New York City used to be the undisputed boxing capital of the world. 47 years ago this week (March 8, 1971) arguably the most anticipated boxing match of my generation, the first showdown between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, took place at Madison Square Garden.
Over the years however New York became an afterthought for fight promoters as most of the marquee bouts of every weight division took place in Las Vegas. The lack of a state income tax in Nevada plus the glitz of the Strip attracting high rollers accounted for New York’s decline and Las Vegas’s rise in the ring world.
The scales may slowly be tipping back to New York thanks to Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark who sees boxing as both a profit and prestige center for his venue. Colorful New York boxing promoter Lou DiBella has become a major figure in the sport now that Don King is more or less in retirement and Bob Arum is getting up in age as well. Also helping is the fact that both of the leading premium cable networks, Showtime and HBO, make their headquarters here.
Last Saturday night Barclays Center hosted a heavyweight title showdown between defending champion, Deontay Wilder, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Luis Ortiz from Miami but who was born in Havana. Both men came into the ring undefeated in their professional careers, a fact that Showtime commentator Mauro Ranallo mentioned time and again.
Wilder at 6’7″ had a longer reach than the stocky 6-‘3″ Ortiz. Wilder was also five years younger and 27 pounds lighter than the challenger. You don’t get to be a champion without having a battle plan. Wilder knew that the longer the bout went the more likely Ortiz would be fatigued so he just gave an occasional jab and let Ortiz be the aggressor for the first half of the fight.
That strategy nearly backfired on Deontay when Luis staggered him in the fifth round with a barrage of blows that nearly sent him to the canvas. He was however, as the old boxing cliche goes, saved by the bell.
That near-brush with defeat energized Wilder as he made sure that Ortiz never came close to inflicting damage on him again. By the tenth round, he was able to twice send Ortiz to the ring floor. The judges stopped the fight and Deontay Wilder was awarded a technical knockout victory.
The Wilder-Ortiz fight wasn’t the only boxing card in town that night. Over at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Sergey Kovalev retained his light heavyweight title defeating his fellow Russian Igor Mikhalkin with a TKO in the seventh round. This was the first event to take place at MSG’s junior venue since the premier streaming service, Hulu, acquired naming rights. It was also the first time that I can recall HBO and Showtime having competing fights from NYC
College sports normally don’t get as much attention in New York as they get elsewhere in the country but there is no argument that playing host to three different conference championship tournaments is a big shot in the arm for the city’s tourism industry at a time of the year when hotel vacancies are relatively high..
Last week the Big 10 held their tournament at Madison Square Garden for the first time and it was quite a success as New York alums and visitors from the Midwest filled the world’s most famous arena. CBS Sports got a big break when Michigan met rival Michigan State in a semifinal match-up. The Wolverines upset the top-seed Spartans by a score of 75-64.
This week the Big East returns to the Garden which has always been their tournament home while the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament makes its second appearance at Barclays Center.
Longtime MSG Networks and ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke was featured last week on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”
Speaking of HBO, its film division will premiere “Paterno” with Al Pacino playing the legendary Penn State University coach whose final years were mired in controversy, on April 7, while on April 10 its sports division will unveil its first documentary in years, “Andre the Giant,” which likes at the life of the wrestling legend.
Cable’s IFC Network will launch the second season of “Brockmire,” which stars Forest Hills native Hasnk Azaria as down-on-his-luck sportscaster Jim Brockmire on April 25.
Andrew Marchand, whose witty sports television column was a must read in the New York Post every Friday, has returned to the Post after spending the last eleven writing for ESPN’s website.
The Warwick Hotel, whose bar was Howard Cosell’s favorite watering hole because it was located across the street from ABC’s headquarters, is undergoing a long overdue multi-million dollar renovation. The Warwick was built by William Randolph Hearst and it’s where rock & roll icons as the Beatles and Elvis Presley preferred to stay when they were in New York.