For 45 years, HBO and boxing were synonymous with Atlantic City, a reign that ended at 2018’s end when the cable giant decided to pull its pugilistic broadcast run. Though this allows ESPN, Showtime and the livestreaming DAZN network entrée into the AC boxing market and fights at that town’s casinos and Boardwalk Hall, the Jersey shore seems quiet in 2019 when it comes to bouts, big and small.
What this does is allow boxing in Philly a chance to shine again, not only at punch palaces like South Philly’s 2300 Arena where Michelle Rosado’s Raging Babe promotion company held a multi-match showcase last Saturday. But spots new to boxing such as Broad Street’s The Met Philadelphia, and area casinos such as Parx.
Live Nation’s The Met holds its first match in partnership with longtime local boxing impresario Manny Rivera’s Hard Hitting Promotions on Feb. 23 (The Met actually ran regular boxing matches from 1939 to 1954) with undefeated Philly lightweight fighters Jeremy Cuevas (11-0 with 8 knockouts) and Steven Ortiz (9-0 with 3 KOs) at the top of the card. Parx and legendary promoter Joe Hand holds its third boxing match together on March 1 (Xcite Fight Night 3) featuring old-school Philly cruiserweight Garrett Wilson and Brian Howard as the night’s headliner.
Parx’s bonus MMA boxing free-for-all — the Bensalem’s first Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) — is March 2 with heavyweight champion (and one-time Parx security guard) Zu Anyanwu battling Philly police officer Chris Daukau.
Why now is Philly — from The Met to its casinos — using its left hook and its right uppercut again? What happened between 2019 and the close of the Broad Street boxing boite the Blue Horizon, which closed in 2010, and is slated to become a Marriott Hotel?
“Being truthful, the Philadelphia boxing scene turned into an underground boxing scene,” said Rivera, a promoter for 18 years with matches at SugarHouse and The Fillmore under his belt in the recent past. “But it’s been fleeting, without a consistent series to speak of, and something that never really won the attention it deserved — AND NOW on a stage such as The Met, thanks to Live Nation and their love for the sport.” Rivera goes on to enthuse that a platform such as his boxing series at The Met (next fights there, mid-April) gives the sport the cachet to be major again, and powerful, not unlike Dr. Frankenstein watching his monster rage with the aid of electricity. “Philly has seen anything like a series since the heart of boxing, the Blue Horizon, shut down. We’re bringing the heart back to life at The Met.”
Boxing returns to Philly
Marc Oppenheimer, Parx’s Chief Marketing Officer, talks up his Bensalem casino’s relationship to Hand (“everyone recognizes Hand as one of THE preeminent boxing promoters, highly reputable, easy to work with”), and how their previous two fight cards sold out the 1,200 Xcite space with mature and millennial crows. “It’s been a win-win for Hand and Parx,” said Oppenheimer. “We have discussed televised boxing, and wish to move from regional title fights. to national title fights. And our first MMA fight with CFFC and their newly-established relationship to the UFC — Parx would like to be the official home of cage fighting in the area going forward.”
Talking up The Met’s February 23 brawl, Rivera claims his card headliner is old school boxing at its best. “Like in the 1930s and ‘40s, there’s pride in ranking and the art of the game, rather than the boxing of today which is so focused on business,” he said. “You never get two undefeated fighters at the top of their game fighting each other, BUT here at The Met, you will.”
Whether you’re talking about the locals on the Parx card March 1 or The Met’s match on Feb. 23, Rivera puts it all in perspective. “Fighters like this, Cuevas vs. Ortiz, is why Philly is so legendary when it comes to the fight game. No matter what Philly boxer you see, you know you’ll be entertained while seeing two guys giving their all. Doesn’t matter what their record is, they’re heart and soul. And if it’s Philly vs. Philly? Wow. That’s the very best boxing matchmaking you can have.”