|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - February 13, 2019|
Last month, exciting news came for the local boxing scene when Hard Hitting Promotions announced that they would stage a fight card at the old Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street in North Philly, on February 23, 2019. This will be the first time a boxing show will be at the venue since 1954. Better yet, February's re-launch of The Met as a boxing site is expected to be the first of a series of shows promoted by Hard Hitting at the newly restored arena.
At the press conference to announce the reopening of the Met as a boxing venue, everyone in attendance got a good look at what has to be the most beautiful boxing venue in Philadelphia. Personally, I can't wait to see the place on fight night.
The main event that Hard Hitting has assembled to launch this historic event is a great match up, worthy of this high profile evening. Rising Philadelphia lightweight stars, Jeremy Cuevas and Steven Ortiz will meet in an 8-round fight for the PA state lightweight title belt.
It's not every day that two undefeated prospects at a critical developmental point in their careers agree to put it all on the line to fight a cross-town rival of equal status. However, that is exactly what Cuevas, 11-0, 9 KOs, and Ortiz, 9-0, 3 KOs, plan to do. Without such an exciting pairing as the main event, this re-opening of the Met wouldn't be half as exciting.
As the fight nears, we will dive further into the main event and the stacked undercard. However, first, let's reacquaint ourselves with the venue's past glories.
The Met was opened in 1908 as the Philadelphia Opera House. Designed and built by theater impresario Oscar Hammerstein, the venue was the largest of its kind at the time with a seating capacity of more than 4,000 for opera events.
It's grand opening came on November 17, 1908 with a performance of Bizet's Carmen. Two years later in 1910, the venue was sold to the Metropolitan Opera of New York, and renamed the Metropolitan Opera House. It operated as an opera house through 1922, and around 1920, also began showing movies.
In the late 1930s, boxing promoter Jimmy Toppi purchased the building and converted it into a boxing venue. As a fight site, the Met offered nearly 200 boxing events from 1939 to 1954, with a seating capacity for boxing around 5,500. This made the Met one of the biggest indoor boxing arenas in the city during its time. Only Convention Hall and the Arena had more space for indoor boxing.
The very first boxing show featured Norristown's Tony Cisco in a six-round main event against Wicky Harkins of Germantown. Cisco won the bout by decision to launch the Met's boxing life. The promoter of the show was former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, who was the house promoter through 1940, staging 11 shows in all. Then the venue went dark in 1941, 1942 and 1943.
In 1944, the Met came back to life. With Jimmy Toppi himself as the new house promoter, the Met ran boxing events continuously for the next ten years. The first event in this new run, was on October 9, 1944, and featured rising teenage welterweight sensation Billy Arnold.
Known as "The New Joe Louis", Arnold was on a tear. His first round KO of Frankie Wills at the Met stretched his career-staring unbeaten streak to 25-0. That streak would eventually extend to 31 straight bouts. This first fight of the Met's second chapter drew approximately 5,200 fan, and still stands as the venue's biggest boxing box office record.
Over the years, the Met would host countless local boxing stars, including Joey Giardello, Percy Bassett, Wesley Mouzon, George Benton, Gil Turner, Eddie Giosa, Tommy Forte, Johnny Forte, Bobby Green, Jimmy Tygh, Gene Burton, Dorsey Lay, Santa Bucca, Jetson Arnold, Toothpick Brown, Ellis Phillips, Johnny Walker, Freddie Sammons, George LaRover, Otis Graham, Billy Thompson, Honeychile Johnson, Gil Turner, Carmen Bartolomeo, Marvin Edelman, Dan Bucceroni, as well as Kid Gavilan, Ike Williams, Lew Jenkins, Johnny Saxton, and many others.
At its peak, the Met offered 34 shows in 1946 and 36 shows in 1947. Activity dipped some during the 1950s, but there were excellent fights, often high profile cross-town rivalries, every year through the remainder of its run. Regularly, when it was time for a rising fighter from one part of the city to meet his counterpart from another section of the city, the Met was big enough to accommodate both fan bases. So, fans packed the Met to see North Philly vs. South Philly, South Philly vs. West Philly, and so on.
The final show at the Met came on November 18, 1954, and was promoted by Jimmy Riggio. In the main event, veteran Gil Turner stopped the rising Charley Scott in eight rounds. Both fighters were North Philadelphians. Turner was a former world title challenger, while Scott wouldn't reach his peak for another four years. On this night the old vet came away with the bragging rights.
the Met halted its boxing life and eventually closed completely.
However, unlike other great Philly boxing venues, the Met's story ends on a much more upbeat note. Instead of being torn down and totally forgotten, the Met survived through the years. In recent years, a portion of the building was utilized as a church, but it had been decades since any entertainment events had been held there.
Eventually, the Met was purchased by national concert and event promoter Live Nation and received a multi-million dollar renovation. In December of 2018, the Met reopened with a Bob Dylan concert as it's first event. The Met featured a varied schedule of concerts and events, and in January, announced that it would again be the home for boxing.
The Philadelphia area currently has a number of fine boxing venues operating - the 2300 Arena, the Sugar House Casino, the Liacouras Center, the Parx Casino (in nearby Bensalem), and the Fillmore (another Live Nation property). However, the addition of the Met is truly something special. From an aesthetics perspective, it has the potential to really stand out from all the other sites. However, a boxing venue will always ultimately be judged by the quality of the fights it hosts.
On February 23rd, Hard Hitting Promotions has planed a truly excellent match in Jeremy Cuevas vs. Steven Ortiz, and the promoters hope that it is the first of five boxing dates at the Met in 2019, before expanding the schedule even further in 2020.
Only time will tell if the Met becomes the new center of the Philly fight scene, but for now, it is the next date on the schedule, and February 23rd looks like a good one for many reasons.