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New L.A. club series can follow footsteps of successful Southern California shows

03
Jun

The premiere of “Fight Night Club,” Golden Boy Promotions' ongoing boxing series from Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles, is less than a week away.

The inaugural show, on Thursday, June 11, marks the first time a regular fight card has been presented in the Los Angeles area this decade and with it comes a mix of anticipation and skepticism from the local boxing community.

Some wonder if an ongoing club show can survive and thrive in a market as big and crowded with alternative forms of entertainment as Los Angeles.

The good news is that it has been done for many years by smaller promotional companies in smaller markets in Southern California. And the formula for success is as simple as a one-two combination.

Roy Englebrecht’s “Battle in the Ballroom” series recently celebrated it’s 25th anniversary of packed shows at the Marriott Hotel in Irvine, Calif., which is about 40 miles south of L.A. Since 2000, Thompson Boxing Promotions has put on shows in front of standing-room only crowds at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, Calif., about 40 miles east of L.A.

Englebrecht and Thompson Boxing have slight philosophical differences in their approach to promoting but both companies have built well-attended club series with the same basic principles:

Competitive fights, fun atmospheres and affordable ticket prices.

If those keys to success hold true for L.A., the future of “Fight Night Club” looks good.

The June 11 main event between prospects David Rodela and Juan Garcia is a competitive matchup, as the other four- and six-round bouts on the card appear to be. Club Nokia is a centrally located state-of-the-art venue that was built for lively, but comfortable intimate shows. Tickets start at $28. The most expensive ticket, for the “Mezzanine VIP” area of the club, is only $65.

“Great minds think alike,” Englebrecht said of Golden Boy’s new series. “We pioneered the Thursday night fight series 25 years ago and we haven’t changed the day of the week because it’s perfect for boxing; it doesn’t conflict with other sporting events or other weekend entertainment. Golden Boy’s series should do well. I’ve seen Club Nokia. It’s a ‘Wow’ venue. Very nice. It will be customer friendly.

“The seating arrangement is different from most club shows because you have a theater with most of the seats on one side, so it’s not like a ballroom. We have 1,412 seats and they’re all good. But they will have big video screens on either side of the ring, so I’m sure fans will be able to see the action.”

Having a regular venue to host the fights is just as important as the ring action.

Thompson Boxing, which was established in 2000, averages 10 shows a year, eight of which are held at the Doubletree Hotel.

“Every show at the Doubletree has soldout for the last nine years,” said Alex Camponovo, general manager and matchmaker for the company. “We’ve researched our audience and the areas that we reach and we found that 70 percent are from the Ontario area. The rest are from Los Angeles and Orange County.

“It makes sense. If you look at our fighters, the ones who carry the shows, they are from the Inland Empire (the area surrounding Ontario), which has a incredible amount of boxers. They bring their family and friends to the shows but they gradually build fan followings as they progress.”

Irvine, which is in Orange County, doesn’t have as many boxing gyms or as much local talent as L.A. and the Inland Empire, which is in San Bernardino County, so Englebrecht’s promotions tend to focus more on the live show than on individual fighters.

Englebrecht, who was once part-owner of a minor league baseball team, brings a ballpark atmosphere to the ballroom.

“You don’t have to be a hardcore fight fan to enjoy the atmosphere at the Marriott,” Englebrecht said. “Our regulars bring people who have never seen a live fight before to our shows and they find out that it’s the place to be in Orange County on a Thursday night. They have the time of their life and they go back and tell 10 people at work. We’ve made a lot of fight fans and we do it with the way we present the fights.

“There’s an energy here. We’re like the minor leagues of boxing promotions. In baseball and basketball you have a starting line up. We do the same thing with the fighters. Right at the top of the show we walk out all the fighters of the red corner with a ringcard girl and we introduce them. Then we do the blue corner. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, here’s who’s fighting on tonight’s card!'”

Englebrecht’s cards are geared to bringing the fans closer to the fighters and to the action.

“You have to get the fans involved if you want them to have a good time and if you want them to come back,” Englebrecht said. “We do a knockout contest where a fan who is picked from a drawing gets to sit ringside, right next to a judge. If there is a knockout in that fight, he’s invited into the ring and I pay him $100 in $20 bills. We do that before each fight and they love it.

“Everyone at our shows gets a bout sheet with a coupon attached to it. If they fill out the coupon, and just about everyone does, we have ringcard girls collect them before each fight. I collect the names and emails from those coupons, the data of my best fans, and they have a chance to sit ringside and win $100.”

Most of the fans at Englebrecht’s shows are season ticket holders from local businesses who often buy tickets in bulk to entertain their clients.

Anyone who buys 25 tickets or more gets to accompany the fighters, along with three of their guests, to the ring.

“We call it our 'Inside the Ring promotion,'” Englebrecht said. “Four people walk in with the red corner, four walk in with the blue corner. After the fight, they present the fighter with trophies in the ring. We take their picture and we send it to them. For somebody who’s never been around boxing, you have made fans for life with that experience.”

Longtime fans of the Battle in the Ballroom series, of which Golden Boy has small stake, have not only enjoyed the club atmosphere but have occasionally witnessed a future champ.

“Our fans don’t care about names, they just want to see a good fight,” said Englebrecht. “But we’ve had our share of names come through here. Johnny Tapia’s first seven fights were here. Genaro Hernandez fought here eight times. Shane Mosley fought here. So did Israel Vazquez.

“I think something like 34 current of former world champs have fought at the Irvine Marriott, maybe more. I’ve lost count.”

Camponovo hasn’t lost count of the world-class fighters who have fought on Thompson Boxing cards. That’s because the company is in the business of developing them. So far the shinning star of their program is 140-pound titleholder Timothy Bradley, THE RING’s No. 1-rated junior welterweight.

Yonnhy Perez, a top-rated bantamweight from Colombia who just beat contender Silence Mabuza in a title-elimination bout in South Africa, was also developed on Thompson Boxing’s shows at the Doubletree.

The development of young fighters sets Thompson Boxing apart from Englebrecht’s club series, but it wasn’t always that way.

“In the beginning the goal was just to put on entertaining shows,” said Camponovo, “but then we noticed some of the fighters who had followings had the potential to do more, like Josesito Lopez. He was our first contract fighter. Then Bradley came around. We saw that he was special and signed him after three fights.

“We decided to start signing fighters after we saw how far Chris Arreola progressed. He’s from nearby Riverside, like Lopez, and he used to fight on our shows. But he moved on to bigger and better things and we weren’t able to be a part of it. That opened our eyes to that part of the business and, for me, it gives more meaning to what we do. Yonnhy Perez came to us when he was 6-0, and now he’s at the door of a world title. It’s very satisfying to watch a fighter grow like that.”

Camponovo believes more Thompson Boxing fighters will follow in Bradley and Perez’s footsteps. Featherweight prospect Juan Carlos Burgos (21-0, 15 knockouts), who takes on Vyacheslav Gusev in the main event of their next Doubletree show on June 12, and 140-pound prospect Mauricio Herrera (10-0, 5 KOs), who is also on the card, are well on their way.

“We have also have lightweight Dominic Salcido, he’s coming back in July, Abraham Lopez, an explosive young featherweight out of La Puente, and Danny Hernandez, a lightweight from Southgate who is about to be signed.” he said. “They are the new blood of our series.”

Golden Boy Promotions can introduce new blood to the L.A. fight scene, perhaps for years to come, if it plays its cards right.

“There’s not one certain thing that ensures a successful club series,” Camponovo said. “It’s a combination of things, but it’s pretty simple. Promoters just have to remember to keep simple.

“A nice venue with a good atmosphere and lively music is important. Ticket prices are important. We’ve had the same ticket prices, $30, $45 and $75, since 2000. Fans want value for the money. And, of course, action is important. Knockouts are important.

“You can’t have a good show without competitive matches. We learned to put on good matchups early on. Nobody is going to have an easy fight on our shows, including our fighters. Fans want to see real fights and I have to know if our guys can fight. They have to prove themselves before moving on to the next level.”

Doug Fischer’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected]

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