The glory days when Philadelphia was one of the reining cities in all of professional boxing are long gone. There will never again be another Big Arena show in Philly as there once was at Convention Hall and the Spectrum. But the intrepid small promoters hang on. It’s a long way to Tipperary, but somehow these stalwarts expect to work their way to the end of the rainbow.
A big step in that direction, at least, will be taken on tonight, Aug. 26, when Hard Hitting Promotions opens the Sugar House Casino to boxing. Many shows in recent years that were advertised as Harrah’s Philadelphia actually took place down river in the city of Chester, so this will be the inaugural of casino boxing in Philly. Who knows? Look what it did for Atlantic City!
A raucous and riotous press conference was held at Local 57 Labor Union Hall and drew nearly a hundred fans, insiders and hangers-on. With ring announcer Pat Michael Fattore at the helm and backed up by PR man Kurt Wolfheimer, plus a live Puerto Rican band, the presser at times generated nearly as much excitement as an actual card. Danny Garcia and Curtis Parker were among the celebrity guests. Comic relief wasn’t lacking either. A heckler quipped of Wolfheimer, “Looks like Brad Pitt without the hairpiece.”
Promoters Will Ruiz and Manny Rivera, veterans of the grass roots local scene, have two six rounders on top. Storied amateur and popular local attraction Milton “El Santo” Santiago, 14-0 (3), makes his first main event appearance, taking on Ken Alvarez of Puerto Rico, 7-4-2 (3). A good technician lacking one-shot power, Santiago had to battle from behind in his last contest to take a close but deserved decision from Osumanu Akaba in Bethlehem. So this contest should be worth watching as a predictor of how far he might go. “I’m just satisfied to get the W,” Milton stoically observed. “If a knockout comes, it comes, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Sharing the spotlight in co-feature sixes will be a potentially excellent pairing between a hot prospect and a grim spoiler, as Luis “Popeye” Lebron, who provided the band, 6-0 (3), may be sorry that he tangled with well-tested Tyrone Luckey of New Jersey, 8-6-3 (5). “Do you get your punching power from spinach?” cracked a heckler. He may need a little extra reserve against Luckey, a difficult spoiler.
Another promising pairing is a heavyweight punch-‘n’-crunch between experienced Pedro Martinez of Philly, 7-9 (3), and Upstate’s willing mixer Lamont Capers, 6-8-2, who is coming off an upset win over Nick Kisner in Atlantic City. Pedro, a construction worker, will be coming in at his heaviest, but promised that daily construction work has kept him in shape. He observed that he helped build the very hall where he will be fighting. If the card’s a success, he will be helping in a new way.
Others appearing on an undercard of promising young talent include Christian Carto, Alex Barbosa, David Murray, Laurie Shiavo, Angel Pizzaro, John Joe Nevin and Ricky Lopez. Carto, a fabled amateur who has generated a lot of local interest, was asked by a reporter about being among an exceptional class of quality local amateurs who will be turning pro now that the Olympics have passed. “There’s no rivalry,” Carto observed. “I just want everybody to do good and see everybody win.” Alex Barbosa, who doubles as a ring announcer but doesn’t expect to announce his own bout, observed of the promoters, “Hard Hitting Promotions really puts on an A+ effort. It’s not too often that you find genuine good guys in boxing, unfortunately.”
Nevin, a two-time Irish Olympian, was asked if he became bored with the level of undercard competition after starring as an amateur. “No, I just enjoy beating up on someone,” he quipped. Commented the popular Pizzaro, “I didn’t have a big amateur career because when I was younger I took a wrong route and I [made] some poor decisions.” Murray, another hopeful without deep amateur experience, expanded on that idea, “It’s kinda like learning on the job. In my mind, it makes me fight harder because I have a lot more to prove. They’re known [the headliners]. I’m not known. I feel like I gotta put on a better show than everybody else.” Shiavo, the only woman boxer present, was asked by a heckler, “How does it feel to be the best looking fighter up there?” “Everybody looks good up here,” she deftly countered.
These affairs typically highlight the prospective winners, with a dutiful nod to the generally absent opponents. But one guy who shows up is W. Virginia’s Marquis Pierce, 1-9. “I’m here to do the same thing I been doing for the longest time, and that’s just continue to fight. I’d rather fight than do anything else. If nothin’ else works for me, I can do that.”