|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY January 21, 2009||
CHANGING OF THE GUARD TO BOLSTER BLUE'S HORIZON
Last weekend there was a boxing show at the New Alhambra. It was the first card of 2009 and it seemed fitting that Philly's newest and most promising venue would get the year started. But the card was promoted by Xtreme Sports, not Peltz/Hand. Didn't Peltz and Hand have a boxing exclusive at the South Philly club? The only conclusion that could be drawn was that the recent rumors circulating about a changing of the guard at the New Alhambra were perhaps true.
I made no calls or sent no e-mails in search of the details. Nor did I read the anonymous postings that clutter various message boards on the web. None of that was necessary. I just went to the show Friday night. I went not only to get the local boxing year started, or just to take in the interesting matches scheduled for the evening. I went to the New Alhambra to see for myself if change was in the air.
As usual, I arrived early, easily an hour before the doors even opened. I'm not exactly sure why this is always my pre-fight ritual. Although part of the reason is business, I expect it is really just a quirk of mine. For posterity, it's good to photograph the venue on the day of an event, and important to capture the approach of the crowd and the milling prior to the opening of the doors. I do this because it doesn't appear that many of these type of shots were taken in the past. In my search for good photos of the classic Philly fight venues, I've found that a basic shot of an arena on fight night is as tough to find as an action shot of an obscure preliminary bout - maybe tougher. For what its worth, I have such coverage of the New Alhambra, the Amory and the Blue Horizon taken care of, and look forward to snapping South Philly High next weekend. So I arrived early.
Once inside, it was clear at the very first glance that the footprint of Peltz/Hand Promo-tions was gone. The New Alhambra seemed a little deflated, and the place looked dimmer. The chairs were different and their layout was in expectation of a small crowd. A quick look to the right, coming in the doors, revealed that the splendid vinyl banners depicting 21 of Philly's all-time best fighters, were gone. The void left was a black hole for a history buff like myself. Left behind was a black drape and a few pro wrestling banners. I can't remember the names. Missing were Tyrone Everett, Lew Tendler, Tommy Loughran, Joey Giardello, Bennie Briscoe, Jeff Chandler, Saad Muhammad, Al Ettore, Midget Wolgast, Gus Dorazio, Bob Montgomery, Harold Johnson, Gypsy Joe Harris, George Benton, Benny Bass, Johnny Jadick, Gil Turner, Boogaloo Watts, Len Matthews, Billy Arnold, and Jesse Smith. All them larger than life, both in memory and in vinyl.
Of all the physical changes made to the New Alhambra over the past four or five years - all the paint, the construction of the sky boxes, the old pay-per-view fight posters glued to the cinderblock walls, the large advertising signs, the lighting, the new logo - it was the addition of these boxer banners that really made the atmosphere at this fight club. The 21 old prizefighters loomed over the ring action like the ghosts of boxing past, reminding everyone of the high bar they set in the boxing history annals. They seemed to dare the young fighters - Mike Jones, Teon Kennedy, Dennis Hasson, Latif Mundy, Victor Vasquez, Anthony Flores, and others - to do enough to be mentioned in the same breath as anyone in their club - let alone making it to the wall. Not only did the 21 see every promising win at the venue, they were there for every disappointment. For anyone who knows the history, all of them suffered similar setbacks at some point in their careers. This is a back story for all the fights that happen today. The banners reminded us of all that has happened in the past, and their existence was comforting in many ways.
Now to be fair, the fights Friday night were good, and at the end of the day, that is really what counts. So the New Alhambra will go on and continue to stage fights. The next one is already scheduled for March. But what was being developed by the old guard of Peltz and Hand has ended. In addition, the famous Joe Hand Boxing Gym, now located on the backside of the New Alhambra complex, will find a new home in the coming months. So the relationship apparently broke down over business terms. Depending on who you talk to, I am sure there are differing accounts. But such is the nature of business, and boxing business to boot.
So now what is to come of the Peltz/Hand promotions for 2009?
It was announced just the other day that the pair will stage their upcoming shows at the legendary Blue Horizon in North Philly. An agreement has been reached for six fights over the next year, beginning on March 6th. So J Russell Peltz will again return to his roots for the nth time.
It was at the Blue Horizon that Peltz began his Hall of Fame career in 1969. He ran 32 shows there between 1969 and 1971 before leaving for bigger venues and ultimately to run the Spectrum boxing program beginning in 1973. While still at the Spectrum, Peltz returned to the Blue to set up a virtual minor league for the Spectrum's big shows. After leaving again, mainly to focus on the Atlantic City Casino scene, Peltz returned to the Blue Horizon in 1984 for a long run that included the venue's blossoming on the national scene, thanks to shows broadcast by the USA cable network. He left again, apparently for business reasons, and although he came back for a single night in 2004, he hasn't returned, mainly because of the rise of the New Alhambra. His return this year figures to come at a good time.
Since Peltz/Hand Promotions need a place to run their fights, a return to the Blue will be good for them. The legendary club is ready to go and is well known by boxing fans. Plus it wasn't so long ago that Peltz Boxing regulars were routinely selling out the venue. For the Peltz/Hand stable, Mike Jones, Teon Kennedy, Dennis Hasson, and the rest, this is their opportunity to perform in Philly's most famous arena. So many greats have come through the place since its start in 1961 - almost 350 fight cards featuring thousands of boxers - from champions to obscurities. Many of the stars depicted in the New Alhambra banners actually did battle at the Blue. So the Blue Horizon doesn't need any banners to remind us of Philadelphia's fine ring history. It is history.
For very real prospects and future title threats Mike Jones and Teon Kennedy, after christening the New Alhambra, they now get a chance to ply their considerable skills at the celebrated Blue Horizon. These two guys are Philly's best bet for our big time boxing future, their stature continues to grow. So now before they are sent out onto the world scene, these two young stars will experience one of the great rites of passage for Philly boxers. They get to fight at the Blue Horizon. Good for them, and good for us. Fighting at the Blue will fill out there resume nicely and make them part of a great history, to which they certainly belong. The time for this rite is now, before they become too big. Next week (1/26) they will both attend the Philly Sportswriters Dinner in Cherry Hill, NJ. Jones will even be on the dais that night. He had that good a year in 2008.
However, the biggest winner in this shift is perhaps the Blue Horizon itself. A little more than a year ago their financial woes were reported, making every boxing fan hold their breath for what seemed to be an inevitable closing. But the Blue has survived, thanks mostly to the efforts of promoter Vernoca Michael and matchmaker Don Elbaum. And now the venue looks to add a whole new set of boxing dates to their own six cards currently scheduled for the year. With the Peltz/Hand dates also on the calendar, the Blue's dance card is looking pretty full for 2009. In fact, this combination will make the club the true epicenter of Philly boxing over the next year.
As peacefully as they all coexist, there will always be competition between the various promoters in the city. I am sure there will be one-upmanship between the powers that be - especially now at the busy Blue. But that is good for boxing fans. The changing of the New Alhambra guard figures to bring a very sharp focus on the local fight scene. The New Alhambra will continue to host events, which is good news. Greg Robinson may find a home there which may allow him to keep his entertaining stable working within the city limits.
I still look forward to going to South Philly, seeing the next phase of the New Alhambra, and relishing the parking. But I have the feeling that I'll be spending many a Friday night at the Legendary Blue watching a brand new chapter that appears to be a boost for local boxing as a whole.
Boxing fans are quite used to making lemonade when presented with yet another bushel of lemons. But for fans, this is no such situation. I really think this a good thing.
Mike Jones headlining a card at the Blue Horizon? I never thought I'd see the day. How great is this going to be?