Begin with an elegant ballroom in a fancy Washington hotel. Add 4,200 seats, 13 liquor bars and 32 rounds of professional boxing. What you get is tonight's Budweiser Washington Championship Boxing Games, a new approach to the old problem of selling boxing in Washington.
"We're looking at this as not just a boxing show, but an entertainment package," says Stephan Moss, the organizer of the six-bout program that begins at 7:30 tonight at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. "Except for (no) gambling, this will be just like Vegas."
Headlining the show will be middleweights Roger Leonard (16-1), Sugar Ray's older brother, and Irish Mike Baker (45-13-1) of Arlington. Leonard, who is coming out of a one-year retirement, originally was scheduled to meet the 29-year-old Baker. Then Leonard's corner had second thoughts.
"His people decided at the last minute maybe that would be too strong a fight," says Moss. Instead Leonard will fight Herb Wilens, a middleweight from Gaithersburg who has a 6-3 record. Baker will go against Jerry Hill (24-7) of Atlanta.
There will be four other bouts involving local boxers who have 10 or fewer professional fights. Best known among the local fighters are Kenny Baysmore, an undefeated lightweight handled by former Redskin Brig Owens, and Lloyd Taylor, a welterweight with an 8-0 record, including seven knockouts.
Taylor's trainer, Dave Jacobs, who formerly trained Sugar Ray Leonard, touts his new property as "the most promising welterweight in the country today."
If the fight menu looks a bit lean on headliners, Moss is betting that the setting and style of his show will attract a choice, upscale crowd. Instead of the Armory and cheap beer, Moss is offering a Sheraton ballroom and champagne. Tickets are scaled from $20 for reserved seating to $10 for general admission seats on the floor.
"I'm into a theatrical approach," says Moss, president of a Washington production company called the Omnibus House Group. "At the Sheraton, people can dress up, intermingle and be seen, which is what boxing is all about."
Moss, an American University graduate, is a rookie at boxing promotions. But he says he is learning by talking to local veterans like Sugar Ray Leonard's attorney, Mike Trainer, and his manager, Janks Morton. Moss says he will avoid mistakes that have caused most boxing promotions in this area during the past few years to fizzle, then fade.
"I'd be delighted to see it succeed," says Bob Sigholtz, manager of the Stadium and the Armory, which traditionally hosts fight programs in this area. "Maybe one of those ballrooms is what it takes."
Moss already seems to have done a pretty remarkable selling job. He has half a dozen sponsors for the show, including Anheuser-Busch, Everlast and Universal Films. The show will be shown on a delayed broadcast by Black Entertainment Television over the USA cable network. Moss claims his show will be seen in 804 U.S. cities and counties, including Arlington, Alexandria, Reston and Baltimore.
"We're trying to find out if the market we think exists does exist," says Moss. "And the only way to find that out is put on the event."