- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

First sign of a poor boxing event: Less than 36 hours beforehand at the so-called press conference, the promoter says:

“We need any help you can give us,” promoter Ron Remus said to Allen Lew, the CEO of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. “If ESPN shows up and we embarrass them by not having a decent crowd, it will be hard to get anyone back here.”

Remus went on to say they drew 18,000 in Auburn Hills, Mich.

“We are in the nation’s capital, and if you can’t pull 5,000 people in for a televised show,” then, that’s no good.

And all this took place before the so-called press conference. The Thursday morning press conference that included one member of the press, as far as I could determine myself. And just one fighter. Not good.

For some odd reason, the sports commission decided to venture back into the boxing ring by putting on the first show in the District since 2003, when it paid Don King a fee to bring a Showtime network event here. And in traditional District government fashion, they did so many things wrong leading up to last night’s ESPN2 show, it was as if they tried to sabotage it.

Boxing is a sport that ESPN the Magazine correctly trumpeted this week as a tough sell in this city. It is flourishing in small pockets in the suburbs, sort of a sports version of community theater. Boxing has played well at Ballroom Boxing at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Md., and the Jimmy Lange cards at Patriot Center in Fairfax.

But here in the District, despite a wealth of boxing talent, it has not played well. Even when King was running his goodwill tour through Washington a number of years ago, while the feds sniffed around him during the International Boxing Federation bribery scandal, they never drew 5,000 paying fans to any of those shows, and they had been well promoted before the events took place.

Last night’s show received as much attention as reunion night in the witness protection program.

Promoters seemed stretched too thin to promote last night’s fight, and perhaps they expected more from the sports commission. They went back and forth with commission officials all week about when to hold a press conference, trying to schedule it so Mayor Adrian Fenty could attend. Finally, Thursday morning, they put together a last-minute effort at RFK Stadium.

According to Tony Robinson, spokesman for the commission, D.C. councilman Kwame Brown was supposed to attend, but as the press conference drew to an end, Robinson said, “I’m not sure what happened to council member Brown.”

There was plenty of blame to share between the promoters and the sports commission for the failure of this event. When asked who was responsible for this mess, commission chairman Matthew Cutts said: “What we are going to do is sit down with everybody involved after this is all done and revisit this. I think it is a little too early to start tying to figure this all out right now. We want to talk to these guys to figure out how things out in the light of day, and then we will be in a position to figure out what we could do next time.”

Then, unbelievably, the ring announcer Nino Bel Buono (I’m not making this up) last night appeared to introduce Brown before the show started, but he was again nowhere in sight.

The only fighter at the press conference was former two-time middleweight champion William Joppy. Now, Joppy is a good local draw, but his fight wasn’t even being televised last night.

The co-featured bouts were scheduled to be Mike Anchondo against Darling Jimenez in a super featherweight match and Vernon Paris facing Alain Hernandez in a junior welterweight match. Now, these fighters may be household names in the Anchondo and Paris households, but nobody has heard of them here. So you might think they would be at the press conference.

As fight preparations were taking place in the Armory early last evening, thousands of fans walked by, oblivious that there was an ESPN fight show going on, as they made their way to RFK Stadium for the Nationals-Mets game, which was another stroke of genius — scheduling a boxing show to compete with a Nationals home game.

Shortly before 8 p.m, Nino Bel Buono declared the start of the evening: “Welcome boxing fans to the D.C. Armory in the national’s capital.”

The 200 or so people in attendance must have appreciated the welcome. When the first televised fight began at 9 p.m., that number had doubled.

Then I am sure the boxing promoters loved when the Nino Bel Buono, who apparently is a promoter as well, praised the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission for working to bring mixed martial arts — one of the nails being driven into boxing’s coffin — to the District (there is a show scheduled at the Armory for May 12).

He called it “one of the greatest and fastest growing sports in the country. The revenue that it brings in is unbelievable.”

He did throw in: “We’ll always love boxing.”

That’s a strange way to show it.

Then Nino Bel Buono begged the crowd to make a lot of noise when the ESPN2 broadcast part of the show started.

“Let’s make it sound like we have 10,000 people here,” he said.

If you had given each fan a megaphone, it still wouldn’t have come close.

No, there was no illusion, sound or sight, that could cover up last night’s embarrassment.

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