Philadelphia Marks Five Decades of Peltz Boxing

There was an atmosphere of celebration last Friday night, but one with an accent of sadness, as a nine fight card full of competitive bouts went off at 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia. The show, called “Blood, Sweat, and 50 Years,” was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz’s first boxing show, and while there’s no doubt it was the kind of card Peltz has always tried to put on in his career—full of tough match-ups with plenty of action, one far more friendly to the fans than the fighters—it made me wonder how many times we can expect to see such an event in the future.

Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena.

Peltz himself is well aware of how difficult it is to hold cards like this anymore. He made a living on it, starting in 1969, but now its increasingly difficult. And a few weeks before this event, Peltz explained to me why.

“Fighters are spoiled,” he said. “They get overpaid to serve as cannon fodder on the big shows against prospects. As a result they don’t want to hear about a thousand or two thousand bucks for a competitive fight, when they get five grand for being an opponent.”

Peltz knew when he made the matches for Friday’s show — and he made all of them for his golden anniversary card — that they weren’t about glamour or showcasing, but instead were put together for the best possible competition. As he told me, “These kids deserve a chance to display their talents on their level, not to fight top prospects and get outclassed.”

Longtime Philadelphia promoter J. Russell Peltz.

All of the bouts on Friday stayed true to that sentiment. Boxers were matched with guys with similar talent and experience and the result was even the matches between unknowns were full of terrific action. The opening bout, for example, featured two heavyweights, Joel Caudle (8-4-2) and Sahret Delgado (8-0), with as yet undistinguished records, but both have scored their share of knockouts and they let the leather fly for every minute of their four rounder. Delgado got the victory but was forced to go the distance for the first time in his career in an entertaining step-up fight for a young pro, a match shrewdly made by Mr. Peltz.

The poster for Friday night’s big celebration.

Fans, of course, also love knockouts, and while no matchmaker can plan for them the next couple of bouts were decided inside the distance. In a battle between two southpaw lightweights, Shamar Fulton (4-0) stunned Leonard Kenyon (3-8) about a minute into the first, then pounced, showing nice finishing instincts to make it a very brief affair. In the following bout, Philly welterweight Shinard Bunch (3-1) rebounded from a hard-fought loss back in August to do the business against Kevin Womack (9-19-3) in dramatic fashion. Bunch landed a right and Womack was asleep before he hit the canvas and the referee immediately waived off the bout giving Bunch a resounding first round KO. Three fights down and all three had been crowd-pleasing scraps.

A young Peltz with some Philly boxing royalty. From left to right: Bob Montgomery, Harold Johnson, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Joltin’ Jeff Chandler.

It was at this point in the night when the magnitude of the respect for Peltz within the boxing community became clear. Teddy Atlas entered the arena, along with Oleksandr Gvozdyk, both in town for Gvozdyk’s upcoming title clash with Artur Beterbiev, and the two sat right beside Peltz and his family. Not long after, Bernard Hopkins made his way ringside. Lou DiBella was there and let his big personality shine, standing by some reporters and howling about how cool the event was. Plenty of active fighters made the rounds as well, including local favorites Sonny Conto and Gabe Rosado, speaking both with Peltz and fans around the arena.

Peltz and DiBella
Lou DiBella came to show his support for Peltz.

Despite those big names, perhaps the night’s most distinguished guest was one of the deans of Philadelphia sports coverage, Ray Didinger. Those outside the city probably know him best for his football reporting, and in fact he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but people in Philly know Didinger’s also a big fight fan. I made sure to catch him on the radio the day after Muhammad Ali died because I knew no one else in this city could give the “The Greatest” his due respects like Didinger. A night honoring Peltz wouldn’t have been complete without Ray Didinger, and he got special mention from the ring announcer between fights.

As the old guard and future stars came together for Peltz, the combatants continued doing the same inside the ring. Having lamented the huge number of tune up fights in boxing today, Peltz made sure there were none at his big show. Gerardo Martinez (5-1) and Osnel Charles (13-20-1) faced off again after a competitive bout back in February, and while Martinez took a clearer decision this time, the fight always seemed like it could swing either way.

Peltz and Osnel Charles.

And even when we got our first dud of the night between Sydney Maccow (7-8) and Marcel Rivers (7-2), it livened up after a scribe on press row shouted during the third round, “Is this dancing? I thought we came for boxing.” Rivers then scored a knockdown in the fourth, which opened things up, and Sydney returned the favor in the sixth. The decision went to Maccow and it was a win made more impressive by the fact that he limped out of the ring, showing he had got the job done on one leg. That’s the kind of grit Philly fans like.

All the great action on display only served to make the night’s big takeaway the lost art of matchmaking. The main  event saw a step-up fight for Victor Padilla (6-0), who Peltz had called “the hottest prospect in the tri-state area,” and then adding that “he’s my kind of fighter, a stone-cold take no prisoners kind of guy.” The undefeated Padilla, who’d never had to go the distance, took on his first opponent with a winning record, one Romain Thomas (8-3), and Victor got in good rounds against solid opposition for the first time in his career.

Victor Padilla got in some good rounds.

Thomas showed patient defense which Padilla couldn’t break down, and while the hot prospect won a unanimous decision, this may have been a turning point. I hope he learned from it, because if he did, everyone in boxing will be hearing about him soon. But more to the point, that’s exactly the kind of fight a kid who’s dominated every round of his young career needs. It might not have provided flashy moments for the highlight reel, but it was a solid fight, fun to watch, and excellent for a young prospect’s development.

Even the walkout fight, between North Philadelphians Christopher Burgos (2-4-1) and Tyree Arnold (0-3), each of whom had losing records, entertained. People heading to the exits filed out to the sounds of thudding body shots and I’m betting they regretted their decision. To be fair to the crowd, more people stayed and cheered for these local boxers than I’ve almost ever seen for a walkout match, but the Philly fans knew that even if it wasn’t glam, it was good. Peltz had mentioned this fight particularly a few weeks ago, and from a fan’s perspective, despite the boxers having only one win between them before the contest, it delivered.

One of the dominant images I’ll keep with me from this fight is of Michelle Rosado walking around the arena in a bright red dress, shaking hands, managing the event which she co-promoted. Rosado is Peltz’s heir, and he had the highest praise for her.

“Nobody works harder in marketing in my lifetime than she does,” Peltz told me. “She does it and she loves it. She’d be my first draft pick.” Peltz and Rosado have been working together since 2012, and along with the celebration of Peltz there was also a distinct feeling that Rosado’s time has come, and Philly boxing will run through her for the foreseeable future. Given everything she’s done up to this point, it’s easy to understand why Peltz considers Philadelphia boxing to be in good hands going forward.

Michelle Rosado is following in Peltz’s footsteps.

That said, I’m sure Rosado knows how daunting the task ahead of her is, but if there’s anyone who can keep the Peltz boxing tradition alive, she’s the one to do it. In this era of boxing where business and politics and undefeated records are the dominant currencies, Peltz has picked a fine successor to stay focused on the kind of competition fans want to see, the cards we see too few of today. And that’s a pretty great way to polish off fifty remarkable years in boxing.           — Joshua Isard 

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