PORTLAND — Tony DeMarco, the undisputed world welterweight champion from a golden era, rang the ring bell Wednesday to mark the return of professional boxing to the Portland Expo.
Bob Russo, director, promoter and trainer at the Portland Boxing Club, has announced a mixed pro-amateur fight card for Nov. 16.
“Some people say boxing is dead and dying,” said Russo to a small crowd in the Expo lobby. “I’m here to tell you it’s alive. We are ready. The time is right.”
Russo’s fight card will feature Ryan Kielczweski (17-0) of Quincy, Mass., a junior lightweight with contender potential, and Russell Lamour (5-0) and Jorge Abiague (3-0) of Portland, and Brandon Berry (3-0) of the small Kennebec River valley town of West Forks. All four attended Wednesday’s news conference, which was more a celebration of boxing’s return.
The Portland Exposition Building opened in 1914 and had its first fight card a year later. In the spring of 1940, a standing-room-only crowd at the Expo watched Henry Armstrong beat Paul Junior of Lewiston on a third round TKO. One of the world’s great welterweights, Armstrong once held world titles in three weight classes at the same time.
DeMarco fought in the Portland Expo twice in one week in 1951. In 1955, the Boston native and hero of the city’s North End won the undisputed welterweight title.
Willie Pep and Sugar Ray Robinson fought in the Expo. Throughout the 1960s, hundreds of fighters fought in bouts promoted by Boston-based promoters Sam Silverman and Rip Valenti. Al Valenti, a grandson and fight promoter, was at the Expo on Wednesday serving as master of ceremonies.
“This is a great building with great history,” said Valenti. “This is going to be the start of something great.”
The Expo can seat about 3,000 fans for the Nov. 16 fights.