Durham isn’t known for boxing, but the sport is back — big time — in the Bull City.
Boxing promoter Michelle Rosado, who goes by the name “Raging Babe,” saw Durham as an open market opportunity, tested the waters and organized a Thursday Night Fights boxing exposition at the Durham Armory Oct. 19.
Ticket prices depended on seating location with ringside tickets priced at $75, floor seats $50 and balcony seats $35.
“I believe we sold out. And if it wasn’t sold out, we were within 2 to 5 tickets,” Rosado said of the Thursday night card at the Armory, which seats 800. “It was a very good night. ... We sold tickets. We’re in the black.”
She expects to field another Thursday Night Fight card at the Armory early next year.
Not so fortunate Thursday was native son Marko Bailey, 22, who answers to the name “The Bull City Bully.”
In the featured state lightweight title bout of Thursday’s eight-card event, Stevie “The Answer” Massey of Charlotte proved too much for Bailey.
The card started at 7 p.m. Ring girls in bikinis emblazoned with Corona logos held up cards showing round round numbers in the ring and strolled through the crowd selling beer throughout the three hours of preliminary bouts leading up to the Bailey-Massey showdown.
By ten o’clock, spectators filling the Armory were loose and energized. Girls danced on chairs to house music. Everyone “oooohhhed” at the hardest hits.
Massey was introduced and ducked into the ring first. He slung his arms over the ropes, bowed his head and prayed as an announcer called Bailey into the lights.
Bailey approached the ring tailed by his renowned trainer Don Turner, a 78-year-old who has trained more than 20 world champions including heavyweights Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes. Turner was in Holyfield’s corner when Holyfield upset Mike Tyson in 1996.
Bailey pawed the ground like a bull before a charge.
The bell dinged.
Massey stormed out, backing Bailey up. Bailey momentarily evaded Massey’s attacks, side-stepping “The Answer.”
But, Massey backed Bailey into the ropes. Bailey ducked Massey’s punches and swung himself into better position toward the center of the ring.
Massey attacked again. Bailey backed into the corner where Massey landed a clean shot to his head. Glove met face. Bailey fell at the 1:09 mark of the first round. Knocked out, he didn’t get back up.
One minute and nine seconds – the digits 1, 0 and 9 will surely be ingrained into the mind of the kid from Durham who quit his jobs, left the city for a remote soybean field to hone his focus, put his whole future on the line for a chance to train with “the legend,” Turner and his dream.
While Bailey lay on canvas, his hometown supporters stuck with him, chanting, “Marko, Marko ...”
How boxing came to downtown
The event was not a Showtime or pay-per-view presentation. It was decidedly local in feel and undoubtedly in its paydays. Rosado would not commit on winners’ pot sizes.
But said, “I’ve received a lot of calls from people saying they liked it. That it was the best boxing they’d seen in North Carolina.”
Rosado is from Philadelphia. She said “they call Philly” the fight capital of the East Coast, and described a boxing culture comparable to the Triangle’s obsession for college basketball.
There’s a reason Sylvester Stallone made it the home of the fictional “Rocky.”
“It’s like a religion. It’s in distilled in you. There’s a million gyms. There’s a million fighters,” Rosado said. “Compared to here there are way more boxing gyms, and the amateur program is much better than it is in North Carolina.”
Born to boxing
Rosado grew up watching ESPN’s Friday Night Fights with her father who died of cancer when she was just 17.
After graduating from Temple University with a degree in mechanical engineering, she moved to Arizona to start “a good” engineering job. Her young memories of watching boxers with her since-deceased father prompted her to dabble in fight promotion in Phoenix.
“Being a woman in boxing is not easy,” she said. “Right away, they assume that you’re doing things to get to the next level.”
She said people gossiped about her and spread untruths like, “‘She’s sleeping around with the fighters. You’re with this person. You’re with that one.’”
She took her first step up into the high dollar boxing market when she organized a brunch in Las Vegas for “all the women in boxing” to meet and share stories and business cards, she said.
The brunch’s Facebook event page was sent to Mayweather Promotions and the large company ended up sponsoring the first of some half dozen similar brunches organized by Rosado.
“I started working on all their shows with them on the operations side.” she added.
Rosado left a job with Mayweather to work with fellow Philadelphian and International Boxing Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz, now her mentor.
Together they’re promoting boxing in Durham and are looking to grow the market here.