By Jackie Kallen
It was almost 34 years ago when I attended my first professional fight. The venue was the Olympia Stadium in Detroit and the featured fighters were Thomas Hearns and Mickey Goodwin and other boxers from the Kronk Gym. The crowd cheered with every punch and I fell in love with the sport of boxing. I was a sports writer back then, covering the sport for the first time.
Saturday night at a convention hall called The Suburban Collection Showplace in suburban Novi, Michigan, the excitement returned. Thomas Hearns, Emanuel Steward, and I were all on hand again. It was just like old times, only Hearns was there as a spectator, sitting ringside in a suit, to support the young crop of Kronk boxers. His son Ronald, who was born the week I first met his dad, was also in attendance, along with two thousand other avid fight fans.
The evening was hosted by Emanuel Steward, trainer and HBO commentator. Dazzling in a tux, he greeted VIP’s and signed autographs. The famous Kronk yellow and gold colors were everywhere. Many of the fans in the crowd were faces that have followed the Kronk gym for over three decades. A lot of the early fans are no longer alive or are too old to go to events like this. But the old thrill was still in the air.
The Dirrell’s from Flint were on hand, as was former champ Milton McCrory. Current title-holder Cornelius Bundrage posed for photos with admirers and one of George Foreman’s early foes–Bobby Hitz (now a promoter)–flew in from Chicago.
I was particularly interested in watching 22 year-old Leandre “Blue” White, a tall welterweight who fought a rematch with Dorian Hatcher. Now 2-0, Blue beat Hatcher for the second time in a row. From the first time I saw him fight (in early January on a Donofrio card at the Palace of Auburn Hills), I felt that White has a bright future.
The talked-about Kronk sensation Tony Harrison dazzled the crowd and had everyone cheering as he improved his record to 5-0 with 5 knockouts in the co-main event. Alfred Hall was no trouble for the talented junior middleweight. He was just another notch on Harrison’s belt.
The theme was St. Patrick’s Day in honor of the main event, Irish Andy Lee. Everyone walking in received a green plastic lei and there were Irish flags waving. Before the fight, both the Irish and American national anthems were sung.
Heading toward a world title fight, middleweight Lee had an easy night’s work against fleshy Saul Duran. A veteran of 62 fights, the 39-year old Duran did not make it through the second round. Not the most impressive opponent, but Lee did the job and advances to 28-1.
Steward promises to do another show soon. Hopefully the next one will be even more packed and boxing will continue making a comeback in Detroit. Promoters like Joe Donofrio have long believed in the revival of the sport and have put their money where their mouth is. It may finally start to pay off. Boxing can only go in one direction: Up.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen