Barclays pumps up Oct. 20 fight

Updated: August 31, 2012, 2:02 AM ET
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

The Brooklyn Nets may be the focal point of the almost-finished Barclays Center, the new building in Prospect Heights that opens with a Jay-Z concert on Sept. 28, but boxing will be a significant part of the programming. The Nets made that clear at a news conference Thursday to hype the fight game's Oct. 20 debut at the $1 billion arena.

There is no Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao on the first card, though. It features WBC and WBA super-lightweight champion Danny Garcia, a Philadelphia kid who shocked the fight world when he knocked out British ace Amir Khan in July, gloving up in a rematch against Erik Morales, a Mexican legend who is past his prime but still might be capable of a career-capper.

Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, who crafted a multiyear deal with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions to provide boxing content for the Barclays Center -- in both the 19,000-seat main arena and a smaller theater in the complex -- says he sees boxing as an integral building block to the building's acceptance in the region.

"Our goal was that the Barclays Center will be bigger than basketball," Yormark said. "Boxing, college sports, family shows and of course the Brooklyn Nets as the headliner, and that's what we're doing. We plan to be a big-time player in the boxing world, no question about it."

There wasn't all that much in the way of territorial barking or trash talking among the combatants at the presser. Even Bensonhurst-bred Paulie Malignaggi, who defends his WBA welterweight belt against Mexican Pablo Cano, took a respectful tone as he promised that he wasn't about to relinquish his strap on fight night. And Yormark, a trim and super-intense sort, also refrained from firing any verbal volleys at Madison Square Garden. But it's clear he aims to compete.

"We're a mature startup," he said. "We're not like any other building that's just opened its doors, we've already got 200-plus events committed. We want to be the leaders in sports entertainment in New York and I think we're well on our way."

De La Hoya, who presided over the presser, called the Barclays Center "the new kid on the block." MSG has its history, the Golden Boy said, but he expects the Barclays' opening to spur a healthy competition, beginning with the first two title fights in Brooklyn since 1931, when light-heavyweight Maxie Rosenbloom defeated Jimmy Slattery at Ebbets Field.

Author Thomas Hauser, writer of the definitive biography, "Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times," sees plenty of upside for boxing fans.

"To me, there are two pluses that Barclays brings to the table," he said. "One, the more boxing you have in the city, the better. Two, it's been a long time since Madison Square Garden aggressively supported boxing."

The Garden rents its arena out, Hauser said, and promoters have to take a big risk to recoup their outlay. With Barclays partnering with Golden Boy, risk is theoretically reduced on both sides, and that encourages more risk-taking.

Yormark said he's looking to have another Golden Boy show at Barclays by the end of the year, perhaps in December, and thereafter, do one a month. Not all will be in the large room; Yormark said some shows will unfold in the theater.

Malignaggi couldn't contain his enthusiasm and spoke to ESPNNewYork.com while proudly clutching his hard-won belt. He spoke of being born in a hospital a couple miles from the Barclays Center, and then boiled down his emotional state at the prospect of fighting in front of his family, friends and neighbors.

"Everybody dreams of fighting in their hometown and defending their championship there. But I'm from Brooklyn, man. Not everybody's from Brooklyn," he said. "You grew up dreaming of fighting at Madison Square Garden because there was not a place like the Barclays arena you could dream about. It's special, it's humbling and exciting."

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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