- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

Nothing goes as planned when it comes to a boxing promotion, even under the best of conditions. And boxing in the District is a far cry from the best of conditions.

So promoters were a little concerned when it was half-past 6 last night and there were few people in the D.C. Armory for yet another stab at professional boxing in the city.

Turns out there was a crowd, but it was outside. The doors were supposed to open at 6 p.m., but the building was locked. The undercard was supposed to start shortly after 6, when workers were still assembling the ring and were a long way from being ready for the first fight.

But PMG Boxing (a group that includes NBA guard Steve Francis), the promoter for last night’s show, already was ahead of the April 27 debacle that was the last ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” show at the Armory. Four weeks ago in this building, there were about 400 people in attendance for the main event, and some of those people were waved in off the street after leaving the Washington Nationals game early next door at RFK Stadium.

There were more people than that waiting outside for the doors to open. And by the time the telecast began at 9 p.m., there actually were people — a promoter reported a crowd of 3,876, but it looked closer to 2,000, still a respectable showing — in the rafters, patient people because only one fight had taken place before the televised portion of the show.

It’s tough to measure the success of boxing in the District. The area has produced some talented fighters who have become world champions — from Sugar Ray Leonard to Simon Brown to Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson — and a number of others who rose to be title holders. But the support has not been there.

The list of failures runs long, from the Riddick Bowe-Jesse Ferguson heavyweight title fight at RFK that didn’t draw enough people to fill the infield to the Don King sympathy-for-the-unindicted-co-conspirator tour at what then was known as MCI Center and Washington Convention Center, with hits and misses in between and since.

But the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, for some reason, seems intent on trying to breathe life into boxing in this city. And though they got off to a horrible start with the April 27 mess, last night was a small step in the right direction. Where it will lead, though, is uncharted territory in this city.

PMG got the word out about this event, which featured two of the District’s rising undefeated stars in Anthony and Lamont Peterson, so it wasn’t a secret like the last show. And it certainly had some star power in the audience, with Francis at ringside sitting next to Floyd Mayweather Jr., fresh off his recent win over Oscar De La Hoya.

Also on hand was D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who presented Mayweather to the crowd. The boxer was mobbed by autographer seekers at ringside.

“They’re showing me a lot of love here,” he said. “Even when I came here for the press conference for the De La Hoya fight, they showed me a lot of love. I want my company, Mayweather Promotions, to bring a fight here.”

Fenty called the effort to revive boxing part of the rejuvenation of sports in this town.

“Look, we didn’t have baseball here for more than 30 years, and look at that now, so I think boxing can work here,” Fenty said. (Got to love how Fenty has embraced baseball now. Don’t remember him singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in those council meetings over the ballpark.)

“There’s a lot of energy for sports in the city.”

He has jumped into this boxing business with both feet and insists he is determined to make it work here in the District.

Said Francis: “This is just a steppingstone, but this event is something we can build on for the future. We are looking to put on a big fight here.”

Good luck.

The Armory is a tough sell. It’s an old building — and a hot one last night.

It has sort of an old school charm, the sort of place you expect to see the ghost of Sugar Ray Robinson in the ring. They could have filmed “Cinderella Man” here. The building is that kind of relic.

The question for this latest group of local promoters is whether boxing here is a relic as well.

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