Thanks for the memories, Fox Theatre

3/6/2008 - Boxing
Thomas Mashaba will have a chance to give Foxwood fight fans something to cheer about one last time. Alexander Joe/Getty Images

"It's quarter to three,/
Theres no one in the place 'cept you and me /
So set em up Joe,/
I got a little story, I think you oughta know."

We should've known what we were in store for just by the fact that "Mr. S" opened the place.

Sinatra was one of us. Ol' Blue Eyes -- a fight fan through and through. Heck, he lived his life like a fighter. He got up off the canvas and threw punches 'til the final bell.

That night in '93, Sinatra christened the Fox Theatre at Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort Casino. He was deep into the 15th round of life. Still, he had enough left in the tank to perform like a champ.

If Sinatra were capable of magic, he must have sprinkled some fairy dust on that room. The Chairman of the Board clearly ordered up some of that old-time magic from days gone by. He blessed it with a touch of those New York City neighborhood battles he watched ringside as a kid. He gave it even a bit of that fight-of-the-century hot ticket excitement he loved as a star.

"Were drinking, my friend/
To the end of a brief episode /
So make it one for my baby,/
And one more for the road."

Sinatra told his story that night back in '93. The intimate 1,400-seat theatre never stopped telling its tales year after year. Fight night after fight night.

Come this Friday, it will be the last time the ropes are hung, the canvas is pulled taught and the place is buzzing.

And buzz it will. All-action South African Thomas Mashaba is a top 10 Ring Magazine featherweight facing veteran Cristobal Cruz (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET). If all is right in the world they will put on a show fitting of the Theatre's history.

"Friday Night Fights" is the final Fox Theatre boxing show ever. Come this spring, the new MGM Grand Theatre is opening at the world's largest casino. It's fresh and new, bigger and supposedly better.

"We are all sad to see it close," reflected theatre production supervisor Eddie Scuncio. "It's been a special place for Connecticut. It really made boxing in this area."

Well at least that's how it started -- as an area attraction. The Fox Theatre was first home to regional favorites like New England native son Vinny Paz. The night he came back and fought after breaking his neck was the most memorable of all. It was a shared feeling unlike any other fight fans had ever experienced.

"I know the routine,/
Put another nickel in that there machine /
I'm feeling so bad,/
Won't you make the music easy and sad.

I could tell you a lot,/
But you gotta to be true to your code /
So make it one for my baby,/
And one more for the road."

It grew up quick. That little intimate theatre never got any bigger, but its exposure sure did. TV fell in love with it. The fans were right on top of the ring. The atmosphere was always electric. HBO, Showtime, Fox, and ESPN -- we all showed up to get a piece of its passion.

"We will always miss the intimacy of the room," Scuncio said. "It is a special place, and when you're a boxing fan, you realize, unlike a big arena where everybody drifts off to another corner, in that room you are right there and involved."

Some of the greatest fighters of this generation involved themselves with the Theatre's unique charm. It's fitting that ESPN is home to the last Fox Theatre show. We have broadcast well over 50 fight nights from that pit-like setting. More times than not, that setting ended up producing the best fights.

Fights like Pemberton-Sheika I and II, fights like James Toney-Vassily Jirov. These were wars. They were fight of the year winners. Blood splattered, back and forth tests of a man's courage and commitment.

"You'd never know it/
But buddy I'm a kind of poet/
And I've got a lot of things I wanna say/
And if I'm gloomy, /

Please listen to me,/
'Till its all, all talked away."

Like so many from this area, for me the Fox Theatre has provided memories that will last a lifetime. I was there as a ticket-buying die-hard fan in my 20s and I have been there as an autograph-signing national broadcasters in my 30s.

However my favorite memory from the venerable venue was a fight that didn't have the bright TV lights. It was the night when I was simply there as a father. It was the night my son became a sports fan for good and we spoke a language we will share forever.

I wrote about that experience in this space. To this day I have never received more positive feedback from any column I have penned. (A first time for young eyes at ringside priceless ESPN.com March 14, 2006.) It's in all of us. Most of us can reflect on that day with someone you love connecting through sports.

For some, it was the first time they scored a baseball game in a Yankee Stadium program with their dad. For others, it was cuddling up near the cold ice with their Grandpa feeling the rush of a Flyers game at the old Spectrum.

For me, it was first hearing the thunder of thoroughbreds at Saratoga with my family. For my son, it was jumping up from his balcony seat at the impact moment of a last second knockout at the Fox Theatre.

Bigger and supposedly better always comes along: Yankee Stadium is going away, the Flyers have their new shiny digs, the Fox Theatre is throwing in the towel, but those sports memories never leave us. So join us this Friday as we raise a glass to the Fox Theatre. Sinatra would want it that way.

"Well, that's how it goes,/
And Joe I know you're gettin' anxious to close /
So thanks for the cheer,/
I hope you didn't mind/
my bending your ear /

But this torch that I found,/
Its gotta be drowned,/
Or it soon might explode /
So make it one for my baby,/
and one more for the road."

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."