Jimmy Burchfield didn’t let 1992 rough start knock him out of promotional arena
It was not Friday the 13th, the day that Jimmy Burchfield did his first pro boxing promotion, at the Rocky Point Palladium, an amusement park in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Oh, but it may as well have been, really, when the businessman who had run a building demolition company, which had been started by his grandpa, then lumber yards, and then an upscale Italian restaurant fought his way through all the snafus that happened before the five-bout card topped by Ray Oliveira, then 13-2, ran its course.
“In those days, Mike,” Burchfield explains to me over the phone, after I’d congratulated him for receiving from the World Boxing Council a belt to spotlight and honor his longevity, perseverance, upbeat attitude and success in the business, “people used brokers to bring in opponents. I was young in the business, and not having the knowledge and the wisdom, I had one broker that brought in six opponents. He was driving from New York, and got in an accident. Four of the fighters went to the hospital.”
He’d been running businesses since he was 20, though, so while some would have gotten a case of the flop sweats, and maybe pulled the plug on the show, or gritted their teeth and been a ‘one and done’ dabbler in the sphere, Burchfield saw his A sides get Ws on Friday, June 12, 1992: Oliveira, a Burchfield staple for many moons, went to 14-2, Art Saribekian won his pro debut and John Andrade rose to 5-0.
“We pulled the show off,” says the promoter, who is a certified local legend and icon in his New England neck of the woods, “end of the day anyone else woulda cancelled the whole show. Ticket sales weren’t good, it was a new venue, we lost $24,850.”
Yes, he recalled the exact number.
I went in on that…You remember the loss, to the penny?
“As a business person, I remember numbers, numbers are very important,” the North Providence, Rhode Island resident Burchfield says, with that accent that I confess I’m fond of.
I grew in Massachusetts, and starting out learning the biz from my end, I went to plenty of Burchfield shows in and around Rhode Island, one state over. So, “the accent” reminds me of that period, from 1995-1999 when I soaked up knowledge, watched, listened, much more than I spoke, and built a base as a journalist. Yeah, it was a different time, newspapers hadn’t started becoming profit centers for private equity firms, or cash-bleeders soon to be shuttered. The Boston Globe had Ron Borges covering boxing and the Boston Herald had George Kimball covering boxing, and looking back, it was more than a bit of a shame that New England as a whole didn’t nurture prize-fighting all that much. Burchfield didn’t have a bounty to work with, because that region is ga-ga over their big four, baseball, hockey, basketball, football, not always in that order, depending on who’s winning more or less. “After the dust settled from that first show, I did think, what the hell am I doing? But I’m not a guy that gives up. I persevered, and so that’s why we are where we are today.”
Burchfield promotes boxing and, because he adapts with the times, and isn’t one of the “old guard” that is a broken record of lamentations, focusing mostly on how things have changed for the worse since the “good old days,” MMA as well. His Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES) is a New England fixture, and I’ve done work on their shows the last few years, when our Facebook Fightnight Live series streamed CES fare. That means that I’ve seen Jimmy in action on fight nights, and talked to him about his guys, like Oliveira, and of course Vinny Paz, who basically pulled the NE boxing sled by himself for a spell in the 90s, and their triumphs and setbacks and future plans.
I meant to ask him if he remembered what card it was when the card gals that had been hired for the CES show freelanced, and took off their bikini tops, while holding up cards which indicated the round to come, but that didn’t come up in this chat.
Jimmy’s tenure wouldn’t have been possible if he didn’t have support staff that bought in. “My wife has allowed me do me do what I do, my wife is old school, Joanne, they just don’t make them like that anymore,” Burchfield says. “I didn’t tell her exactly exactly how much I lost on the first show, no. But she’s always supported me. The restaurant business is seven days a week, all kind of hours, and this business, if I gotta hop on a plane go to Alaska, that’s what gotta do.”
And Joanne stands by, and helps the cause with her loyalty to his mission. I’ve not met her, but I have to imagine that their union has the strength of a bond that it does because Burchfield has a tirelessness about him, as he crusades to push positivity. I didn’t know quite how persistent he is with his messaging, to his eager prospects under the CES promotional umbrella, fighters like 24 year old lightweight Jamaine Ortiz, who stole a good portion of the Nov. 28 Mike Tyson-Roy Jones show when he scored a KO win over Sulaiman Segawa, to his staffers, to anyone in his orbit, until I saw his social media.
He’s so effective, he’s almost propelled me to go out for a run like 20 times.
I joke, but only partly.
Truly, the over 70-something Burchfield does motivate me. His walk matches his talk, he isn’t exhorting people to do as he says, but doesn’t himself do. No BS, I’ve been upping my walking game—ugh, I know, that sounds weak, but I’m in baby steps mode after falling out of a decent fitness routine–and some of the credit for that development for real goes to Burchfield, because his Instagram contains some solid messaging about doing the basics, and not giving up.
In giving the Lifetime Achievment Award, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said, “We are honored to present the WBC Green and Gold belt to ‘Uncle Jimmy,’ as he is a champion of life and has dedicated so many years to change the lives of many fighters through his relentless will to promote our sport. He is an inspiration to many by living a meaningful, successful life.”
Part of my intent with this piece is/was to deconstruct how this Burchfield, who publicist Brighton Bobby Trieger tagged “the hardest working promoter in boxing,” is able to retain this level of energy, and optimism, and see sunshine when there’s no shortage of rain to grouse about.
“Starting out, my kids (James, Joseph and Scott) were a little younger, they all supported me, it was easy on that end,” he explains. “Yes, I had a lot of things I could do to make money, but combat sports are special. OK, it’s a business that kind of draws every kind of con artist, every person who comes in thinks they’re gonna make millions. That makes this harder, but I live by these standards: If you do a deal with me, go to the bank with it, it’s done. I’ve lost out on money that way but I’m gonna live up to the deal. So, that’s ‘old school.’ But this is the 21st century, if you don’t get with the times, you’re gonna get run over. I’ve challenged myself to do that. Who knows what’s gonna happen, in 2025, with how much this business has changed over the years. And with or without TV partners, I’m one of the very few promoters who will turn a fighter pro, and live with them, and grow with them, try to make them champions. And sure, you deal with downsides, but you do get rewarded, as long as you keep your program right, with the fighters, managers, promoters, TV people. Yes, sometimes the rewards come but it takes a little longer than you’d like. You gotta love this business, and your insides gotta be made of cast iron, otherwise you’re not gonna stay in it. This business is based on relationships… take young Jamaine, every promoter in the world went after him, we ended signing him because of relationships. We put some great deals together over the years because of relationships.”
It can be and often is a slower road to “there” when you do it this way. Cutting corners by blowing off your conscience, by choosing to be less choosy with your conduct, that can actually benefit you pretty considerably in a dog eat dog business arena like boxing. Yeah, you can skip the line and get ahead of people who are more so into having some scruples as they try to rise the ranks. Burchfields’ rep, though, is more important to him than making a fast score.
There are boom times and I don’t want to say bust, because Burchfield will soldier on during a dry spell, when he’s had some sort of luck with maybe some prospects that aren’t panning out, and one of his top tier guys takes an L in a higher profile fight. He rode the waves with Vinny Pazienza, and did his first show after Paz got in that car crash and broke his neck. Press still referred to him as a restaurant guy when he worked with Vinny and made him the go to guy at Foxwoods, the casino resort in Connecticut. Post busted neck, the colorful pugilist beat Luis Santana and Brett Lally at the casino, downed Lloyd Honeghan in an impressive outing in AC, and then came back to CT to beat Robbie Sims and Jacques Leblanc, following that with a decision win over Roberto Duran in 1995. Those were boom times, Paz had a magnetic quality, TV liked him, and a Burchfield, who has the ability to mix affably with the fancy types and the rogues, fit in nicely with the combusible athlete. Vinny snagged a date with Roy Jones, built up a crackerjack local rivalry with Dana Rosenblatt, and then played out the string in a way that honored his longevity in the realm and also that he wasn’t a young pup. In March of 2004, Paz fought for the last time and grabbed his 50th win against Tocker Pudwill at Foxwoods.
The savvy promoter had a rising prospect, in Chad Dawson, on the card, as well as a talented female fighter, Jaime Clampitt, because he kept an open mind to what the era gravitated to.
It’s interesting, we are in yet another fork in the road period for the sport. You’ve noticed, probably, that cards are being built around the You Tuber Jake Paul, who fights MMAer Ben Askren on a Triller PPV April 13.
Purists are horrified, while people who better understand the cycles within businesses are less judge-y. Burchfield isn’t in the purist camp, same way 89 year old Bob Arum has tipped his cap to people who are seeking to inject energy into the pugilism space by marketing it differently.
“We have to make more boxing fans,” Burchfield says. “Some of the fighters are a little too much using their social presence but don’t really wanna fight.” That doesn’t describe his kid Ortiz, who works as a union carpenter, then heads to the gym to work his second job, at night. Burchfield sort of specializes in these sorts of guys, who have that work ethic, for their 9-to-5 and also the fight game. You maybe remember Peter Manfredo, who did “The Contender.” Burchfield tells me that Fredo still has that ache to compete, even though he gets up at 4 AM, in his CT home, for construction work in Boston, and even though he works six days a week, still thinks about making that hop back into the ring, for one more run. “The Contender” influenced Burchfield, because he saw how the sport opened up the fanbase. He’d see little girls, ten or so, eager to meet Manfredo, because they’d seen him on Contender, saw the interaction with his wife, how much competing and winning meant to him and his wife and kids. “This is show business, you gotta entertain! You want to give people a good mix, stuff also for the young people, who aren’t purists. So, when the show is over, they say, ‘Those were good fights, and that was an exciting event!” He says that he has the guy who is thinking about coming to his show, OR using the money to pay the gas bill in mind. “And when that guy says, ‘When is the next show,’ then you know you’ve done your job.”
Ortiz right now is at the top of the to do list for CES. “We have helped build him, and I do now how to build world champs,” Burchfield says. “Every fight he takes, it’s a different look, you want every look possible. And now, we’re getting to 50-50 bouts he’s gotta win. He’s got all the tools! When Jamaine steps up to the stage, I want the networks to come to us. He’s not gonna go in as the B side, we’re not in the opponent business. And once he gets to that prominent place, then that helps the rest of the team. Mike, we just signed a 6-0 kid who’s been off for awhile, had some issues, but can be real good.”
Burchfield doesn’t go into any detail, but says he’s been working his ass off to improve his stables’ visibility, and is confident that they’ll be in a position to do shows even more often, which will be seen by more people. Of late, CES boxing has been running on the UFC Fight Pass. “I love the business, I eat and sleep it,” he says, “and for the longest time I haven’t taken a day off, not one day off.”
OK, I had to ask, he wasn’t going to get off the hook, what about that rumble, featuring HIM, that made the papers? We needed to get his true take on what the Providence Journal described thusly in their Feb. 26, 2019 edition: “Boxing Promoter Burchfield accused of climbing into the ring, punching fighter.”
“It was a dirty fight the whole fight,” Burchfield explains, of a contest between his guy Juiseppe Angelo Cusumano, a heavyweight, and Brendan Barrett, at the Twin River Casino on Feb. 23, 2019.
There had been head butts, and the ref trying to gain control. Cusumano laid out Barrett, finally, and the loser didn’t like that the ref pulled the plug right away. He didn’t have his legs under him, but was barking angrily, and walked toward Burchfield, up on the apron as the fight had finished. The promoter had congratulated himself already for de-escalating things, because he grabbed a stool out of the hand of a Cusumano team-member who wanted to crack Barrett with it. “So Barrett comes at me, looking like a pitbull ready to attack, and I’m figuring they’re gonna grab him. But his eyes, he’s ready to attack, he comes at me, that’s when I hit him. And I got arrested. I defend my fighters, that is my style, that’s who I am. But I went through a lot of agony, I had to go to court, I had to plea with the athletic commssion. But yes, every athlete with us is part of my family.”
One plus: son Jimmy Jr is a lawyer, so Burchfield didn’t have to go as deep into his pocket to fight the misdemeanor charge.
I followed up–did his wife give him the business, or what, for stepping over the line into the boxers’ territory? “Oh my god, not only my wife, my grandchildren, too! So many explanations…I ended up in a paddy wagon, in a cell.”
Don’t tell him I said this, but I kind of loved the whole situation. The passion of this guy spilled over, because he gives a shit. The fight was chippy, he was invested in seeing the heavyweight Cusumano get the win, and in the heat of the battle, he got overly exuberant. We should all be so able to mobilize such energy after being in a draining business for almost 30 years. “No, Mike, I’m not proud of that incident, I have to maintain my composure at all times,” Burchfield says. Well, I stand by my take, I’m sort of proud of him for that breach of decorum.
We talk more about the future, then. A fight between Ortiz and Joseph Adorno is being discussed. “I believe this could be a breakthrough fight for Jamaine, he’s all in, it’s a real fight. They have almost identical records. Yes, it’s a 50-50 fight, and if he wins, I think Jamaine belongs in the top ten in all the sanctioning bodies.” He is liking his stable, mostly full of young guns who are still in that prospect growth stage, but could be fast-tracking it a bit to contender-hood, when Burchfield closes some deals that he says will give CES a vaulted boost. “We have some unbelievable kids coming up, they are the future of boxing,” he says. “I could list 15 names, all deserve to be recognized, and all will get their turn. We’ve had highs and lows, and I believe right now we have one of the best stables we’ve ever had in our history. We’re going to have a helluva run! I’ve got the name, I’ve earned the name, the branding of CES has been earned. I’m known, the WBC said, as the the hardest working promoter in the sport, and yes, you don’t come in and play in this sport.” He shed some light on one element of why his passion flames so high. “I don’t have another business that brings me money, so I can’t play around in sports! Cedric Kushner, he was a dear friend, we were at an event, and we said to each other, almost at the same time, we don’t play at this, we work at it. I work at this, 24-7, and yes, my fighters become part of my family, that’s what seperates me from any other promoter.”
I chose this topic, and to give it extra time and attention, because Burchfield has resonated with me in the last year.
I lurk, I see his social media, the calls to stay tough, stay focused, keep fighting, not to let the guard down with the pandemic. Maybe Rhose Island missed an opportunity, to name Burchfield the anti-COVID czar.
“The energy I have, it’s because through this pandemic, we’re gonna come out of it stronger. That positive energy, it goes to my fighters, the trainers, the coaches, and all the people, people who haven’t been able to work, because of shutdowns. You gotta have the champion spirit. When you get kicked down, you gotta get up, don’t stay down for long. Yeah, I think it’s important I have that ‘old school’ mentality, but I’m also intelligent enough to learn about the new technology and what the youger people are into. Like, it used to be in football, they’d gamble on the score. Now it’s what color is the Gatorade in the bath for the winning coach, what color tie will the commentator wear. But yes, respecting older folks is important. I used to tell my kids, respect people older than you, because they’ve got knowledge and wisdom and they’ve earned it.”
I laughed, and said yeah, if I had my way, I’d probably just spend my podcast talking to fight game folks 70 and up. Bob Arum, Larry Merchant, George Foreman, Jim Lampley, etc, and then old souls, like Lou DiBella, and such. That’s where the best stories are to be found, because they’ve stayed in the game decade after decade, while softer souls got drummed out, or tiptoe away, for an easier arena.
When COVID started making the rounds in New England, it forced the cancellation of a CES show to run March 12, 2020. Powers that be had assured Burchfield he’d be able to get the card across the finish line. Fly the people in, the show must go on, officials told the promoter. So, flights were taken. And then the call came, the morning of the fight card at Twin River.
“Out of concern for all, and following the instructions from Governor Gina Raimondo and public health officials in the wake of the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Twin River Casino Hotel has postponed tonight’s scheduled CES Boxing event at the Event Center. The event will be rescheduled at a later date. Tickets purchased in advance for the March 12 event will be valid on the rescheduled date or for another CES Boxing or CES MMA event. For ticket refunds, contact CES Boxing by phone at 401-724-2253 or email at [email protected] “While we acknowledge that the fighters scheduled to compete tonight worked hard for weeks, even months, to prepare for this event, the health and safety of all parties involved is more important,” CES Boxing president Jimmy Burchfield Sr. “This is a unique, unprecedented, situation affecting not only Rhode Island, but the entire world, and we are committed to ensuring the safety of others above all else.”
Care to guess how much money Burchfield lost on that promotion? “I lost $71,000,” he says. “Four times it’s happened to me, cancellations. One time it was the finale of the Contender, because of a blizzard. And so, this time, I figured we’d be able to re-schedule in a short period of time. And we’re still not back in business. But ever since March 2020, we’ve been working!”
That enthusiasm is infectious and welcomed, and why Burchfield can boast some heavy hitter friends. I thought maybe he had a Sinatra story, so I asked for one. “It was in Vegas, roped off area, can’t remember the exact year,” he says. “It’s Frank, Sammy, Dean, the Kennedy brother in law, everyone’s drinking,” he says. Frank could tell by looking at Burchfield, younger Jimmy, that he had a certain cachet, so Frank had the maitre’d tell him to come over. “It was at Caeasars, the whole night I was there, that was before I was involved in boxing. And then another night, at Foxwoods. Frank opened the Fox Theatre, and so there was a VIP area on the 8th floor. Frank walked out of his villa there, just in boxer shorts, holding a Jack Daniels.” And didn’t give a flying f, basically. He did it his way, in his drawers.
I could have poked him, for more greatest hits stories, but during our call, Burchfield took three other calls, and I could hear from the other end, he’s sort of like an unofficial mayor of his region. So, I figured I had enough material, I’d let him go and keep on closing some deals, or helping out the local joint that was having trouble figuring out regulations on their out-door lean-to. Jimmy had recommendations on how to play it, and told the guy he’d check with local authorities to make sure the structure was built so it wouldn’t be in contention to get a fine. So I went into wrap-up mode, and we wished each other well with COVID, and spoke of vaccines and continued vigilance.
“We’re going to come out of this like no one’s ever seen, Mike,” Burchfield says, in closing. “In boxing, in combat sports, I shake hands and it’s a done deal. I never go back on my word, my word is my word, it’s my bond.”