'Club' gets back to Golden Boy's roots
When Oscar De La Hoya founded Golden Boy Promotions with CEO Richard Schaefer in late 2001, the company didn't just jump right into the world of major championship cards and televised events on HBO and pay-per-view.
No, Golden Boy learned to crawl before it could walk, and then run.
For the first few years of its existence, Golden Boy regularly promoted club shows in Irvine, Calif., learning the ropes of putting on fight cards under the tutelage of longtime California promoter Roy Englebrecht, who continues to run his 25-year-old "Battle in the Ballroom" club show series at the Irvine Marriott.
Golden Boy has since established itself as one of the top promoters in the world, but in its latest endeavor De La Hoya's group is going back to its roots -- downtown Los Angeles.
On Thursday night, the company -- in partnership with Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns a minority stake in Golden Boy along with arenas around the world -- will launch "Fight Night Club," a monthly boxing series that will feature Los Angeles-based prospects and fighters in a nightclub setting: the intimate confines of the 2,300-seat Club Nokia.
"It's an investment toward the grass roots of boxing," De La Hoya told ESPN.com. "That's where it all starts."
Club Nokia is in the L.A. Live complex in downtown Los Angeles, across from the Staples Center and next to the 7,000-seat Nokia Theater (all of which are owned by AEG), just minutes from Golden Boy's downtown offices.
The first four "Fight Night Club" cards will be televised live on Versus (9 p.m. ET) and streamed on the Golden Boy-owned Ring magazine Web site. The other three shows will be held July 30, Aug. 27 and Sept. 24.
Although Versus is paying a "minimal" license fee, according to De La Hoya, Golden Boy and AEG are producing the telecasts, which will be hosted by blow-by-blow man Mario Solis and analysts Bernard Hopkins and Doug Fisher.
"Some of the best fights I've ever seen have taken place at small club shows, and now we have the opportunity to bring those fights to the world," De La Hoya said, adding that with or without television the series will continue beyond the September commitment from Versus.
The idea is to showcase those young fighters who are fighting their butt off and never get the credit.” -- Oscar De La Hoya on Golden Boy Promotions' "Fight Night Club"
But don't expect big names or world title bouts in these shows. Instead, the bulk of the fights will be four- and six-rounders. The attraction, De La Hoya said, will be evenly matched action fights.
"The idea behind the show is, we want local fighters in good fights because there is a lot of talent here in California," De La Hoya said. "We want to create a platform for the fighters who never get exposure or get on TV, but who are exciting to watch. You're going to have guys who can fight, and we want to create this consistency where the fans are turning out to see great four-, six- and some eight-round fights. With this series, we want to look for those diamonds in the rough. This is kind of like our Double- or Triple-A platform, and then we have the big leagues, like in baseball."
The opening show is headlined by junior lightweight and former U.S. amateur national champion David Rodela (12-1-3, 6 KOs) of Oxnard, Calif., against Los Angeles' Juan Garcia (14-2, 5 KOs). Other bouts from the seven-fight card slated for television include featherweight Charles Huerta (10-0, 5 KOs) of Paramount, Calif., against Mexico's Noe Lopez Jr. (4-0, 3 KOs), and Luis Ramos (10-0, 5 KOs) of Santa Ana, Calif., taking on Mexico's Baudel Cardenas (18-16-2, 6 KOs).
"The idea is to showcase those young fighters who are fighting their butt off and never get the credit," De La Hoya said. "Matchmaking is key here. I want to make sure every single fight is a [good] fight, because that's what is gong to drive the show. People aren't going to tune in for a big name. They'll tune in because they know they will see a good fight."
Eric Gomez, one of De La Hoya's best friends from childhood and Golden Boy's chief matchmaker, said he is energized by the series and takes De La Hoya's mandate seriously.
"When I first started matchmaking, we were doing those shows at the Irvine Marriott. It was fun because in those four- and six-rounders, anything can happen," Gomez said. "The kids come out strong and hard because they know if they lose a round or two in a four-round fight, you practically have to knock the guy out. So I agree with Oscar: The matchmaking is very important. You try to get guys around the same level and guys who will make it exciting."
The two featured bouts Thursday are prime examples, Gomez said.
"Rodela is a prospect, and I have him matched up against Garcia, who has been knocked out a couple of times but is very solid and had about 100 amateur fights and can fight," Gomez said. "I'm excited about that fight. The co-feature has two undefeated kids, Huerta and Lopez. They're coming to prove they belong."
Many of the fighters who will box on the shows aren't signed to Golden Boy, but it's an opportunity for them to get noticed by De La Hoya or Gomez -- and perhaps land a promotional contract.
"It's giving us a chance to put on some local kids who are always calling us, looking for fights," Gomez said. "We'll match them up and see what kind of talent they have. We're trying to create our own version of 'Broadway Boxing,' like Lou DiBella has done with this kind of show in New York. These will be fun fights where people can come after work, enjoy a club atmosphere and see kids fight their hearts out. And we'll try to build up local talent, find local ticket sellers and give these kids opportunities.
"We're telling these guys, 'Look, if you want to fight on these shows, you have to fight somebody tough. If you want to catch our eye, you have to fight somebody tough."
De La Hoya said the atmosphere at Club Nokia is as important to Golden Boy as the telecast, which is why ticket prices have been kept down (ranging from $28 to $65). Also, fans are invited to stick around after the bouts for music, dancing and a chance to mingle with the fighters when the room is converted from a boxing arena back into a nightclub.
Schaefer came up with the idea when he saw more than 20,000 pack the Staples Center in January for the Shane Mosley-Antonio Margarito fight. He said he realized that there was a constituency hungry for boxing in downtown Los Angeles.
But, Schaefer said, the city had been without a regularly scheduled show for the past few years.
"In downtown, there was really no more regular show, which gave these young kids a chance to showcase their talents on. Forum Boxing is gone. Fights at the Grand Olympic [Auditorium] are gone. The time is here to bring fights to downtown again.
"This is a perfect setup," Schaefer said, adding that Thursday's card will be a sellout. "We just need to give the fans fights. We have an audience that can follow these guys from the small venue of Club Nokia to a medium venue like the Nokia Theater to the large venue like Staples Center. The fans are here."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
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