January 30, 2013

Steve Solloway: Boxing still not down and out

Russell Lamour made a mistake Saturday night. He got caught up in the noise and excitement of boxing's return to TD Garden in Boston for the first time in six years.

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click image to enlarge

Russell Lamour

Staff File Photo

He wanted a big moment to add to the big night.

"It kind of stuck in my mind to go for the knockout," Lamour said Tuesday about his four-round unanimous decision win. "I was looking for that one punch. I should have let the fight come to me."

Lamour was being hard on himself, which isn't a bad thing in a sport sometimes built on illusions. He's a 30-year-old middleweight and Saturday was only his second pro fight, After a long amateur career, he fights with a maturity that deflects false praise.

"I had the crowd behind me. I wanted to show them something."

He showed them a winner in a night that was full of winners, including the sport that some believe has been kicked into a dusty corner. Pro boxing? Time and the visceral adrenaline rush of mixed martial arts or cage fighting has passed boxing by, say the generation that didn't grow up with Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Funny thing about perceptions: they're not always accurate.

Saturday's Night at the Fights was sold out. TD Garden and promoters put about 4,200 tickets on sale for $47.50 and $37.50. The use of drapes and the absence of lighting made half of the arena's lower bowl feel cozy.

Irish Micky Ward from Lowell, Mass., was in the building. So was Marlon Starling from Hartford, Conn., who last fought in 1990, and Vinny Paz from Cranston, R.I. Three former champs from New England. All three looked like they could go a few rounds.

For $50, you could get the autographs of the three standing together on the other side of the drapes. The line always seemed to have about 20 to 30 people waiting. I was surprised to see a younger generation paying the money.

Matt Leibowitz of Holliston, Mass., and Brian Davis of Millis, Mass., kept their $50. They were two 20-somethings who got tickets to watch a friend fight in one of the five amateur bouts. They enjoy cage fighting but on this night had come to the Garden and felt fortunate they had tickets.

Vendors sold boxing memorabilia. Muhammad Ali figurines and yellowing framed newspapers: Pender still champ! The headline referred to a local hero, Paul Pender of Brookline, after he beat former middleweight champ Carmen Basilio in 1961.

At another table, Clan O'Connor T-shirts and highwaymen bandanas were on sale. Danny "Bhoy" O'Connor of Framingham, Mass., and Derek Silveira of Salem, Mass., were the main event. Two 27-year-old light welterweights scheduled for 10 rounds.

Silveira, nicknamed "The Surgeon," came out of his locker room first, escorted by an entourage of supporters wearing medical masks. O'Connor was next, preceded by bagpipers and men wearing bandanas hiding half their face.

The fans were on their feet. It was close to bedlam. And the first punch hadn't been thrown.

O'Connor had Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton in his corner manning the spit bucket. Ken Casey, a founding member of the Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys, is his manager. O'Connor trains in Texas but Boston is his home. After the furious first round I wrote in my notebook: fight won't last more than two, maybe three rounds. It can't.

The fight went all 10 rounds and the pace slackened only a little. In the final round, promoter Al Valenti rose from his seat to applaud both men. Soon, more and more fans got to their feet, applauding.

Up in the stands, Lamour had joined family and friends from the Portland Boxing Club. He appreciated what had just happened in the ring. He hasn't yet fought 10 rounds.

O'Connor won a majority decision. One judge scored the fight a 95-95 draw. O'Connor is 20-1 and should someday crack the top-10 rankings.

This wasn't a championship fight or a match between contenders. Just two local professionals, competing in a sport labeled "the sweet science" many years ago.

After the ring was cleared and fans started leaving, about 15 youngsters slipped between the ropes to walk on the ring's canvas. They all wore white T-shirts with "Take your kid to Fight Night" on the back.

Lamour, for all his maturity, is still one of those kids. "I just want to make it. In my heart I know I can be a champion."

The heart of boxing still beats.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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