A Boxing Pilgrimage

By Leo

Hogan Photos/K2

From PBC on Bounce to HBO’s Big Drama Show at Madison Square Garden

Last weekend brought fight fans upsets and close decisions. Carlos Cuadras did himself no favors to set up a title shot, the perennial pound-for-pound chart-topper was dethroned, and Kazakhstan’s King had his 9 year long stoppage streak broken.

But there was plenty to my trip East that could have made any boxing fan’s itinerary shift one day sooner if they were willing to go just a bit out of their way.

It’s hardly a secret that March Madness was in full swing during the days leading up to Golovkin-Jacobs. My first day in Philadelphia started with a trip out to a local sports bar that Villanova fans had packed to the brim. With not much desire to watch basketball, but every intention of enjoying some local beers, I took a seat.

The crowd waxed and waned as various games ended and began, but was mostly dissipated by the time Nova’s rout of Mt St Mary’s was over. I was still discussing animatedly with my Sunday Puncher colleague Graeme how certain heavyweights could very well make a run at Cruiserweight for the Ali Cup, when a couple of guys sitting nearby were deciding what to order. Graeme recommended the wings (with the excellent house sauce), and to make a long story short, we started chatting and brought the subject around to boxing.

These guys didn’t seem to know much about the sweet science, but one name came to mind with ease: Danny “Swift” Garcia. These casual sports fans had plenty to say on him, his recent bout with Keith Thurman, and what could be next for the local do-right. The conversation veered in and out of boxing and ended in an invite to our scheduled meetup on Saturday before Golovkin-Jacobs before we headed back to the hotel.

The next morning, we met up with another Sunday Puncher teamster, Tom. The plan was to head to Reading, Pennsylvania for the Bounce TV card at the Santander Arena headlined by local big-boy Travis Kauffman.

The trip began with a visit to Danny Garcia’s barber shop. I had fully intended on getting a haircut but the place was pretty busy. The location was…questionable, but the shop itself wasn’t bad. It was pretty typical for a barbershop, you could say, but it was still cool to be in Danny’s shop.

There was more to the Garcia compound, as there was the Swift Store for all your Danny Garcia merchandise needs which was still being built up. In addition, there was Garcia and Sons auto body shop! Danny is becoming a corporate entity; Danny had the premier parking spot in the whole facility to attend to his enterprises.

Getting back on the road, we got to drive through a bit of the North Philly neighborhoods. The action got started early that day as two locals sought pugilistic justice to sort their differences. I didn’t have a dog in the fight, but it ended quickly in a first round TKO. Fundamentals were lacking, as both combatants sought to end the bout early with hay-makers. That was the more exciting part of the journey to Reading until we arrived.

Let me start with a hats off to Marc Abraams, Banner Promotions, and King Promotions: we hadn’t originally planned to attend the event until Tom suggested it. We were intending to get whatever seats were available when we decided to go, but Graeme reached out to Marc and we got set up with press passes for the event. The event overall ran smoothly and cleanly, and press row was set in a spot that gave us an excellent vantage point of the action.

As PBC is wont to do, the card was stacked with regional fighters and despite being in Reading, PA (an hour north of Philly) at a smaller venue, the card and crowd were lively and entertaining; King Promotions and Banner Promotions delivered some fan-friendly and competitive fights, building up regional fighters’ notoriety, and did smart business developing conversation for boxing in places it may not have been.

The Reading crowd was on fire for local boys Travis Kauffman and Kermit Citron (yes, he’s still fighting), and despite Kauffman losing a fun scrap, the fans were gracious and supportive. It was a great event in a town I didn’t hear much about and I’m definitely glad we went.

Saturday morning, the reality hadn’t really sunk in: it’s Golovkin fight day and I’ve got good seats. We drove into New York (thanks, Tom) and caught the subway to Manhattan. Graeme and I stopped in at Jimmy’s Corner before the fight to get a look in. First up before the fight was the meet and greet we set up with fight fans from all over the globe at a German beer hall.

Life as a boxing fan can be pretty lonesome when you’re the only fan in a 100 mile radius. This meetup was sensory overload: a group of 30+ boxing fans all eating and drinking, talking and joking, and generally being glad to have people to really shoot the shit with over nothing but boxing.

Finally, the time came: it was time to head over to Madison Square Garden. The walk over was full of chatter of Gonzalez and Cuadras setting up their rematch, Andy Lee’s return, and how soon Jacobs would ice Golovkin. (joking! joking!)

The arrival was nothing short of awe-inspiring: Kazakhstan flags everywhere, merchandise flying off the shelves, and waves of people making their way to their seats. I got there before the first fights, so I can’t imagine what it was like trying to get in when the televised fights were on!

I was seated in the front row of the upper bowl with a few boxing junkies like myself (shout out to the boys from Toronto, Houston, France). The fights were…well, it’s boxing: Lee was lackluster, Cuadras looked awful, Gonzalez got upset (undeservedly, in my opinion), and Golovkin wasn’t his usual self.

Regardless, it was excellent to have been seated with more passionate fans who knew what they were seeing even if we didn’t agree 100% when it came to style preference.

Outside the venue, I made it a point to engage as many fans as I could to get an idea of how the crowd overall reacted. To my surprise, of the approximately 18 people I spoke to, there were more eyes that saw a Jacobs victory than I expected (shout out to Danny and Monica from LA).

A lot of New York fans gave Jacobs the nod, while most out-of-towners saw a Golovkin victory. Fair play to both camps of fans; boxing is subjective, so I won’t say one side is definitely right or wrong (especially in a close fight). Again, it was great to engage so many people with a passion for this sport.

We had agreed to meet up at Jimmy’s Corner after the fight, so I made my way over after my informal surveys. It was a bit too busy for us to get in, although they did give Jim Lampley the red carpet service when he arrived. After a passing “hello”, he was gone. The doorman made it clear we weren’t getting in that night, so the few of us that wandered back to Jimmy’s headed down the street to an Irish pub.

Inside, we passed the evening talking boxing some more: what’s next for Jacobs, what’s next for Golovkin, where does Gonzalez go from here, the elephant in the room: Canelo-Golovkin, as well as favorite fights and fighters.

Interestingly enough, there was a pair of fellows near our table wearing GGG hats. I asked them who they thought won the fight. They said Golovkin but Jacobs could make a case. I asked about Gonzalez and they shared their thoughts: “it was a close fight, but Gonzalez won”. I brought up Juan Francisco Estrada (personal favorite) as a possibility for the now-beaten Gonzalez and the tangents of possibilities amassed.

What was most interesting to me was something they said just before I headed back to my table: “It’s good to run into other boxing fans who know more than just the big names and can really talk about the sport”.

This, to me, is a common theme I encountered the whole weekend: US boxing fans are out there. We love this re-surging sport for better or worse. To no fault of our own, the US is a large country and that leaves us spread too thin. To anyone who thinks boxing is dead: if you had traveled with me to Philly, Reading, and New York, I could have shown you our mecca packed to the brim with screaming fans from all over the world. I could have shown you an obscure arena in a town you probably never heard of with around 2000 cheering their hometown hero and regional fighters climbing the ladder.

Boxing is alive and well.


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