Evander Holyfield walked across the ring to wish Russell Lamour good luck while the big crowd at the Portland Expo cheered, whistled, and clapped their hands harder. The main event of Saturday’s Night of All-Star Boxing was about to begin.

Lamour stepped up to the moment and the noise, acknowledging Holyfield, the only man to win five world heavyweight championships. In fact, Lamour was taking a deep breath and telling his mind to step back.

Holyfield may have been the guest of honor but Lamour was Saturday’s star attraction.

“I had to keep my composure,” said Lamour. He was fighting for the vacant New England middleweight championship. Even more, he was fighting for boxing’s comeback in a state where memories of Paul “Junior” Labbe or Joey Gamache are waiting to be rekindled by new hope.

“I couldn’t let the crowd get to me,” said Lamour, a 30-year-old graduate of Portland’s Deering High. “I know they wanted me to win. I knew I needed to stay in control. I had a job to do.”

Lamour stopped Laatekwei Hammond, a native of Ghana who now lives in Worcester, Massachusetts. The end came two minutes into the eighth round after Hammond dropped to a knee for the third time in the fight. This fight was scheduled for eight rounds and Hammond was a minute away from the final bell. There is honor to completing a fight even if it’s lost.

Several times earlier in the fight, referee Steve Smoger looked into Hammond’s eyes and asked him if he could continue. One minute from the end, Smoger didn’t bother. Lamour had been relentless throughout the fight using his much quicker foot and hand speed. He wasn’t simply effective, he was overpowering as a boxer and a puncher.

In the eighth, Holyfield couldn’t help himself. Sitting at ringside, Holyfield leaned forward in his seat, his eyes locked on Lamour’s fast and furious hands.

With Hammond still on one knee, Smoger reached down to cradle the opponent’s head in an unmistakable act of compassion. With his free hand, Smoger signaled the end. The crowd that nearly filled the Expo was on its feet. This time Lamour didn’t let his emotions step back.

“A great night for boxing,” said Bobby Russo, the promoter and manager and coach whose energy has kept the Portland Boxing Club alive. “It was just a great night.”

Russo asked Holyfield to come to Portland from his home in Atlanta, knowing the former champion would attract more attention to the fight card. Holyfield can command large appearance fees throughout the world but he knows how to give back to the sport that made him a wealthy and respected man.

“When I die, God isn’t going to ask how many championships I’ve won. He’s going to ask how many people I helped that needed help,” Holyfield said Friday. He’s 51, still fit, still powerful and judging by his interaction with people at the Expo and around Portland leading up the event, still revered and approachable.

Holyfield beat Mike Tyson, who was considered America’s bully. Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear and still lost.

Holyfield posed for photos with fight fans before the card started. Standing away from the line, Trevor Benedict of Augusta and his brother, Chad Benedict of Freeport watched and smiled. Trevor’s 6-year-old son is named Jordan Evander Benedict. Why?

“Evander Holyfield embodies everything that is good,” said Trevor Benedict who didn’t think twice before he answered. Evander Holyfield is boxing’s recent past and by example should be boxing’s future.

“Do I think there will be another Evander Holyfield?” said the heavyweight champ, repeating a question asked of him Friday. “Of course I do. I believe all records can be broken.”

Smoger is the aging rock star among fight officials. First licensed in 1982, he has worked some 190 world title fights in more countries than any other referee. He had never worked a fight card in Maine. If he could bring a little more attention to Russo’s card, he wanted in. Count it as his way of giving back.

He loved Saturday night’s crowd. He loved the excitement, loved seeing new fighters chase their dreams. If boxing is so alive at its grassroots it’s not dead or dying. Not when Lamour or his PBC teammate Jorge Abiague climb through the ropes to the ring. Not when young pro Brandon Berry of tiny West Forks in the upper Kennebec River Valley can bring pretty much the entire community down to Portland to watch him fight and win.

Lamour won Saturday night. Boxing won.

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

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