- - Thursday, April 6, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Boxing is about to take a big step into the ring in the DMV.

Saturday night the MGM National Harbor will host its first fight show, an HBO televised championship card featuring two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko (7-1) defending his World Boxing Organization junior lightweight title against former super featherweight champion Jason Sosa (20-1-4).

This inaugural Top Rank show at The Theater at the MGM National Harbor has been sold out for a month.

The following week, the new casino will host another nationally televised fight card, this one a Showtime event Friday, April 14, featuring undefeated light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol facing Samuel Clarkson.

These are just two of what promises to be the start of prominent boxing shows being featured in the area at a first-class location – and it couldn’t have come at a better time for boxing in the Washington area.

You see, the DMV has become the home of world champions – four of them.

Lamont Peterson (35-3-1), the District native and former 140-pound world champion, has revived his career by moving up in class and defeating David Avanesyan in February to capture the World Boxing Association welterweight championship.

Jarrett Hurd (20-0), out of Accokeek, Md., won a world championship that same month when he knocked out Tony Harrison to win the vacant 154-pound International Boxing Federation belt.

In January, Gervonta Davis (17-0) from Baltimore won the IBF junior lightweight title, knocking out Jose Pedraza in the seventh round.

They joined Washington’s Gary Russell, Jr. (27-1), in the circle of local world champions. Russell won the World Boxing Council featherweight title two years ago with a fourth-round knockout win over Jhonny Gonzalez.

Russell was supposed to headline the first fight at the MGM National Harbor last month, but his opponent, Oscar Escandon, was hurt in training camp, and the fight was postponed.

He will get his chance to fight on the new glitzy stage that promises to raise the profile of boxing here. They all likely will – local world champions at a world championship venue.

“Having the MGM in the area, it makes it seem like we brought Vegas to D.C.,” said Hurd, whose brother Justin will be fighting on the April 14 Showtime card at the casino. “It seems like a great time for boxing in Washington.”

Peterson believes the presence of the MGM will allow more local boxing fans to see their local favorites. “It definitely gives us more opportunities for big fights in the area so fans don’t have to travel so much all the time,” he said.

“We have a lot of young fighters that are about to become top contenders,” Peterson said. “We can probably have five or six world champions here.”

One of those young fighters is District native Mike Reed (21-0). The popular undefeated super lightweight contender, will face Reyes Sanchez on Saturday night’s card, as well as Patrick Harris (10-0) out of Hyattsville, Md., another super lightweight contender, who will be in the ring with Omar Garcia.

The growing list of local world champions is reminiscent of the DMV boxing scene in the 1990s, when there were six world champions – Hall of Fame IBF flyweight champion Mark Johnson, WBA middleweight title holder William Joppy, WBC super lightweight champion Sharmba Mitchell, WBC middleweight champ Keith Holmes, WBC light middleweight title holder Simon Brown and IBF junior middleweight champion Vincent Pettway out of Baltimore.

Add into that contenders like Derrell Coley, who fought Oscar De La Hoya in a headline bout at Madison Square Garden, and other top fighters like 140-pounder Reggie Green and middleweight contender Andrew Council – plus heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe making his home in Fort Washington, Md., and Baltimore’s Hasim Rahman knocking out Lennox Lewis to win the heavyweight title in 2001 (his son, heavyweight Hasim Rahman, Jr., makes his pro debut on the April 14 show at the MGM National Harbor) — and it was the golden age of boxing locally.

The local Washington champions grew up during that golden age, and some of them have connections to those former champions.

“When I was about 5 years old, before I was able to compete in boxing, those guys would tell me I was going to be a world champion at some point,” Russell recalled. “They used to pay me to get in the ring and shadow box before their workouts.”

Peterson remembers seeing them fight on a Don King card (in 1999) at what was then the MCI Center while growing up. “All those guys we watched and looked up to,” he said.

Boxing here is on the verge of another great era, and the gold may be overlooking the Potomac at National Harbor.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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