PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                              June 09, 2011


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Last June 4th I headed out to the Blue Horizon for another boxing show. It was a sweltering night and it was my birthday, so there was a temptation to bag the fight and do something else - like go to the movies. But duty called. I hate to miss any fight card talking place in Philly. When I think of all those I missed back in the good old days, I can never bring myself to skip one today. Besides that nagging commitment I've made to myself, I also always want to see my favorite rising Philly boxers. The Blue Horizon card offered plenty of that on June 4, 2010. 

It was a typical Blue Horizon Promotions show. Bout after bout, the red corner was filled with a house favorite and across the ring in the blue corner was the near-hopeless foe brought in as fodder. None of the fights promised too much, just another opportunity to catch a rising local in another easy fight.

The action in the ring that night pretty much stuck to the script. Five of the six favorites came in with an undefeated record and all five of them won their fight. The main event only lasted 56 seconds. The only house fighter to start the night with a loss already on their record, went home with another "L", losing to an undefeated out-of-towner. No surprises. No great battles. The card was nothing to write home about. 

Those of us watching the fights that night were focused mainly on the heat and busy wondering exactly how much longer the evening would last. Everyone was anxious to get out of there. Even promoter and owner of the Blue Horizon Vernoca Michael, well known for her lengthy pre-main event addresses over the shoddy public address system, kept her speech mercifully brief. That alone seemed like a miracle. So when Farah Ennis devoured his opponent in less than a minute, it was like a personal birthday gift.

When all the bouts were over, those of us remaining barreled our way out of the stifling arena in search of some of that fresh Broad Street air. If I had know it would be the last time I would be in the Blue Horizon, I probably would have taken my time leaving the place.

I would have stopped and looked at that balcony hanging over the ring. I've never seen a fight venue like it. There are no better seats anywhere in the world than the Blue's side balconies. Where else can you hover over the ring?

I'd have taken a last look at the cheesy gold re-paint of those distinctive balcony sconces. I would have taken one last look at the center balcony that was adorned with two banners commemorating the last two Briscoe Award winners for Philly Fight of the Year.

I might have even taken a last look at that scary men's room, with a rusted over urinal trough that had definitely seen better days.

I'd take in that crappy new blue and brown paint job of the main arena room, and those new lights over the ring. I'd wonder again why Ms. Michael had just thrown away the old ones that had hung over the ring since the very first Blue Horizon bout in 1963. I still shake my head when I think of the night when she told me they had hit the trash.

I loved all those years that I went to the Blue Horizon. I knew how special it was. I did appreciate it, but not enough. Like many of the things I love, I took the Blue Horizon for granted. I really have to stop doing that. 

After the fights on June 4, 2010, the Blue Horizon closed its doors for good. Apparently there was an incident earlier in the evening concerning the concession stand and Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I). Word is the Blue had an expired license to sell beer and on that night, they were shut down. It wasn't the first incident, but it turned out to be the last. With other issues weighing down upon the Blue - sagging revenues, rising expenses, and back taxes - the L&I shutdown provided the last straw.

I've come to terms that I'll probably never see the old Blue back in boxing action, although there were a few rumors early on that someone was ready to buy the place and reboot it as a fight venue. Those rumors have thinned out and it seems the Blue is truly dead.

So I can live with the memories I have of the Blue. I'm happy to have experienced it as much as I did. And the sense of loss could never come close to the feeling I have for the destruction of the Spectrum, the place that made me a boxing fan. But I had no idea that the Blue's end would also would more or less gut the Philly fight game.

These things are cyclical, but now that we are right in the middle of the worst lull in Philly boxing in many, many years, it seems we will never get out of it.

The Blue Horizon did many things for the local fight scene. It is well known that for decades it was THE destination spot for fight-goers. Fans came from all over the world just to be able to say they had been there - good fights or bad. But less obvious was how the Blue Horizon's modest fight schedule of about six shows per year provided the spine to the local boxing lineup.

Without the Blue and those six shows, the Philadelphia boxing scene has disintegrated. After its closure one year ago, just four shows went off in the last seven months of 2010. That's half the amount for the same period the year before.

The trend is even worse this year. So far in 2011, only two fight cards have occurred in Philly. TWO SHOWS. In January, Power Productions staged a card at the Armory in Northeast Philly and KEA Boxing presented a show in April. And that's it!

There are a few shows dotted on the local calendar for the remainder of the year. Mike Jones returns to the South Philly Arena later this month, Wilkes Promotions is tentatively scheduled to stage its first-ever card at the New Palladium in North Philly - but that show has been rescheduled at least once already. KEA Boxing is set to return to South Philly at the end of July, and Power Productions may or may not do more shows at the Armory this year. If we get a total of six boxing shows this year, we'll be lucky. That's bad news.

The number of shows has been declining in recent years, but hoping for six is ridiculous. In 2004 Philly had 26 pro boxing shows. In 2005, there were 20; 2006 and 2007 each had 22 shows; there were 17 in 2008, 19 in 2009, and 13 in 2010. 2011 will set the record for this downward trend.

In the wake of the end of the Blue Horizon, neighboring venues have blossomed. Joey Eye hosted three shows (January, March & June) at Harrah's Casino & Race Track in Chester, PA. He plans another two or three before the end of the year. The Atlantic City casinos have also picked up the slack - especially Bally's. But as close as both Chester and AC are, they are not Philadelphia.

Certainly the action will pick up next year or maybe the year after that. But for now, Philly boxing must depend on nearby venues and traveling fighters to represent its legacy.

However, before the local schedule can become active again, either a single venue or a single promoter must take the first step and commit to bringing Philly boxing back to full strength. However, with the fact that an in-Philly show is so much harder of a sell for promoters than any casino card, it doesn't bode well for a swing back to the City. I had hoped the new Philly casinos would be the key. But so far, they have no interest in the sweet science.

The Blue Horizon will never be replaced, but then again neither will the Spectrum, or the (real) Arena, or Municipal Stadium, or Convention Hall, or the many other venues that are long gone. Philly boxing history has a continuity, a baton that has been passed from fighter-to-fighter, promoter-to-promoter, and venue-to-venue. Right now we are in the middle of the hand off, but the relay partner is no where in sight.




John DiSanto - News & Notes - June 09, 2011