He fought in California and Las Vegas before a national television audience. Soon after, the fan letters came in from as far as Ireland and England. From local favorite to household name, Jimmy Lange finds himself right back where he started.

In Lange's first fight since appearing on NBC's reality boxing program, "The Contender," the Great Falls 154-pounder takes on Perry Ballard in a 12-round bout for the vacant World Boxing Empire junior middleweight championship tonight in the first live boxing event at George Mason's Patriot Center.

It was the national notoriety Lange gained while starring on "The Contender" this past spring that helped in making this hometown fight possible. Lange (25-2-1, 17 knockouts), already one of the area's most popular boxers, was one of the few local products who could headline an event at a site this large.

"No one pay-per-view is ever going to even come close to what every Sunday night exposes you to," said Lange, who last won an undercard match in Las Vegas against Tarick Salamaci during "The Contender" finale. "If the place is full it's not going to be because I know 5,000, 6,000, 10,000 people. It's going to be because they know me."

Ballard (17-0, 13 knockouts), a 147-pounder and a one-time Leesburg resident, has developed his own local following; and a rather contentious history between the fighters has provided a promotional undertone almost bigger than the fight itself.

Their history traces back to 2003, when Ballard publicly called out Lange during a show at the D.C. Armory in which they fought against other opponents. Each fighter's popularity increased in the ensuing years, but there were rumblings from Ballard that Lange was avoiding him.

"Yeah, there's a history, but it's not a deep thing," Lange said. "He wants to fight and now we're going to fight. He wants to fight me because he can ride in on my coat tails."

Ballard is seeking vindication because of a perceived lack of respect from Lange, who represents his strongest opponent to date.

"I need to fight Jimmy Lange," Ballard said. "He wants to shut me up as much as I want to get to him. I think he's got a great team and they did a good job marketing him. But they marketed him into a corner because he's going nowhere after this fight. After I fight him he's going to have to fight me again."

In the co-main event, Cheltenham's Lamont "Bay" Pearson (21-3-1, 11 knockouts) will fight Brooklyn's Shamir Reyes (18-3-4) for the vacant United States Boxing Association 130-pound title. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.