The Blue Horizon is considered 'the guts of boxing,' though its days may be numbered

The Blue Horizon was built in 1865, the 1,300-seat venue has hosted fights since 1961 and was one of the places in Philadelphia that helped breed new boxing talent. Despite its busiest year in memory, hosting a fight roughly every month, the Blue Horizon may close because of mounting bills.
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- Under a relentless barrage of punches, the shouts of "C'mon, Philly!" and "Let's Go, Philly!" weren't doing the hometown favorite any good at Philadelphia's Legendary Blue Horizon on a recent Friday night.

Dee Culmer had spent all but the first round of his eight-round match crouching and retreating, laying on the ropes as if they were a hammock while getting pummeled by his challenger -- a relative unknown from Fresno, Calif., whom promoters had flown in with the expectation of further padding Culmer's 16-1 record.

So when the ring announcer declared a draw, with one judge scoring the bout for the lionhearted Loren Myers and the other two scoring it even, the place erupted in boos that brought the proceedings to a halt with the featured match to follow.

To be sure, the fans who flock to the Blue Horizon love their Philadelphia fighters. But they respect toughness more. And they hate to see a guy get robbed. So they jeered the judges, shouted down the ring announcer with chants of "Fresno! Fresno!" and even booed Vernoca Michael, the venue's widely admired, 64-year-old co-owner, when she stepped into the ring to ask for calm.

Only after matchmaker Don Elbaum, whose fame in boxing circles rivals that of the Blue itself, grabbed the microphone and vowed to deliver a rematch in February did a semblance of order return.

Television sanitizes boxing. Las Vegas glamorizes it. The Legendary Blue Horizon, which has hosted bouts on Philadelphia's North Broad Street for nearly half a century, delivers the sport raw -- blood, spit and sweat flying -- in a setting so intimate you feel as if you could reach into the ring from nearly any seat in the house.

That's why readers of The Ring magazine voted it the No. 1 place to see a fight, ahead of Madison Square Garden, the MGM Grand and Caesars Palace.

"The guts of boxing is the Blue Horizon," says Elbaum, a former boxer turned impresario who has worked with such greats as Cassius Clay, Sugar Ray Robinson and Roberto Duran over a lifetime as a promoter, manager and matchmaker.

But despite its busiest year in memory, hosting a fight roughly every month, the Blue's days may be numbered.

After 15 years as its co-owner and 11 years as the country's only female African American boxing promoter, Michael says she is ready to step aside, weary of the long hours, mounting bills and wrangling over the $1 million in city funds she says was promised but never delivered to help refurbish the once-grand venue.

Michael put the Blue -- which was built in 1865 as three adjoining Empire-style estates for the nouveau riche -- up for sale in 2007. She says she has entertained a few inquiries since, but none she deems credible even after dropping the price from $6.5 million to $5.6 million.

For a city that proclaimed itself a cradle of boxing long before the mythical Rocky Balboa raised triumphant fists atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the prospect of losing the Blue is a punch to the throat.

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