If you don’t involve yourself in Philadelphia boxing, then you’ll never find a boxer you’ve heard of fighting at the 1,200-seat Blue Horizon.
The money isn’t there.
Instead, you’ll find two fighters respectfully trying to beat the hell out of each other for a couple hundred bucks. For purists, there simply isn’t any other place like it.
If you’re not interested, you also probably missed last month’s announcement that part-owner Vernoca Michael was looking to sell the famed boxing venue for $6.5 million. But it has sat, as the mansion has sat in the 1300 block of North Broad Street, near Thompson Street, for more than 140 years.
Chances are that Michael was just testing her opportunities. She can’t let the last great vestige of Philadelphia’s boxing prime in the 1960s and 1970s die.
That it has survived, unlike others, is likely why a Sports Illustrated article called the Blue the last great boxing venue in the country and one of the few left in the world. Or maybe it was its atmosphere – a mansion from the 1860s still without air-conditioning – that garnered it enough longstanding praise for The Ring, a magazine that has been the self-proclaimed “Bible of Boxing” since 1922, to call it the best spot to see a boxing match in the entire world.
Michael became the first black female boxing promoter in 1998 and created her boxing promotions company to carry on the legacy of boxing in the venue. A woman. A black woman saved boxing in this town. She wouldn’t leave the Blue in the wrong hands, $6.5 million or not.
There is no questioning Philadelphia’s role in boxing history, having been home to old heads like Jack O’Brien to middleweight Bernard Hopkins to former world heavyweight champions Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier. Blue Horizon itself boasts producing more than 30 world champion boxers and has been seen on most major stations in the world for boxing including USA and ESPN.
But you’ve never heard of it. And no one seems to be buying it.
Bernard Fernandez has covered boxing for the Philadelphia Daily News for more than two decades. All the accolades and legend aside, Fernandez might know why it’s a tough sell.
“They basically have to pack the place,” he said. “No television contracts, no big name fighters on the card.”
There was a time in Philadelphia boxing when the Wachovia Spectrum held heavily promoted fights with television contracts and big sponsors, Fernandez said. Their interests went elsewhere, not wanting to compete with Las Vegas casinos and larger arenas in larger markets. Suddenly, young Philly fighters had to go elsewhere to get paydays worth the beatings.
Which is a shame, considering what Philadelphia has meant to boxing in this world.
“Really, Philadelphia per capita probably churns out more fighters than any other city,” Fernandez said. “If a promoter can say he is a ‘Philadelphia fighter,’ you can expect that guy to be tough as nails, that he can throw a left hook because Philadelphia fighters come out of the womb knowing how to throw a left hook.”
Whether that can continue, Fernandez said, is yet to be determined by anyone.
“If you go to a NASCAR race and the cars go by you at 200 miles per hour, you can feel the power,” Fernandez said. “You can reach out and touch them.”
Doubt lingers on whether that can continue to happen for boxing fans in Philadelphia much longer.
Christopher Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.