ambitious series of shows at Patriot Center. The latest arrives Saturday night, when Lange (29-3-2, 20 knockouts) faces Frank Houghtaling (19-15-5, four knockouts) for the World Boxing Council U.S. National Boxing Championship super welterweight title, the main event of an eight-fight card.

“I think Jimmy is solely responsible for the resurgence of boxing in Virginia over the past five years,” said Gary “Digital” Williams, a longtime local boxing writer, commentator and blogger. “When I [started] doing my blog in July of 2005, Virginia was a dormant boxing state, especially in Northern Virginia. Jimmy’s shows at the Patriot Center changed all of that.”

This will be Lange’s seventh show at Patriot Center - a huge and unlikely venue for boxing. Most local shows have been held at smaller sites - save for the few Don King shows in the District in the mid-1990s - and have drawn crowds of as many as 1,500.

It seemed destined to fail, but Lange drew 5,000 fans to his first show in Fairfax. The crowds since have been between 2,500 and 5,000 - not nearly filling the arena but dwarfing other area shows.

Barry Geisler, general manager of Patriot Center, said he is pleased with the events.

“We have been thrilled,” he said. “You have a charismatic local fighter who is able to attract large numbers of people to come out to a sport that has been down a little bit.”

“Charismatic” is the key word there. Lange is right out of central casting, a modern-day Jimmy Cagney, a good-looking Irish kid who refers to people as “mister” and is well-connected in the community.

In 2004, that charisma landed Lange on “The Contender,” the reality TV show produced by Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. On the show, Jimmy fought Joey Gilbert and lost but was voted back on as a fan favorite to fight again, and he defeated Tarick Salmaci in May 2005.

Before then, Lange, who made his professional debut in the District in 1998 by stopping Robert Hunt in one round, fought on club show cards in Maryland, the District and Virginia. He had become a local favorite, but the television appearance raised his profile.

“He is also an exciting fighter to watch,” Geisler said. “His bouts are always action-packed. People see that, and they decide to come back for the next fight.”

In September 2005, Lange fought his first match at Patriot Center, stopping Perry Ballard in four rounds.

“My popularity was as high as it had been to that point, so it made sense to try to build something there,” Lange said. “And we are doing that. It has grown. I am the hometown fighter. People take pride in that, and I take pride in that.”

Lange sells something else, though, in a sport full of scams and scandals: a perception of genuineness.

“Jimmy is so popular because he connects well with his fans,” Williams said. “He does a lot of things that aren’t publicized that well. He visits schools often and talks to students. He helps raise money for charities. He is a nice man who cares about his community. …

“There are people who will come to Jimmy’s cards not because they are boxing fans but because they are Jimmy Lange fans.”

That is a sports franchise.

Those who come to Lange’s shows see him surrounded by some of the legends of the sport. Former welterweight champion Buddy McGirt, considered one of the best trainers in boxing, has been Lange’s trainer. He is now trained by Don Turner, who has aided Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes. Hall of Fame cornerman Angelo Dundee works for Lange during his fights, and he has one of the best known cut men in the business in Jimmy Glenn.

“In this business, there are a lot of cons,” Lange said. “I am able to show that is not me. This is not a con. People like that.”

Another part of the Jimmy Lange show is Jackie Kallen, the former boxing manager whose life story was made into a film starring Meg Ryan called “Against the Ropes.” Kallen is the promoter of record, but Lange has more of a stake in these shows than being just a fighter on the card.

These are Jimmy Lange Enterprises events.

“Initially we were more visible about it,” said Johnny Lange, the boxer’s father and promoter. “Right now Jackie is the promoter of record. She is our promoter. Jimmy gets a purse, and Jimmy Lange Enterprises consists of other people that get a percentage. It is a family-owned enterprise.”

How close is this sports franchise to winning a world championship? At 33, time is running out for Lange. He wants a shot at the WBC world champion, Vernon Forrest, or one of the other 154-pound champions.

“People have been loyal to me, and I am loyal to them,” Lange said. “Now I want to give them a world championship.”

Plenty of fighters lay claim to some version of a world championship these days.

Fighters who carry the sport - boxing franchises - are harder to come by.

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