In three spots in California this weekend, as many as 20,000 fans will see the latest examples of how the state has emerged as the hotbed of boxing for “the whole world, not just the U.S.,” said Andy Foster, California State Athletic Commission executive officer.
At the newly named Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson on Saturday, unbeaten World Boxing Assn. primary super-featherweight champion Gervonta Davis of Baltimore defends his belt against Mexico’s Hugo Ruiz on a loaded card. The event will be televised on Showtime.
At Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Puerto Rico’s unbeaten Alberto Machado will defend the secondary WBA 130-pound belt against challenger Andrew Cancio, of Blythe, Calif. The match will be live streamed Saturday on DAZN.
The biggest crowd of all — at least 10,000 — is expected Sunday afternoon in Fresno, where unbeaten hometown world champion Jose Ramirez will defend his World Boxing Council junior-welterweight title against La Puente’s Jose Zepeda in a match to be shown on ESPN.
“We’ve really been looking to tap into this market, as you’ve noticed with so many of our shows,” said Tom Brown, the Sherman Oaks-based head of TGB Promotions, whose company presents several Premier Boxing Champions bouts.
After placing the Showtime pay-per-view heavyweight title bout between unbeaten rivals Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury at Staples Center on Dec. 1, PBC put a Jan. 13 super-middleweight title fight at L.A. Live’s Microsoft Theater, where it returns Feb. 16 with featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz defending his belt.
In between, PBC has two cards in Carson, including Shawn Porter’s welterweight title defense March 9.
Brown said “it’s all about relationships” between PBC and the operator of those venues, AEG, “but the ticket sales have remained strong.”
He said he was expecting a packed house in Carson on Saturday. “We’ve avoided rain, and it’s always a strong walk-up crowd there. There’s something with this venue. It’s replaced the Olympic Auditorium as the home for those classic bouts.”
Foster, of the California commission, pointed to an Assn. of Boxing Commissions study last month that revealed California, with 118 boxing shows, drew more cards in 2018 than Nevada, New York, Texas and New Jersey combined, producing $1.98 million in revenue.
The state is in the process of hiring more inspectors, which could lead to the oversight of more events for an even greater 2019, Foster said. Removing the cap of $100,000 maximum tax on live-gate ticket sales could also increase revenue. Nevada, by comparison, charges an 8% tax on its live-gate ticket sales.
The best incentive is the fervent fan interest.
“None of this would be possible if the fans weren’t coming,” Foster said.
While the Indio card Saturday will compete for viewers from the Showtime broadcast, Golden Boy Promotions announced more than 2,100 fans are expected at the sold-out event.
In addition to the Machado-Cancio title fight, super-bantamweight champion Rey Vargas (32-0, 22 KOs) is defending his WBC belt against Franklin Manzanilla (18-4, 17 KOs) and former U.S. Olympian and featherweight title challenger Joseph Diaz Jr. is making his super-featherweight debut.
“Boxing’s on an upswing all over the country, but, here, our relationship with Fantasy Springs is one in which they truly believe in the sport and they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in marketing it to develop that loyal following,” Golden Boy President Eric Gomez said.
He added that television “dates are scarce. We’re not going to turn them down. And we’re in a different area [of Southern California than PBC on Saturday]. We have very competitive fights here. We wish our competition well, and we’ll concentrate on what we do.”
That effort is aided by Southern California’s own as Cancio (19-4-2, 14 KOs) seeks to please the mass of followers he has drawn to nearby Fantasy Springs.
Fittingly, Cancio said he was drawn to boxing by watching viewing parties of the big fights hosted “by my big Mexican family.”
“We’d always get together, and one day my buddy from middle school says, ‘There’s a boxing gym in Blythe, right next to the rec center and it’s free, all you have to bring is [hand] wraps … .’ I went in and never left the gym,” Cancio said. “I fell in love with the sport and I got used to doing it. I found the stamina and condition to win fights.”
Now, he confronts a Golden Boy favorite in Machado (21-0, 17 KOs), who’s trained by famed cornerman Freddie Roach. Cancio will drive to LAX afterward and board a Sunday morning flight to be in Zepeda’s corner.
“None of that Freddie Roach stuff bothers me. I have a good trainer too,” Cancio said. “[Machado’s] a human being, and I know what I did in camp and I know what I’m capable of. I didn’t accept this fight as an opponent. I know I can beat him.”