Give boxing time to root again in Brooklyn

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
2:46
PM ET
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- With about two weeks to go before the debut of boxing at the Barclays Center, chatter grew louder that the show wasn't doing bang-up ticket sales. We started to see ads for discounts, for group rates, and a few days before the Saturday night unveiling of the sweet science in the rust-topped barn in Prospect Heights, I heard about a link to an offer that would get you four free tickets to the show, yours for the taking if you were a Brooklyn resident who would walk to the arena and get your freebies.

Being the Mensa-level brain surgeon I am, I deduced that ticket sales to see a nine-bout card, topped by Philadelphia's Danny Garcia defending his junior welterweight crowns against Mexico's Erik Morales, weren't flying off the shelves or, in this case, out Ticketmaster's doors.

And then I moved on to other matters.

I interviewed Danny Jacobs about three times, took a couple of videos of him for NYFightBlog, queried him about growing up in a rough part of town, Brownsville, which he told me some folks there called "Little Iraq" when it resembled that war-torn Middle Eastern country. Jacobs told me he saw a family member get shot right in front of him -- and survive, thank goodness -- when he was a little boy, and he told me about his tussle with a tumor that attached itself to his spine and tried to steal his life.

I talked to Paulie Malignaggi about how amped he was to fight so close to where he grew up, in Bensonhurst, where he said he went from being a little dark-haired punk to become a welterweight champion.

I concentrated on stories like those, and of other Brooklynites fighting on the card, which was promoted by Golden Boy, the first of what is said will be a regular slate of fights to run for three years.

And I hoped, to be quite honest with you, that those rumors about cruddy ticket sales were false, or that if they weren't, that there would be a late surge and the joint would be, if not packed, then reasonably jammed with fight fans. I hoped not because I'm a shill for the promoter or arena, but because if boxing succeeds at the Barclays, it will benefit me, as I live in Park Slope, located a neighborhood over from the arena. I can walk to bouts here, and that's good -- for my wallet, for climate-change reasons and more. And also because boxing doing well benefits all of us who dig boxing. Because if boxing at the new arena does well, then that means this new platform for fighters will stick around and there will be more gigs for fighters.

So I can say I was pretty pleased with the atmosphere on fight night Saturday. We in the media section periodically speculated how many fight fans were seated in the arena. I guessed 10,000 early in the night, when Jacobs was about to blast out Josh Luteran with a left hook that screamed "Screw cancer! Take that, tumor!" in Round 1 of his middleweight bout. It turns out that my eye for estimation isn't as poor as I thought it was; Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer announced at a postfight news conference that the attendance was 11,112, saying he was pleased with the tally and that Barclays CEO Brett Yormark told him he was pleased as well.

Now, I heard from some folks that the announced attendance and the number of people who paid to get in are different animals. I get that, and I don't have that comp figure at hand. My educated guess is that somewhere north of 2,000 watchers on fight night got in gratis. Two points on that issue: One, as a veteran newspaper man who headed up a city sports desk for two decades told me last week, everyone knows how to get to Madison Square Garden. Not so the Barclays Center. Give it some time, he told me. Give area fight fans some time to warm to the new building and venture out of their comfort zone. Second, as one TV exec pointed out to me, doesn't it make sense that a goodly number of those people who were given freebie tickets were quite enthused with Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin's six-knockdown slobberknocker win over Hassan N'Dam, which made the NYC resident the WBO middleweight champ? Don't you think that a whole bunch of people were shocked and awed by Garcia's left hook in Round 4, the one that quite nearly knocked Morales' head to Queens, and that they just might pony up to see him do his thing at Barclays next time?

Yes, we are sometimes too numbers-obsessed, as fight fans, sports fans and a nation. Maybe it would benefit us all to back off the obsession with the numbers, the dollar figures, the attendance figures, the comp totals, and pay some extra attention to the less sexy but more substantial matters. Yeah, anyone who saw Jacobs' repudiation of cancer at the Barclays Center, whether they paid to get in or got a comp, was the better for it.
Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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