|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - March 29, 2014||
Before Steve Cunningham, 26-6, 12 KOs, and Amir Mansour, 20-0, 15 KOs, square off in the biggest in-Philly fight in years, a full slate of undercard boxers will have already done their best to impress the North Philadelphia crowd at the Liacouras Center on Friday, April 4th. It will be the job of these undercard fighters to warm up the crowd and to fill time before the national TV broadcast begins around 10PM.
Opening a fight card before an audience that hasn't completely checked in yet can be a thankless job. But if a fighter does the job right, he doesn't only add another "W" to his blossoming record, he just might attract the attention of the crowd, the TV network, and the promotional powers that be.
Such was the case more than four years ago when boxing last came to the Liacouras Center, primarily a basketball arena on the North Broad Street campus of Temple University. On that night, December 02, 2009, Philly icon Bernard Hopkins was atop the boxing bill.
The fight wasn't one of the multi-champ's legendary title bouts, but rather a glorified sparring session with Enrique Ornelas scheduled for 12-rounds. Still it was big news that Hopkins was fighting before his hometown crowd, the first time he had done so in six years.
As expected, Hopkins won his homecoming that night, and went on to bigger and better fights afterward. All these years later at age 49, Bernard is still going strong.
Although Hopkins did his job that night, the biggest statement of the evening was made by one of the undercard fighters.
In a 10-round junior welterweight preliminary fight, current world champion Danny Garcia won his 15th straight bout as a professional. That night, the rising prospect fought Enrique Colin, a Mexican vet with almost three times as many fights, and a more-than-respectable record of 28-6-2, 24 KOs. In his Philadelphia debut, Garcia scored an indelible second round KO, and set the stage for everything that has come for him since.
That night, Hopkins won the main event, but it was Danny Garcia that everyone was talking about after the evening was over.
That was the night that it became clear that Garcia would indeed become a world champion one day. Three years later he took the WBC crown, and has been collecting important belts and big paydays ever since.
Such will be the goal of every undercard fighter on the bill next Friday night. Although the main event looks like a classic boxer-puncher match-up that could turn out to be a great fight, the prelim guys still have a chance to make their statement.
Two of those fighters are Philly natives Hasan Young and Khalib Whitmore.
Hasan Young, 5-1-1, 2 KOs, is a 23-year 140-pounder, cut from classic Philly fighter cloth. He's an all-action volume puncher who can box and slug, if those are the requirements. Young always makes for a good fight, something that his style - and bloodline - guarantee.
Young is the great grandson of Philly boxing legend Otis Graham, who fought the best, including Joey Giardello, in an 8-year, 79-bout, career as a welterweight and middleweight, between 1945 and 1953.
"He's in the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame," Young said about his famous relative. "My great grandfather, Otis Graham, he was a great fighter. So I know I got great genes as a fighter. He's a guy who never got a fair shake in the sport. I don't think he ever got a fair shake. The system did him bad back in those times."
Graham posted a solid career record of 40-34-5, 17 KOs. It is a resume that looks dreadful to the young generation of boxing fans and fighters who, these days, believe that the only measure of quality is an undefeated record. However, Otis Graham packed a world of experience into his pro run, and proved himself to be an outstanding fighter who could compete in any era of the sport.
A pro since 2012, Hasan Young, now trained by Bozy Ennis, is just starting his time in the professional ranks, but he has the makings of a very good fighter and a true crowd-pleaser.
"I just love boxing," Young said. "If you like good boxing, smart boxing, then support me. There's a lot of good prospects in Philly. Philly has a lot of great talent, and I just want to be in the mix with those guys."
Young has yet to be introduced to the fans outside of the Delaware Valley, but that figures to change before long.
"People on the national scene really don't have no idea (about me)," Young said. "I'm like the sleeper cell in Philly. But when they see me, they are going to see that I know how to fight, and they are going to be in for a good surprise."
Young will see action Friday night in a 6-round bout against Evincii Dixon of Lancaster, PA. Dixon is another of those fighters who is far better than his record indicates. At just 3-4-1, 1 KO, Dixon looks like little more than an opponent for Hasan, but he can fight. Still, Young will be heavily favored in the bout, and probably the undercard's best bet to turn some heads.
"I was born to fight," Young said. "I work hard and I was built to win."
Young will do his best to confirm the point for his hometown crowd and anyone else in Philly for the big fight. April 4th will be his first fight in the City of Brotherly Love, and Young hopes to make it his coming out party.
Another rising fighter scheduled to appear on the supporting bill is colorful light heavyweight Khalib "Bigfoot" Whitmore, 5-0, 4 KOs. The outspoken boxer is a long-time gym rat who finally turned professional last year, just before his 29th birthday.
Whitmore, a member of the Concrete Jungle boxing team, which is headed by his trainer, Brother Naazim Richardson, made a showy splash last June when he turned pro in Valley Forge, PA. That night, Whitmore's loudest message came in the form of his crazy and entertaining ring walk.
Complete with blaring music, Afro wig, sunglasses, gold chain, and dancing chorus section surrounding him, Whitmore shocked the sleepy crowd who were expecting the same old thing at a quiet little boxing show. Bigfoot opened their eyes in an instant.
Whitmore is a fun-loving showman who figures to bring a little show-biz to the Liacouras Center Friday night.
"I put on a show," Whitmore said. "I like to bring that entertainment value to the sport. I like to have those eyes looking (at me), and people saying, who's that?"
With his outrageous ring walks as a trademark, Whitmore pays no mind to those who criticize the 6-foot, 3-inch fighter for being "all show".
"People are either going to love you, or hate you," Whitmore said. "But we're going to do our thing. That's how Bigfoot rules."
The good news is that Whitmore is beginning to prove that when it comes to boxing, he is more than just an entertainer. Since his debut last year, a 4-round points victory over Lamont Capers, Bigfoot has registered four straight knockouts to boost his undefeated record to a nice-looking 5-0.
He's still developing, but Whitmore looks in better condition each time out, and appeared more and more confident with each and every shortened night he logged in the ring.
"He's a throwback," Brother Naazim Richardson said of Whitmore. "He was raised in the gym by some guys like Steve Cunningham, Bernard Hopkins, Yusaf Mack. He's been around these guys all his life. He came up under these guys. So he understands that anything that sells a ticket is a form of entertainment. On April 4th, we going to unleash the Bigfoot."
So far, no opponent has been named for Whitmore. Hopefully he will be matched, and gets the opportunity to bring his show to his hometown crowd.
A total of eight bouts are slated for Friday night's card. In addition to the main event and the Young and Whitmore fights, five other attractions are planned.
Brooklyn middleweight KO sensation Curtis "Showtime" Stevens, 26-4, 19 KOs, faces undefeated Tureano Johnson, 14-0, 10 KOs, of the Bahamas, in the 10-round nationally televised co-feature.
Stevens' fights don't usually last very long. In Johnson, the Brooklyn bomber will have a solid foe. Johnson was a 2008 Olympian, but if he doesn't bring a granite chin into the fight, little else should matter.
Seasoned vet, Edner "Cherry Bomb" Cherry, 31-6-2, 17 KOs, originally from Haiti, meets Nigerian-born Robert Osibe, 14-8-4, 6 KOs, in an 8-round junior lightweight bout. Cherry has been in with some seriously stiff competition, and is favored to defeat his less-experienced foe.
Puerto Rican super middleweight Jose Acevedo, 8-1, 5 KOs, hot off his surprise victory over undefeated Russian hopeful, Ilshat Khusnulgatin, in January, tries to keep the momentum going against Lee Campbell, 6-0, 3 KOs, of North Carolina. The pair will clash in an 8-rounder.
Miami-based Cuban, Sullivan Barrera, looks to extend his undefeated 10-0, 6 KOs record in a 6-round light heavyweight bout with Maryland journeyman, Larry Pryor, 7-5, 4 KOs.
Chicago's Mike Lee, 11-0, 6 KOs, fights Peter Lewison, 6-0, 5 KOs, of the Cayman Islands, in a battle of undefeated prospects. This will be Lee's first fight in Philly, and Lewison's US debut.
The Liacouras Center's doors open at 6PM on Friday. The first live bout is expected to start around 6:30PM, with the TV broadcast of the two 10-rounders scheduled for 10PM.