- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

The first time junior middleweight Jimmy Lange and his manager and father, Johnny, put on a boxing show at Patriot Center in September 2005, I ridiculed the notion that they could attract any kind of crowd in a college arena in Northern Virginia for boxing.

Turns out the joke was on me.

Lange’s show drew more than 5,000 paying fans. That’s a miracle in the boxing business these days. In Las Vegas, they had to give away free tickets to barely draw 9,000 people to a heavyweight championship fight in August.

The Langes did it again in February, and now they are doing it again tonight. Lange, an Arlington native and fan favorite, meets Tommy Witt in a 10-round bout to headline an eight-bout show at Patriot Center.

What the Langes are doing makes you sit up and take notice that maybe something special is happening in suburbia — the evolution of the survival of boxing.

As boxing fades into the background, there has been much debate over what to do to save the sport — fewer titles, fewer weight classes, fewer sanctioning bodies, more competitive fights, and on and on. But the warts in boxing will never go away. They have always been there. It is a hothouse that grows corruption and mismanagement, that’s not going to change.

It’s fighters and fights that may save boxing, but not in places like Las Vegas and New York, in the major arenas. Boxing needs to reinvent itself and go back to its roots — club fights. It’s happening in places like Glen Burnie, Md., where Scott Wagner has built Ballroom Boxing into one of the most entertaining boxing events on the East Coast, and now in Fairfax, where the Langes hope to create their own boxing hotbed, going beyond the success of just the draw that Lange — a white, Irish Catholic fighter right out of central casting (he was one of the stars of the first season of “The Contender”) provides.

“We did a good job of promoting and marketing that first fight,” said Lange, who is 26-3 with 18 knockouts and has a huge following in Northern Virginia. “We want to move up to bigger things, and we have a lot of work to do. You always want to go further. If you sell 5,000, then you want to sell 7,000, and if you sell 7,000, then you want to sell 10,000.

“If it is a Jimmy Lange crowd, that is great, and speaks well of me,” he said. “But let’s hope that the Jimmy Lange crowd will turn into a boxing crowd, because I love boxing and I want it to be big in Virginia, even when I am done. I don’t want this to be a quick hit, let’s make some money and get out. That’s why I want to get young local fighters coming up on these shows, and let’s build a good foundation and make this a hot fight area. It’s never going to be Vegas or New York, but why not be a credible, decent boxing area. This will be our third show and we’re trying to build on it.”

And for now, they have sold their partner, Patriot Center, in this boxing venture — all the more remarkable because, unlike Vegas or Atlantic City fights, there is no site fee for a club boxing show like this. They, with Joe Hensley of Major League Boxing as the promoter, have to pay Patriot Center to use the facility, though how much has not been revealed.

Hensley, who has been promoting fights in the Richmond area and is promoting his first Northern Virginia show, said he has been impressed by what the Langes have done so far.

“Really, what they have been doing is unprecedented in the boxing business today,” he said. “No casino money, no television money, and drawing 5,000 people for their shows. I wanted to be a part of it.”

Barry Geisler, general manager of the arena, said he believed that the facility would lend itself well to boxing, and he hasn’t been disappointed.

“The Patriot Center is a well-situated venue in Northern Virginia, and it has a nice feel to it as far as boxing,” he said. “The seats go up nice and high. It was an opportunity to get those several things to come together. Boxing in this area has traditionally been in Washington, D.C. Jimmy’s fan base is really in Northern Virginia. So it was an opportunity for people in Northern Virginia to stay home and see boxing.

“We were a little skeptical,” Geisler added. “Boxing, unfortunately, for the most part has been a casino sport. It’s been a loss leader for casinos to draw people in, like high rollers. Stand alone arenas have generally been left out of the boxing scene. But because Jimmy has a strong fan base in this area, and the exposure he got from being on the show ‘The Contender,’ we thought there was a good chance we could take a Saturday evening in September, which was our first fight, last September 17, and give it a shot. It worked very nicely. It was a good experience, and why we went for the February fight.

“Our hope is that it is not just a Jimmy Lange following, something to continue on, so that in five years, if Jimmy is no longer fighting, there are still boxing shows at the Patriot Center.” he said.

Still, Lange is the big hometown draw right now, and if they want to build a foundation — and Lange wants to move forward with his career — he needs a win tonight over Witt (20-5, four knockouts). Lange lost his last fight at Patriot Center in February, stopped in the third round by Joey Gilbert. He has been training with former welterweight champion Buddy McGirt in Vero Beach, Fla., but McGirt won’t be in his corner tonight. However, Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee will be part of Lange’s corner.

Also on the show will be well-known Washington super middleweight Purcell “Hard Rock” Miller, facing Larry “The Laser” Marks in an eight-round bout. And while McGirt won’t be at the arena, his old nemesis will be. Former welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker is training Portsmouth junior welterweight Dorin Spivey, who goes up against Roberto Valenzuela.

It’s boxing on Saturday night in Fairfax — “Raging Bull” meets “Desperate Housewives.”

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