|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY July 05, 2012||
BOXING SHOW PROVIDES PLATFORM
Most boxing gyms in Philly have a real team-feel to them. This is especially true with the James Shuler Memorial Gym of West Philly, where the fighters and trainers all work together like a big family. To say the least, this group is tight. Whether in the gym or outside it, members of the Shuler team have each other's back. Just go to any show featuring even a single Shuler fighter and you'll see the whole gang there cheering on their teammate. Often they even wear the team colors as an added - and obvious - sign of support.
But fans may be hard pressed to find a Shuler fighter at ringside at the Pennsylvania Convention Center fights on Saturday night. However, that is only due to the fact that the ring will be filled with Shuler boxers, bout after bout, all night long. The packed card is filled mostly with fights that feature pro and amateur boxers from the hard-scrabbled boxing gym known country-wide as one of the best places to go for serious sparring work.
Buster Custus runs the Shuler Gym and trains a number of the fighters there. He is also the promoter for Saturday's show. The promotion game is not something he loves to do. He sees it as a necessity to ensure that his team can get some work in front of their hometown crowd.
"I'm not a magician money-wise, and I don't do the stuff a lot of promoters would do, but I do it for these kids and these guys in the gym," Custus said.
So for the second time this year, Custus has put together a boxing card that gives as many fighters as possible from the Shuler Gym a chance to fight in Philadelphia. The line-up is loaded with "Team Shuler" from the main event down to the show-opening preliminary. Representing the home team are Yusaf Mack, Dhafir Smith, Tim Witherspoon Jr., Eric Hunter, and many others.
"It's a pro show and an amateur show," Custus said. "I really wanted the kids to get a showcase."
The kids Custus is referring to are young amateur fighters like two-time sliver gloves champion Rasheen Brown and recent golden glove standout Tony DuBose, as well as pro debut-ers, Terrelle James, Greg Jackson, and Corley Morley. All will fight before a live audience at the glitzy PA Convention Center at 1101 Arch Street in Center City, Philadelphia. But to be a viable show, Custus knows he must also provide a little star power from the gym.
Filling that role will be two of Shuler's old dogs of the sport, but it will be the first time they fight on the same card together, despite being teammates since their early teen years.
Yusaf Mack fought for the WBC light heavyweight title last summer against Tavoris Cloud. He lost that fight, but rebounded nicely in April with one of his best performances, a USBA title-winning effort against Omar Sheika in Atlantic City. The victory kept him in the hunt for another big fight, proving that the 13-year veteran still has some gas left in his tank.
So Custus called on Yusaf Mack, 30-4-2 (17 KO), one of the current leaders of the Shuler team, to top the show.
Mack will fight Sabou Ballogou, the 8-5 West African southpaw (who now fights out of Paris) who gave undefeated local Derrick Webster such a scare earlier this year. Fighting in the US for the first time in his career, Ballogou dropped Webster and nearly closed the show before losing the decision.
"I seen the dude fight that one time," Mack said while training this week. "I can't pronounce his name, but I'll be ready to put my work in and handle my business. I hope he comes to fight me like he came to fight Derrick."
Mack is hoping that if his opponent comes looking to mix it up, he can score his first knockout since 2009.
"I'm due for a knockout," he said. "I don't take nobody lightly. I'm not looking past him, but I'm looking forward. Hopefully after this fight, I can get another number one spot again, and go from there."
For the 33 year old Mack, time is of the essence.
"I'd like to fight Chad (Dawson), or the winner of Cloud and Pascal," he said.
In Saturday's main supporting bout, the suddenly homebound road warrior Dhafir Smith fights a six round bout against Bobby Jordan of Norfolk, VA. Smith, whose 26-22-7 (4 KO) record belies the skill that he brings into a fight, is another longtime Shuler vet.
Dhafir has made a career of going into his opponents' backyards for away games that have often resulted in hometown decisions for the other guy. But against Jordan, he'll fight locally for the third time in a row. It's been almost ten years since he put three fights together in or around Philly.
"It feels great," Smith said about his recent homecoming tour. "Getting fair decisions. I got two wins in a row. I get this one on the 7th, I feel two or three more and somebody's gonna look at my record and give me a shot... with all this experience I have."
Smith keeps plugging along waiting for another opportunity like his 2010 upset of former champion Jeff Lacy.
"I just want to go down in history as one of the best fighters in Philly, and do what Freddy Pendleton did," Smith said.
Smith may be cut from the same cloth as Pendleton, a journeyman boxer far better than people gave him credit for, who after a lifetime of away games, hard roads, and blown chances, finally won a world title at age 30, lumpy record and all. Smith is 29 years old.
At 8-3-1 (4 KO), Bobby Jordan can't match Smith's experience, but probably has enough to last the six round distance. He went eight with hard-punching Farah Ennis three years ago.
Also fighting a six rounder is Eric "Outlaw" Hunter, the enigmatic boxer who many feel is one of the City's best. Hunter hasn't fought in almost two years citing that a lot of "problems" kept him idle during this and the many other career layoffs he's had. But Hunter is eager to finally prove himself by getting back into the mix of the featherweight division.
"I want to show now that I'ma be busy and want to go to the top," Hunter said. (For the full story of Hunter's return read "Eric Hunter Returns to the Ring".)
Hunter, 15-2 (8 KO), will face Jason Rorie of North Carolina on Saturday. Rorie comes in with just a 6-15-2 (3 KO) record and an 8-bout losing streak (he's just 1-12 in his last 13), but did hold Philly's Coy Evans to a draw early in his career. Hunter will have to look great against Rorie if he wants people to consider him "back".
Coming off an entertaining decision loss in his last bout, Tim Witherspoon Jr. faces Cassius Clay in a four rounder.
"I'm really anxious to get back in there," Witherspoon said. "I'm being smarter now, not thinking that I can just go in there and walk through everyone. Now I'm actually taking my time and preparing properly, coming down here to Shuler's to box more. It should be a good fight for me to get back in the winner's circle."
Other Shuler fighters appearing on the card include Kareem McFarland, who squares off against Saud Clark of the Harrowgate Boxing Club, and Terrelle James who fights for the first time as a professional against Tyrell Boggs. Both of these fights are scheduled for four rounds.
But not just Shuler fighters have a place on this card. Undefeated Kensington heavyweight Joey Dawejko gets a start against Jon Bolden in a six round bout, and undefeated North Philadelphian Tyrone Crawley Jr. fights Berto Manoyak in a scheduled four round welterweight bout.
In all, 12 pro bouts are slated for Saturday's Convention Center card, as well as a few amateur matches thrown in for good measure.
"Having all the top Philly fighters on the same card, at the same time," Dhafir Smith said of the show. "That's a good thing."
"Come the 7th," said Yusaf Mack who fights in Philadelphia for the first time since 2008. "Me and my squad, my crew, my teammates, we gonna put on a good show."
"I know it's a business," said Percy Custus. "But it's more a show for them, the guys from Shulers Gym, more than anything."
"It's family," said Tim Witherspoon Jr. said of the Shuler Gym. "When you come here, you gotta work. And once you work, people embrace you. That's the difference between this gym and other gyms. Here, you put in the effort, and they give you what you deserve."
The first bell rings at 7:00 PM.