Friday, September 20, 2019

The Thompson Boxing Way

Los Angeles and its immediate vicinity have been synonymous with boxing greatness for generations. With bright lights, big money, TV broadcasts, celebrities and legendary gyms, L.A. is the place where careers have been made. Even the mere mention of arenas such as The Forum, Staples Center and Stub Hub Center (now Dignity Health Sports Park) conjures instant memories of great fights and unforgettable moments from the sport. 

But head east out of Los Angeles, on I-10, Route 60, or I-210, and suddenly the imposing and magnificent visages of capitalism give way to a far different area. Forty miles or so will bring you to Ontario, and the beginning of the vast Inland Empire part of California. The Inland Empire is a densely-packed (over four million people) pocket of California surrounded by natural boundaries. It's due south of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. To the southwest is the Cleveland National Forest.  In between the ranges and the forests, you'll find lots of boxing fans in the Inland Empire's cities, towns and outposts. You've probably heard of a number of these places: Riverside, Covina, Ontario, San Bernardino and Corona. Big Bear Mountain, perhaps one of the most famous remote training camp locations in the U.S, is just to the north off Route 18. Continuing further east on I-10, Joshua Tree National Park creates another northern boundary while the San Jacinto Mountains block off the south. Now you're in the desert, the Coachella Valley, home to Palm Springs and Indio. 

These areas of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties are the heart of Thompson Boxing Promotions, which has become one of the most successful local promoters in U.S. boxing over the past 20 years. From the DoubleTree Hotel in Ontario to the Omega Products International in Corona, Thompson has not just built up a successful fight series in the Inland Empire, but they have created world champions and title contenders such as Tim Bradley, Yonnhy Perez, Josesito Lopez, Carlos Bojorquez, Juan Carlos Burgos, Mauricio Herrera, Jhonatan Romero and Daniel Roman. 

Alex Camponovo and Ken Thompson
Photo Courtesy of Thompson Boxing Promotions

Thompson Boxing started in 2000, almost as a lark. Wanting to help a friend raise money for his gym, Ken Thompson and Alex Camponovo decided to put on a boxing card. Although both were avid fans of the sport, neither had ever promoted a fight. And while that first card, which featured Bojorquez, brought in a lot of fans, the behind-the-scenes drama was something of a nightmare.
Yet they had fun. After that initial fight card Thompson and Camponovo decided to get into boxing for real. They would learn local boxing from the ground up and would take full responsibility for their cards – ticket selling, promotion, state licensing, fighter negotiations, procuring facilities and handling all of the finances. 

And unlike most startup boxing promoters, they decided to be patient. For four years they didn't sign fighters. Sure, they held cards, scouted the local talent, forged professional relationships and started to grow a consistent customer base, but they wanted enough time to study what worked. They needed to learn the ins and outs of matchmaking, which fighters would resonate with the crowd, and how to be prudent with their financial resources. The Inland Empire fight scene would in essence serve as their laboratory.

By 2004 they were ready to ink their first fighter, Palm Springs' Tim Bradley. Later that year Riverside's Josesito Lopez would become their second. Thompson (president) and Camponovo (matchmaker and general manager) displayed a keen eye for signing and developing talent even in the beginning. 

But ultimately what kept Thompson Boxing in business were the fans. And here Camponovo paints a clear picture of what the expectations are for Thompson Boxing and their loyal customers:

"Trying to do the best fights possible is our number-one thing, especially in the area where we do fights, the Inland Empire. I've seen other fights in the Orange County area [not Thompson Boxing's] and the fighters were just duking it out in the ring and showed not an ounce of boxing ability, just throwing an enormous amount of punches. The crowd would get rowdy and throw money in the ring. That doesn't happen here...

"If fighters are not capable, people start booing. We have a different type of crowd. First of all, we try to entertain everybody with competitive fights. We want people to fall in love with certain fighters. And they see them on a consistent basis. That's the key. They follow their progression. They see them in four-rounders, six-rounders, eight-rounders and finally headlining the main event. Then they're fighting for a regional title. Boom, now they're on ESPN, Showtime, DAZN. I think our crowd really likes to see the story of the fighters moving along the way."

Camponovo’s approach to matchmaking differs from others in the industry. Primarily he's in the boxing entertainment business; The Inland Empire fans need to leave satisfied. The crowd's desire to see competitive action dovetails with his philosophy of signing, matching and developing fighters. For him, the goal is to challenge fighters each step of the way, and not create untested boxers with inflated records. He wants to know what his fighters are made of and how they respond to adversity.   

"I can’t do anything with a guy who is 20-0 with 19 knockouts who is just blowing people away in the first round," he said. "I believe in toughing up the guys, as tough as they can handle. And that makes sense for the fans. That makes sense for us. We know what we have. We know the guys are developing. We see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Having one-round knockouts doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help the fighter. It doesn’t help their management or us as promoters. I think the consistency of having tough challenges for our guys – I’m not saying 100% of the time – but most of the time, makes a big difference."

Although Thompson Boxing doesn't have the ability to hand out enormous signing bonuses for untested talent, Camponovo follows a simple motto for fighters whom they do develop: You do everything you can for us in the ring and we'll do everything we can for you outside of it. For Thompson this often means partnering with other promoters to provide additional opportunities for their fighters, whether it was Gary Shaw for Tim Bradley, Matchroom Sport for Danny Roman or Banner Promotions for Michael Dutchover and Ruben Villa, two highly regarded prospects who will be appearing on ShoBox on Sept 20. 

For Camponovo, the big-time opportunities only come to those who put in the work in the gym, who are always available to fight, and who make the most of their talent: "I've always said give me a less-talented guy, but a guy who is in the gym 24-7. I’ll take that guy any day of the week. I know that he’s going to go farther. He might not be a world champion right away, but I know he’s going to go much farther than a talented guy who spars twice a week, handles everybody in the gym and thinks that because he is gifted, that’s all he needs to do. The greatest athletes in the history of the world – I don’t care what sport it is – are that way because they are working the hardest. They do have talent, but they have to work on that talent." 

Dutchover and Villa, two fighters who according to Camponovo have put in the work, have impressed in their developmental fights and are starting to receive national attention. If all goes well they could be fighting world-level opposition by the end of 2020, but Camponovo won't guarantee that – he has made sure that they are facing significant threats this weekend.  

Business is good for Thompson Boxing these days. With a unified world champion (Daniel Roman), several prospects starting to appear on U.S. TV and a healthy pipeline of younger fighters (Camponovo particularly likes undefeated welterweight prospect Angel Ruiz), Thompson has carved out a solid niche in the industry. Yet, despite their burgeoning national success, they have no plans to abandon their annual six-card series in the Inland Empire; they believe that the series has been crucial to their success and survival.

Just like their fighters, most of whom were once beneath the radar of the big promoters, Thompson Boxing retains their humility and knows that they have to work harder to succeed. They've been able to get a foothold into boxing, but they don't believe in shortcuts or resting on their laurels – not for their fighters or for themselves. Thompson's success can be attributed to discipline, loyalty, consistency, competence and professionalism. Ultimately the Thompson Boxing Way may not be the sexiest, it may not necessarily be the blueprint for certain aspiring fighters or promoters, but there can be no argument that it has borne fruit.
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Thursday, September 12, 2019

20 Questions with Russell Peltz

J. Russell Peltz, an institution in Philadelphia boxing, will be celebrating 50 years in the sport next month. In his honor Raging Babe Promotions will be presenting a boxing card at the 2300 Arena on Oct. 4 in South Philadelphia, toasting the achievements of a favorite son from the famous fight town. (Undefeated lightweight prospect Victor Padilla will headline the card.) 

Peltz, a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia and a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin before turning to boxing, is synonymous with the now-defunct Blue Horizon, one of the most famous boxing venues of the 20th century. He also promoted a legendary series of middleweight fights at the Spectrum during the '70s, featuring a combination of future world titlists, contenders, local tough guys and visiting stalwarts (Marvin Hagler lost his first two fights during the series). That golden era of Philadelphia boxing featured names that still resonate 40 years later: "Bad" Bennie Briscoe, Willie "the Worm" Monroe, Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts, and Eugene "Cyclone" Hart (the father of current light heavyweight contender Jesse Hart). 

But Russell's influence was not merely local. He promoted numerous world champions and Hall of Famers, such as Jeff Chandler and Matthew Saad Muhammad. Many of his champs and contenders are fondly remembered decades later, while others may not be as well-known, including Charles Brewer, Marvin Johnson, Robert Hines, Gary Hinton and Charlie "Choo Choo" Brown.

Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz

Peltz, an inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the World Boxing Hall of Fame, The Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame, as well as many other shrines to the sport, continues to ply his trade: promoting local fight cards, signing fighters, providing his vaunted matchmaking skills, and serving as a mentor for emerging promoters. And although the tough Northeast winters have sent him to Florida for part of each year, Philadelphia and Philadelphia boxing will always be in his bones.  

I recently had the chance to interview Russell about his 50 years in the sport. He provided reflections on his career, touching on his most memorable triumphs, the fighters who got away, how boxing has changed during his time in the sport, what will keep local boxing thriving and much more. 

Interview by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited and condensed. 

Russell, what’s your lasting memory from the first card that you promoted in 1969? (Bennie Briscoe and Tito Marshall headlined at the Blue Horizon.)

I don’t think I saw more than 30 seconds of it. Just the size of the crowd. I think it’s the only show my first wife ever came to. Being interviewed by Sandy Grady on the way out. He was the daily sports columnist from the Bulletin, where I used to work, and was one of the finest writers I ever knew. 

At what point in boxing did you feel like you belonged, that you could cut it?

There was one time where I borrowed two or three thousand from my dad and said if I can’t pay you back in a certain period of time that I would go back to the newspaper business. That was probably in the fall of 1970, the start of the second season. (Back then we didn't promote in the summer unless it was a big show because few arenas had air conditioning; the fall started each new season.) By that time we already had Bennie Briscoe and we were on our way. But mostly I never thought like that. I just kept going. 

As a promoter, what was your favorite victory by one of your fighters?

Bennie Briscoe against Tony Mundine in Paris in February 1974, not even a question. That was the best. 

What’s been the best Philadelphia fight card in the last 50 years?

I was fortunate enough to promote the best fight I ever saw, between, then Matthew Franklin, you know, Saad Muhammad, and Marvin Johnson [their first fight in 1977]. That was incredible. 

Who’s a fighter that turned out to be much better than you thought?

Jason Sosa’s doing a pretty good job of that right now, when you consider that I didn’t want to sign him. I had to take him as a throw-in. His win [over Javier Fortuna] in Beijing in 2016…as I told someone else the other day, if Briscoe-Mundine was number one then that was 1-A, especially in the time of my career that it happened. 

Who’s a fighter that got away?

Oh my god. I turned Hagler down after he lost a second time in Philly. I released Buster Douglas after he lost to Mike “The Giant” White for me in ’83. I think I had to pay him $2,500 for the next season and I said no, because I had the one-loss thing at that time. Tito Trinidad’s people called me years ago when he was coming up [starts laughing] and I told them that I didn’t have the time. I wasn’t interested. Oh well. 

What’s been the toughest negotiation you’ve ever been involved in to make a fight?

I know I had to go behind people's backs to make the first fight between Briscoe and Eugene Hart. I had to go behind Hart’s managers and trainer and go directly to the fighter, which is really a terrible thing to have to do. But I had to do it. I just had to do it. 

Fight you are most proud of? 

Franklin-Johnson, whoever thought the first one was going to turn out to be like that? But the first Briscoe-Hart fight – how I was able to make it, what it meant to the city and the crowd that it drew. Boxing News called it the second best fight in boxing that year behind the Thrilla in Manilla. That would be it. 

What’s the sweatiest, most disgusting gym you’ve ever seen in your years of boxing?

You know you can’t make a fighter in a pretty gym. There were several reincarnations of Champ’s gym over the years. Boy, they were all pretty disgusting. I’d say the first one on the second floor walk-up over Roach’s CafĂ©, aptly named, on Ridge Avenue in North Philly.  

Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (2004)
Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz

Where’s the most obscure place you’ve traveled to for a fight?

There was Liege, Belgium, which is the handgun capital of the world. I never forgot that. Briscoe fought there. There was Lucca, Italy, where Gary Hinton won the IBF title. There was a 600-seat casino in Campione d’Italia, which is on the Swiss/Italian/French border where Briscoe fought Rodrigo Valdez for the third time. I would say those were the most obscure places – places I had never heard of before I went there. 

Who has been your best friend in boxing?

[The late] Don Chargin, followed closely by Teddy Atlas and Nigel Collins.

How good was Jeff Chandler? 

He was probably the most talented fighter I ever had and was still learning on the job when his eyes went bad. 

As a promoter, what’s the best feeling in boxing?

When people are standing and cheering one of your fights. There's nothing like it. 

What’s the hardest part about promoting club shows?

The hardest part today is getting Philly fighters to fight other Philly fighters, which used to be a staple. Getting them to fight each other...that's the hardest thing today. 

Peltz with bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler
Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz

Who’s a celebrity that you never expected to cross paths with in boxing?

Bill Cosby.  

What made the Blue Horizon so special?

The fights. 

How would you characterize Philadelphia boxing fans?

Probably as knowledgeable as any, up there with the Hispanics in Southern California who used to go to the Olympic [Auditorium]. The Philly fans and the Mexican, Mexican-American fans in Southern California in my experience are the two most knowledgeable. That might get me in trouble, but what can you do? [laughs] 

What has been the best performance you’ve ever witnessed, either for one of your fighters or on one your shows?

Charles Brewer’s complete domination of Frank Rhodes at the Blue Horizon in March of ’96, which catapulted him to the world title shot. Certainly at the Blue Horizon that was the most dominating performance that I ever saw. 

How will boxing survive on the local level in the next 20 years?

I don’t know, Adam. I really don’t know. 95% of the money today is generated by 5% of the people. And the other 95% of us are generating 5% of the money. If I get a fighter today…just take a guy like Sosa. If a guy gets 10, 15 wins, how am I going to get him on TV today without partnering with someone? 

I’ll tell you how it can survive: Bring back the neighborhood rivalries, but you certainly can’t do it in Philly. Because most of these guys don’t get it. 

What’s been your biggest accomplishment?

Staying in boxing for 50 years.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Marc Ramsay: The Light Heavyweight Whisperer

These are good times for Marc Ramsay, the Montreal-based boxing trainer. The former Canadian Olympic coach has amassed one of the more impressive stables in the sport, including light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, former light heavyweight beltholder Eleider Alvarez, heavyweight contender Oscar Rivas and a slew of top prospects such as Christian Mbilli, Erik Bazinyan and Sadriddin Akhmedov. Next month Ramsay has one of the highest-profile opportunities of his career as Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) faces fellow titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) in a light heavyweight unification match on October 18 in Philadelphia (ESPN will televise). 

Ramsey has now cornered three prominent light heavyweight champs with Beterbiev, Alvarez and Jean Pascal, and each of them scarcely resembles the others in the ring. Unlike trainers such as the late Manny Steward (fight tall behind the jab) and Freddie Roach (Attack! Attack! Attack!), Ramsay doesn't have a signature style, and that is by design. To Ramsay, a trainer's job isn't to create cookie-cutter fighters, but to examine each boxer and work on ways to make him more well-rounded.

In his belief, a good trainer can have success with all different styles. And even though Beterbiev (a natural knockout puncher), Alvarez (a traditional boxer-puncher) and Pascal (an athletically gifted but awkward brawler) are vastly different in the ring, all have made it to the championship level. Ramsay believes that it's his job to work with whatever technical strengths and limitations a fighter may have to take him to the top.

"The first thing you have to understand," Ramsay said, "is that every fighter is very different. As a trainer, you cannot impose a specific style for everybody. You have to look at what are the strong points and the weaknesses of each fighter. You have to make sure that the strong points stay and you need to make the progression with their weaknesses...It’s a question of adaptation from one fighter to the other one."

Photo Courtesy of Marc Ramsay

Ramsay, a former amateur boxer, had his initial success as a coach for Team Canada at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. He segued to the professional ranks with Pascal. However, as he garnered more success in the pros, he never took his eye off the emerging amateurs. 

"I always continued to watch amateur boxing very closely," he said. "When I had my first world champion, I was able to travel and go to world championship tournaments, such as the Olympic Games and the Pan American Games. I would introduce myself as Jean Pascal’s trainer. It helped me to scout and recruit fighters. And this continues...Every four years I like to target specific fighters from the Olympics. During the last Olympics, that was Christian Mbilli from France." 

An interesting aspect of Ramsay's gym is that his fighters come from all over the world. Alvarez landed in Montreal via Colombia. Pascal was originally from Haiti. Beterbiev and a number of other fighters hail from Russia or Russian-speaking countries. Ramsay, who speaks French and English fluently and can mix in some Spanish, takes pride in the cosmopolitan nature of his stable. And despite potential challenges with cultural differences and language barriers, he has been able to train fighters from a variety of backgrounds. 

"Working with different cultures and languages at first can be a little difficult," he said, "especially with Russian. But with Beterbiev and all those guys in my gym right now from that part of the world, they are able to learn English very fast. And we also speak the same boxing language." 

In recent years Montreal has emerged as an international boxing hotbed, with world-class amateurs and professional throughout the city, but Ramsay is selective with whom he chooses to train. He has specific criteria when working with fighters. 

Ramsay, an understated and cerebral type, believes in doing his homework. Before agreeing to train a new fighter he conducts not just physical and technical assessments, but also a psychological one. He wants to know if a fighter has personal problems or is hard to work with. He tries to gauge desire and work ethic. He uses his extensive boxing connections to get as much information as he can before determining if a fighter would be a good fit for his gym.

"Like everyone, the first thing I'm looking for is talent," he said. "Without talent, you’re not going to get to the point where a fighter can generate money and make a living from it. Talent is very important at the beginning, but eventually everyone is talented. I also watch for psychological characteristics. I see if a fighter had trouble with his national team. I try to profile every single athlete [under consideration]. Sometimes the athlete can look very good but you discover that he has some issues with psychological aspects. You need to have a sense of all the psychological elements, because that will help determine if they can make it all the way to a world championship." 

And Ramsay's research also extends to potential opponents. Gvozdyk, for example, is a fighter who has been on Ramsay's radar for several years. Ramsay witnessed Gvozdyk's triumph over lineal light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson in Quebec City and one of his fighters had an opportunity to fight him in the past before the bout fell through. Unlike a number of other trainers, Ramsay doesn't try to minimize an opponent's strengths in the ring. 

"I respect Gvozdyk a lot," he said. "He’s a complete fighter. He’s a good boxer. He’s stronger than what may appear on the outside. Good defense. Good speed. Real good technique also. He’s a complex boxer and you have to be very smart to beat a guy like him." 

Ramsay takes issue with the perception that Beterbiev is merely a knockout artist. Even though Beterbiev has stopped all of his opponents as a professional, Ramsay is quick to point out Beterbiev's amateur success, intelligence and work ethic. Before his last fight in May, Beterbiev had only two fights in the previous 18 months, as he was embroiled in promotional issues. Despite that period of inactivity, Ramsay noted that Beterbiev was always in the gym and never let his legal proceedings get the best of him. 

In Ramsay's opinion, Beterbiev is going to have to be at his best to defeat Gvozdyk. For this training camp, Ramsay even used Eleider Alvarez to help Beterbiev with some technical aspects of preparation. Although Beterbiev and Alvarez used to spar frequently when Beterbiev was a young pro, Ramsay has trained them completely separately in recent years. However, for this camp, Alvarez was brought back into the fold, not for full-contact sparring, but to help refine specific techniques. (He maintains that although the two fighters aren't necessarily friends, they have a healthy respect towards each other.) 

"Against an opponent of this caliber," he said, "Artur is going to have to be very complete. You can’t go in there and just expect that something is going to work. You have to prepare for everything. You can’t be surprised by the speed or the technique. You have to be prepared for all those aspects. Artur Beterbiev will need to be a complete fighter on that night. Not just a boxer. Not just a brawler. He’s going to need to be smart, good in all aspects and very aggressive."

Ramsay respects the challenge that Gvozdyk presents and embraces it. He's expecting a tough fight, but believes that his boxer is ready. And while he has other big fights on the horizon, such as Alvarez's return to the ring later this year, he knows that all eyes will be on the light heavyweight showdown on Oct. 18. Ramsay isn't one to issue bulletin-board material or to make headlines with bold claims, but he knows what a Beterbiev win would mean to his fighter and his gym. And he welcomes the opportunity. 

Long past the days of dreaming about becoming a player in world boxing, Ramsay is now among the big boys. And while words like "talent," "projection," and "skills" will always be a part of his vocabulary, at this phase of his career he is also searching for the one concept that separates the elite from the merely very good in boxing: mastery. Beterbiev will have that opportunity in October, and Ramsay will be in the corner, meticulously prepared, and ready for the big stage. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Radio

In this week's edition of Punch 2 the Face Radio, Brandon and I talked about Lomachenko-Campbell. Who is the fighter out there who could beat Loma?  We spoke about instant replay in boxing. When should it be used? How should it applied? We welcomed Michelle Rosado to the show. She is promoting the Russell Peltz 50th Anniversary Show in Philadelphia on Oct. 4. We also gave our picks for the top fights to watch in the fall.

To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:

Stitcher link:
Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio, Episode #142.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.