Friday Night Fights at the Rio By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (April 2, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
Golden Boy Promotions, which is staging a “ShoBox” card at the Hard Rock Hotel and then the pay-per-view show featuring Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay, isn’t the only game in town in Las Vegas. For the second straight week, upstart TKO Boxing Promotions is going head to head with them, as they are putting on their own card, in association with Guilty Boxing Incorporated, from the Rio Hotel and Casino on Friday night.
Last week, they had a similar situation in Los Angeles where they had competing shows within miles of each other.
"Actually, we didn’t plan it that way," said Chet Koerner, the head of TKO Boxing, on Wednesday afternoon after their press conference at the Rio. "But the way that we do our system, ’Hometown Heroes to World Champions,’ is we’ve got a formula that we put on the ticket sellers that we’ve done for the last two years. And it doesn’t really matter if we’re in the same market or not. We’ve got our show; they’ve got their show. We respect them and we just do what we do."
The TKO card is a diverse one. The main event features undefeated lightweight hopeful Sharif “The Lion Warrior” Bogere and beneath him are a host of young prospects who have been recently added to the TKO roster in the last year, from the likes of Terrance Crawford, Fidel Maldonado, Bradley Blankenship and Michael Finney.
"I gotta tell you this," said Koerner. "I was speaking with Cameron Dunkin the other day and I looked at our crop and I told Cameron, ’In a year and a half, we’re going to have about six or seven guys in the top ten.’ Between the Joseph Elegeles, the Michael Finneys [and] Mikael Zewskis. It’s just unbelievable."
Dunkin, who has guided a host of boxers to world championships, has forged a close union with TKO. The names mentioned above are all managed by him. And many of them are trained by the respected Kenny Adams in Las Vegas.
"They’re terrific; they’re youngsters; they’re very willing to learn," said Adams, best known for training Kennedy McKinney, Vince Phillips and Diego Corrales in the past. "I think that is the key. Each one of them has a great quality. Terrance Crawford, he’s like a very seasoned fighter; he has good combinations. He also comes from a good crop of people. A couple of his trainers, one of them was a guy who used to work with me years ago; I brought him in as an assistant in the Army. So he’s learned well. Michael Finney, from Alabama, this guy can crack. I really believe he’s going to be a star. Long, tall, he’s just like a little baby; he’s only 18. But he’s very strong and solid. Right now, he’s going to be a 140-pounder, he’s fighting 143 pounds this time. As a junior welterweight, he’s got power in both hands.
"The other kid, Bradley Blankenship from Las Vegas, a hard worker, listens, works real hard. I’m looking for a lot of good things from him, too. It’s a learning stage for all of them. I haven’t been able to teach them everything you need, but they’re all willing to do everything that needs to be learned."
Adams, is a hard man; he takes no guff from anybody. He can be blunt to a fault and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. But this old Army guy, who coached the United States Olympic boxing team to a strong showing in 1988, derives great glory in being able to mold and nurture young talent. For him, it’s the very essence of his occupation.
"Basically that’s what I’ve really done. I started out with the long group of guys I had: Al Cole, Ray Mercer, Vince Phillips, Kennedy McKinney, Eddie Cook, Charles Murray- all these guys. I had those guys from the amateurs, through the Olympics to the pros and become world champions," he says. "I love that; that is my thrill, to teach these guys. As a matter of fact, sometimes people say, ’You should get paid a lot more.’ I don’t really give a sh*t. It ain’t about getting paid; it’s about teaching, making champions. That’s what I love to do."
“Huck” Finney, is a young man who hails from Smith Station, Alabama. He looks like Opie Taylor and hooks to the body like Julio Cesar Chavez. He says of working with Adams, "It’s great; he kinda beats me up, hitting the mitts, but it’s OK. It makes me better. But he’s a great trainer; he works with me on everything, tells me what I’m doing wrong. So it’s great."
Bogere, who faces Martin Tucker as the headliner is another boxer working under the stern eye of Adams. Currently his record is 14-0 (8), but what really stands out from this native of Uganda is the lion headdress and cage that he comes into the ring with.
"It started in 2008, when my manager, he saw my style; he said, ’Man, you fight like a lion,’" explained Bogere, of his colorful entrance.
Noted football coach George Allen once said famously, “The future, is now.” For TKO, that point is still a way off. But Koerner says, "I think the biggest growth is that we went from signing ticket sellers and maybe B-level fighters; now we’re signing the A-level fights and I think that’s going to take us to the top. The other thing is we’ve been able to secure a TV deal. We’ve got our own network. So we don’t have to worry about the big boys anymore."
NOT IN SMITH STATION ANYMORE, TOTO
So what’s the biggest contrast between Smith Station and Las Vegas?
"You’ve got a lot of different people here," said Finney. "Out in Smith Station, you’ve got one crowd, all country and everything. But now, here, you’ve got everybody. It’s different."
Yeah, I’d say that’s putting it mildly.
What happens in Vegas, doesn’t happen in Smith Station.
Tickets for this show are priced at $100, $50 and $30 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com (800-745-3000) and the Rio box-office (Riolasvegas.com/888-746-7784). Doors will open at 6 PM, with first bell at 6:30.
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