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New fans the focus of L.A.’s new monthly club series

14
May

Golden Boy Promotions has announced that it will stage monthly shows at Club Nokia, which is across Nokia Plaza from Nokia Theatre (the large building on the left). Photo courtesy of AEG

When Golden Boy Promotions announced that it was launching a monthly show at Club Nokia in downtown L.A., even the local boxing industry folks who view Oscar De La Hoya’s company as the “evil empire” wished them luck.

The most jaded trainers and managers realize that monthly shows, regardless of who promotes them, are good for everyone involved in the sport.

They keep the fighters, trainers, cut men, officials, and commissioners busy; but most importantly, they help create die-hard fans.

I’m one of them. I was a borderline hardcore fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but I fell in love with boxing once I moved to Los Angeles and began attending club shows.

When it’s competitive, boxing is fun to watch on TV. It’s a thrill to attend a mega boxing event like De La Hoya-Mosley or Pacquiao-Hatton at a big arena or Las Vegas hotel, but there’s something very special about the energy and atmosphere of a club show.

If you haven’t been to one and you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there are regular club shows, do yourself a favor and go. I promise you won’t regret it.

Watching a young Shane Mosley blast out journeyman Raul Hernandez in the second round of his ballroom headliner at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, Calif. in 1995 made me want to leave my comfortable 9-to-5 job and pursue boxing writing as a career.

That’s how contagious the boxing bug can be when you experience it up close in an intimate setting that’s crowded with fans who are just as passionate as you are.

Richard Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, which is presenting the monthly series with AEG — the company that owns Staples Center and the L.A. LIVE complex that houses Club Nokia across the street — says that cultivating new fans is the number one focus of the venture.

The Thursday night series, entitled “Fight Night Club,” will air live on the Versus cable network and streamed live on RingTV.com and Yahoo! Sports beginning on June 11. The shows will reach an audience far beyond the greater L.A. area, but Schaefer maintains that the ticket buyers are the chief concern of the promoters.

“The main goal of this monthly show is to build up a fan base for local fighters,” said Schaefer. “Although we’re proud to have Versus involved, it’s not driven by television at all. The local audience comes first.

“We’re not going to have 10- or 12-round fights in the main event like most televised boxing cards. We’re going with young fighters in four- and six-round bouts. The main event might be eight rounds. We want fast-paced bouts that attract the attention of a younger audience, and we want them to watch the fights in a hip, nightclub, party atmosphere that they’ll want to experience again.”

It’s a noble goal, and a realistic one.

There is no shortage of talented boxers in Southern California. The gyms of the greater Los Angeles area are home to some of the sport’s top prospects.

And there’s plenty of fight fans around. The crowds that have packed Staples Center for major cards in recent years — most notably the record attendance for the Antonio Margarito-Shane Mosley fight in January — suggests that.

What has been missing for most of this decade is a place for local fans to watch L.A.-based up and comers fight on a regular basis.

Most of the young prospects who live and train in the L.A. area fight infrequently — usually out of town on casino undercards — and many are without local fan support apart from their families, gym mates and close friends.

That wasn’t always the case.

Hungry young fighters used to fight every month and they did so in front of local fans in venues that weren’t far from where they lived and trained.

Almost half (19) of the 40 bouts former lightweight contender Rafael Ruelas engaged in before challenging for the IBF title took place at the Country Club in Reseda, Calif., which was near the Van Nuys gym where he trained.

Genaro Hernandez fought at the Marriott Hotel in Irvine, Calif. eight times during his prospect years between 1985 and 1988. As he developed into a junior lightweight contender and titleholder he fought at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., which wasn’t far from the South Central area of L.A. where he grew up. Hernandez fought there 12 times between 1988 and 1994.

When he defended his WBC title against Carlos Hernandez at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, which was adjacent to his gym, the historic downtown Los Angeles arena was packed with fans who had watched him fight at the Marriott and the Forum.

Many of the 9,000 fans who cheered on Ruelas the night he took the title from Freddie Pendleton at the Forum had watched the gangly slugger fight at the Country Club.

Ruelas got up from two first-round knockdowns to outwork and outpoint Pendleton in 1994. Hernandez successfully defended his title against Hernandez in 1997. Then, by the end of the decade, the Forum was out of the boxing business; it was bought by a church in 2000. A church bought the Olympic in 2005.

If “Fight Night Club” is successful — and with affordable tickets ($28 to $65) and sponsors like Quaker State and Vitamin Water supporting the series it should be supporting — the void created by the closing of those two storied venues could be filled.

Young Southern California-based prospects like Santa Ana’s lightweight boxer-puncher Luis Ramos (10-0, five knockouts) and Paramount’s pressure fighting featherweight Charles Huerta (10-0, six KOs) will have the opportunity to build on their already solid local followings.

Schaefer believes that some of the fighters who are developed on the “Fight Night Club” series will advance to bigger local venues, as Ruelas and Hernandez did.

“The goal is for the crowds to grow as the fighters grow,” Schaefer said. “Fighters who show promise and deliver in the ring will advance from Club Nokia, which holds about 2,200, to the Nokia Theater, which seats around 8,000. If they continue to deliver and attract more fans they will graduate to the big arena, Staples Center.

“We want fans to have a vested interest in the fighters. If a particular fighter goes all the way to a title shot at Staples, I want the fans who go to see him say, ‘I remember watching him fight four- and six-rounders at Club Nokia.'”

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

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