The Washington Times
Sunday, January 25, 2004


Two ships on the rough sea of boxing will meet to create what promoter Scott Wagner called “an event.”

The two ships are Ballroom Boxing, the club shows that are run out of Michael’s Eighth Avenue, and Hasim Rahman, the former heavyweight champion from Baltimore.

Ballroom Boxing is a lone ship moving forward, full steam ahead.

Hasim Rahman? As the eminent philosopher and basketball player, Micheal Ray Richardson once put it — the ship be sinking.

Rahman, who 26 months ago appeared at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to defend the heavyweight title in a pay-per-view event, will fight former cruiserweight champion Al Cole in a Ballroom Boxing show on March11.

For Rahman, it is an indication of how far he has fallen since he shocked the sport with a fourth-round knockout of Lennox Lewis in South Africa in April 2001 — heavyweight champion to club fighter. That is what happens when your last five fights produce just one win and an embarrassing loss to John Ruiz last month in Atlantic City.

Next stop, Glen Burnie.

For Ballroom Boxing, on the other hand, it is an indication of the reputation it is gaining as one of the best club fight venues in the country.

Boxing may be on the ropes, reeling from an FBI corruption probe in Las Vegas, but it is alive and doing very well in Glen Burnie, where more than 1,300 people filled the ballroom at Michael’s on Thursday night for the 53rd Ballroom Boxing show.

Wagner and his father, Michael, have built a successful formula for live boxing, and their success stands out when compared to the countless failed efforts in Washington and Baltimore.

They own the venue, which helps considerably. And unlike many promoters in boxing, they have no contracts with fighters. They have created an entertaining atmosphere where fans keep coming, standing room only, for every show. There are good fights, and the other things that fight fans generally like — babes and beer.

“We put a high priority on fan comfort, from the big-screen televisions [two at each end of the ballroom] to security, the valet parking, and certainly good fights,” Scott Wagner said. “We want to create an atmosphere that makes fans comfortable, and I think that gets overlooked. Being able to get a beer and go to the bathroom and park your car are three things where I think they take for granted at a lot of events. We don’t do that.”

And, of course, there are the ring card girls. “You can have eight great fights and no ring card girls, and the guys won’t be happy the next day,” Wagner said.

It is a money-making formula. The same fans have come back for 10 years, filling up the ballroom. “We know 90 percent of the guys who buy tickets here,” Wagner said. “Some of them buy a dozen at a time, for every show.”

It is just a ballroom — not Madison Square Garden — and as good as it is, there is no place to grow.

But Wagner made another move when he first started his boxing venture that could pay off now — he produces and distributes his own televised Ballroom Boxing show.

The shows began with the Home Team Sports in 1996, and now Ballroom Boxing is available in 60million homes on a number of cable systems, including Comcast Mid-Atlantic, New England Sports Network, the Sunshine Network in Florida and Comcast Sports South.

With less boxing on Fox Sports Net — and the impact of ESPN’s decision to cut back on its fight shows and force promoters to put up the money for the fights — Wagner has a rare commodity for cable networks.

“There are two independently produced boxing shows in this country, if you take the Spanish programming out,” Wagner said. “Fox is pretty much done, and ESPN is putting a stranglehold on boxing, so you are down to HBO and Showtime. If you want to see boxing in this country, there are not many options for a programmer to create a program to distribute. From the fan’s perspective, if you don’t have premium pay cable, you don’t have much to watch.”

Ballroom Boxing gives fans a chance to watch a former heavyweight champion of the world try to revive his career in one of the few places where boxing is not on life support.

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