Prior to the April 30 Super Middleweight Championship Doubleheader at the DC Armory, the Washington Post published a great piece on Floyd Mayweather and his promotion company Mayweather Promotions bringing boxing back to the District of Columbia.
To view the article on The Washington Post website, please click here.
A black box truck parked blocks from the White House on the final day of February compelled curious onlookers to pause and snap pictures. Emblazoned on the side of the vehicle in oversized white letters was “TMT,” the acronym for Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s The Money Team lifestyle brand, an unmistakable indication the biggest name in boxing was in the vicinity.
The undisputed pound-for-pound king, in fact, had made his way up to the top floor of the posh W Hotel to participate in a news conference for a fight card featuring then-World Boxing Association 140-pound champion Adrien Broner against Ashley Theophane, the British challenger who’s part of Mayweather’s fast expanding stable of fighters.
Since recently retiring from the sport, Mayweather has settled into promoting fighters rather than dismantling them, and still no one in the industry draws a crowd quite like the undefeated five-division world champion. Even hip-hop mogul Rick Ross attended the proceedings to help sell the fight at the D.C. Armory.
On April 1, the Armory began filling up with fans well before Broner and Theophane touched gloves. By the time Broner had won via a ninth-round stoppage, there was barely an empty amid the announced sellout crowd of more than 8,000. An additional 1 million-plus watched on Spike, turning the Premier Boxing Champions main event into the most viewed in the network’s history.
All of which contributed to D.C.’s renaissance as a destination fight town that’s becoming a regular stop for championship cards. It includes Saturday’s Mayweather Promotions doubleheader at the D.C. Armory with World Boxing Council 168-pound title holder Badou Jack against Lucian Bute in the main event. International Boxing Federation champion James DeGale faces Rogelio Medina in the co-headliner.
“I think D.C. is quickly becoming one of the meccas of boxing,” said longtime area trainer Barry Hunter, who attended Broner-Theophane in a working capacity, overseeing District lightweight Anthony Peterson’s triumph on the undercard. “We’ve had major, major fights in the nation’s capital, and it makes all the sense in the world because it is the nation’s capital.”
Hunter was in the corner for the seminal fight to take place in the District this decade. On Dec. 10, 2011, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, District super lightweight Lamont Peterson, Anthony’s older brother, upset Amir Khan via split decision to claim the IBF and WBA titles, triggering elevated national interest in Washington as a viable boxing hub.
The victory is considered a watershed in the area fight game because during the previous decade, the most memorable bout in the District featured a disinterested Mike Tyson quitting in the final match of his career at MCI (now Verizon) Center in June 2005. Tyson admitted shortly after the ignominious loss to Irish journeyman Kevin McBride his heart wasn’t in boxing anymore.
Perhaps the most celebrated era of D.C. boxing over the past two decades came during the years well before the Tyson fiasco. Throughout the 1990s, local champions such as Riddick Bowe, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, Sharmba Mitchell, Keith Holmes and William Joppy, among others, either won or defended their titles in the District.
On the undercard of Bowe’s 1993 title defense against Jesse Ferguson at RFK Stadium was Roy Jones Jr. facing Bernard Hopkins, both of whom would become among the most decorated fighters of all-time, for the vacant IBF middleweight championship. It remains the only fight card in RFK Stadium history.
Legendary welterweight Sugar Ray Leonard also hails from the region — Palmer Park to be exact — but fought the majority of his championship bouts in Las Vegas.
“A number of great fighters have come from the area,” said Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions who grew up in Northeast. “When it comes to boxing, the fans here have a very high IQ. D.C. has been a great fight town for a number of years, and Floyd was very adamant, along with myself, about wanting to bring big events to D.C.”
Mayweather never fought in the District but through his close connection with Ellerbe developed an affinity for the city years ago. In July 2014, for instance, Mayweather refused to allow a four-hour weather delay from a commuter airport outside of New York to scrap plans for a promotional stop at Constitution Hall in advance of his fight against Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas.
With Ellerbe at his side, Mayweather finally arrived close to midnight for the event originally scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Mayweather made certain to answer questions from the media in his dressing room, apologizing for the lengthy delay, and then appeared on stage to greet supporters who had stayed until the end.
“Loyal fans,” Mayweather said. “That’s why I had to come to D.C. and show love.”
The Mayweather Promotions card on Saturday includes four fighters representing three continents in the featured bouts to be broadcast live on Showtime. It’s part of an effort from the network and promoters to generate greater attention to the District on an international level, with Jack (20-1-1, 12 knockouts), the main draw, born in Stockholm and representing Gambia in the 2008 Olympics.
Bute (32-3, 25 KOs), a former IBF champion, was born in Pechea, Romania, but has fought out of Quebec since debuting as a professional and gaining Canadian citizenship in 2012. DeGale (22-1, 14 KOs) won gold in the 2008 Olympics for England, and Medina (35-6, 29 KOs), the IBF’s mandatory challenger, was born in Sonora, Mexico, where he still resides.
The winners of each of those two fights are on track to meet next in a unification bout, the site of which is to be announced. Ellerbe indicated D.C. is in the conversation, and another sell out on Saturday could go a long way toward determining if the run of championship fights continues in the nation’s capital.
“I’m a realist when it comes to this business,” said Erik Moses, senior vice president for Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District. “Canelo-Khan is not going to happen in D.C. It’s going to happen in a place that has a casino connected to it, and most of those fights will continue to be there.
“But I think we’re still a good fight town, and we’re going to be town where up-and-coming fighters and those that have some allegiance to our city and to its fan base are going to want to continue to fight because of the support they get here.”