It’s been nearly 12 years since the city of Portland, Oregon played host to a professional boxing card. Few people around the “Rose City” actually remember its bustling fight scene from decades ago, and instead Portland has since earned a reputation as a city that caters to quirky walks of life.
“I like the whole motto here, ‘Keep Portland Weird,'” former super featherweight champion Steve Forbes told The Fight City. “But I want to put boxing in [the motto] too. I want it to be fun, almost like a kind of club. We all go out, have a beer and watch the fights. That’s what we’re working on.”
These days a professional fight card in Portland is about as weird as it gets. But Forbes, a former welterweight contender who did battle with Oscar De La Hoya and Andre Berto not that long ago, remembers when boxing was important to the city. Now he hopes to rekindle the love affair, starting with Oregon’s first pro-am boxing card at the Jackson Armory on December 9th.
Along with co-promoter Christina Lunzman, Forbes recently founded 2 Pound Sports & Entertainment, specifically to bring The Sweet Science to his hometown for the first time in over a decade. “There was a need to bring boxing back to [Portland],” said Lunzman. “It’s been quite a while since we’ve had it here.”
Forbes knows exactly how long it’s been. In 2005 Floyd Mayweather headlined against Sharmba Mitchell at the Rose Garden and Forbes was on the undercard, but only barely.
“Floyd said to [the show’s promoter, Goossen-Tutor Promotions], ‘You can’t do a show in Portland, Oregon without putting Steve Forbes on it.’ So I was put on the show last minute, which is kinda sad,” Forbes said. “It just showed there was no respect for Portland boxing.”
This time there is no HBO, no big-name promoter. But Forbes, an underdog from the very beginning, wants to rebuild Portland’s boxing scene from the ground up. It fits the spirit of a city known for being insular and pro-local, but it’s also a nod to Forbes’ past and the strength of Portland’s communities.
A Portland native, Forbes’ grandmother was a preacher who opened up a free health clinic and held food and toy drives at their family church. “This is something I never really talked about in my boxing career,” Forbes said. “I wasn’t trying then to use boxing to have people do good. But now I’m a promoter and we want to help the community through boxing.”
Despite its reputation as a corrupt, cruel endeavor, boxing has the ability to bring several different kinds of hope to places where there is little. Forbes isn’t even the first Portland fighter to make his way from a rougher Northeast Portland neighborhood to the world stage in boxing. In fact, “Lightning” Ray Lampkin, who remained a lightweight contender in an eminently tough division through much of the 1970s and once fought Roberto Duran, did his amateur fighting out of the same “Knott Street Center” as Forbes.
Before Lampkin came Denny Moyer, and practically the entire Moyer family, who generally represented the Portland Ramblers Club. Moyer fell just short of winning the Amateur Athletic Union national title, but managed to defeat a faded Sugar Ray Robinson in their 1962 rematch. That brush with the big time led to a surge of fight cards in the 1970s and 80s, and not one year went by where Portland didn’t host several pro events. In the last 15 years, however, there have only been three.
While no announcements have been made about the boxers on the upcoming card, clearing the path toward making “Rip City” any sort of fight town once more is a major step. That’s why Forbes and Lunzman tweeted out photos of their promoter’s license when it came it the mail.
“People kept asking me if I got my promoter’s license yet, doubting me,” Forbes said. “Everybody talked about how hard it would be to get a promoter’s license here, and it was actually easy.”
Establishing boxing as a premier attraction in a city whose demographic has shifted away from its blue collar roots won’t be easy, but Forbes and Lunzman are aware of that and are prepared to put in serious work to make it happen. While the short term plan is to simply get bouts happening, eventually 2 Pound Sports & Entertainment wants to organize a fight series and feature women’s boxing.
“We want to give everyone an equal platform to perform,” said Forbes. “You don’t get a lot of exposure here in Portland as a fighter. You always have to go somewhere else or live somewhere else to get things going. Why not have an opportunity right here? That’s the plan.”
The Portland fight community is parched for fistic action, but the thirst is soon to be sated. But it seems that, at least for the time being, there still can’t be fight cards in Portland without Steve Forbes. — Patrick Connor