On Saturday Night (February 25, 2012), 17 brave locals will enter the ring at historic Memorial Hall in Downtown Dayton to show the boxing skills they’ve learned over the past several weeks, months and even years of training at Drake’s Downtown Gym in the first Dayton Knockout V.I.P. Fight Night! This highly-anticipated event is presented by AIDS Resource Center Ohio and Dayton History (in collaboration with Drake’s Downtown Gym) with proceeds benefiting these two excellent organizations. Knockout Tickets are $15 advance/$20 door for General Admission, with limited $25 advance tickets available that include three drink tickets and admission to the Speakeasy Lounge AfterParty featuring Funky G and the Groove Machine.
Knockout V.I.P Fight Night is the first event in the Memorial Hall Theatre since Bill Cosby appeared there in 2001, and an opportunity for Daytonians to revisit the venue in which many big acts have performed over the past decades – not to mention some big boxing events in the early 1900’s. Continue reading for an interesting look back at Dayton’s boxing legacy, and at the end of this article – a chance to win tickets for the Knockout V.I.P. Fight Night…
Dayton Is Far From Being Down For The Count
A Brief History Of Boxing In Dayton – By J.T. Ryder
Imagine yourself ascending the wide limestone steps of Memorial Hall in the early to mid 1900’s, with its godlike statuary flanking you and its French Renaissance façade looming before you. It would be easy to be timelessly transported to another era, one of arenas and sporting grounds strewn with the blood and sweat of athletic champions. Even through the thick, stone walls of the hall, you hear the pulsating roar of the crowd that has gathered here to witness yet another pugilistic match between two worthy contenders, a spectacle of violence that sways between splendor and civilized chaos.
As you enter the hall, the haziness of the cigarette and cigar smoke, coupled with the heat of the crowd, drifts through the glare of the primitive klieg lights, giving the hall a cavernous appearance, like a misty vision of Valhalla. The sounds of brutality and bloodshed echo and rebound off the shadowed walls. A sea of boaters, bowlers and fedoras move in an undulating wave as the staccato voice of the bout’s announcer breathlessly shouts out each blow in a stridently clipped voice. Spectators clench betting slips in their hands and cigars between their teeth as they bark out encouragement for their champion and profane epithets towards his challenger. Close up, the ring reveals two opponents, locked in a ballet of darting evasions and devastating blows. These two gloved gladiators are continually caught in the sharply contrasting light of the popping flashbulbs of the eager press’ phalanx Graflex, the photographer’s jockeying for a better position, chronicling the sportsmanlike spilling of blood and hoping to capture either the triumph of the reigning champ or the rise of a new title holder, imprisoning the moment in emulsion.
There was a time when Daytonwas a Mecca for boxing. There were countless gyms focused on boxing that dotted the city. Individual boxing clubs sprouted up, creating cross town rivalries that defended their honor in the various rings and exhibitions throughout the city. The Dayton Gym Club loomed large within the local and national boxing community. In 1950, it was voted as one of the best fight clubs in the nation and was home to several of the local Golden Gloves teams. From the late 1890’s, nearly two dozen world champions fought at the gym and the World Welterweight title changed hands there when Honey Melody was knocked out in 15 rounds by Frank Mantell, November 1, 1907. Westwood Field was another location that saw it’s share of international boxing stars. On June 25th, 1917, Jack Britton lost his welterweight title to Kid Lewis and later on, in 1918, Jack Dempsey knocked out Terry Keller in five rounds at Westwood.
“Jones failed to display half the ability expected and many fans were highly disappointed with the showing of the Gorilla. The fight was really saved by the constant driving-in tactics of Williams who won seven on the twelve rounds, three being even, Gorilla taking the others.”– Wire Report from Dayton
Until the seating was elevated in the 1940’s, Memorial Hall was the premier site for the local boxing scene. On April 22nd, 1935, Joe Louis knocked out Biff Bennett during an exhibition match at Memorial Hall. During a fight with favored boxer Gorilla Jones on April 22nd, 1930 Tiger Roy Williams won in a twelve round decision at Memorial Hall. Many other boxer fought within the walls of Memorial Hall, including Manuel Castro, Jimmy Kelly, Danny Budd, Joe Glick, Mike Ballerino…the list goes on and on.
The city also spawned some national and international luminaries of the boxing world, including Joe Sekyra, the once top rated light-heavyweight and heavyweight boxer who later went on to train a Dayton Golden Gloves team. There was also the lightweight journeyman Eddie Brandt, who was also the former president of Old Time Boxers’ Club of Dayton. Sugar Costner, who was once the top ranked welterweight, beat Kid Gavilan and Ike Williams before losing to Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson. Charles “Buddy” Knox was a heavyweight contender who also trained a Dayton Golden Gloves team. There was also world ranked featherweight Joe Marinelli who defeated two former world champs, Jimmy Perrin and Joey Archibald at Memorial Hall.
There are also some very well known boxers from the Dayton area (omitting Buster Douglas’ brief stay here in 1979 while he attended Sinclair Community College). First, there is Chris Pearson, who is actually from Trotwood, but close enough to be counted. Pearson has been labeled by many boxing aficionados as one of the best upcoming middleweight boxers and the one to watch. This south-paw has been a U.S. National Amateur Middleweight Champion gold medalist, a 2-time Silver Gloves Champ, a 4-time Jr. Golden Gloves Champ, an 8-time State Fair Champ, a Jr. Olympic Bronze Medalist, the Ringside World Champion and the National PAL Champion as well as the 2009 Police Athletic League national champion. In his short, burgeoning career, he has beaten four former Olympians (including Brazil’s Yamaguichi Florentino, a veteran of 151 fights) and Bakhyt Sarsekbayev of Kazakhstan, who was the 2008 Beijing Games welterweight gold medalist.
There is also Michael Evans, born July 22nd, 1977 and raised part of the time at his grandma’s apartment in Dayton’s Arlington Court housing project. Through a childhood altercation that led to fisticuffs, Evans got noticed and groomed by the local boxing community. He went on to become a national Police Athletic League champion, held two Junior Olympic titles, won a bronze medal at the Goodwill Games before going on to become the 2005 Golden Gloves champion. This led to him becoming a captain of the Team USA boxing squad, fighting bouts in China, Hungary, Ireland, England (including his sell out event against British Olympian Amir Khan at Liverpool’s famed Olympia ballroom), Japan, Thailand, Germany and all across America, including Madison Square Garden. Shortly before he was to lead Team USA into Russia, Evans was busted for selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer, drawing himself a four year stint at London Correctional Institute.