Major championship boxing officially comes back to the District on Saturday night, when unified super lightweight champion Amir Khan faces homegrown challenger Lamont Peterson at Walter E. Washington Convention Center. For fight enthusiasts in this city that has produced one champion after another, the wait has been far too long.
More than 18 years, to be exact. That’s the last time a title bout of this magnitude took place in the nation’s capital, and it featured world heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, a Fort Washington resident, knocking out challenger Jesse Ferguson in the second round at RFK Stadium. In the aftermath of Bowe’s triumph in May 1993, Mark Johnson, William Joppy and Sharmba Mitchell, each with strong local ties, won world titles and expanded D.C.’s profile as a vibrant boxing town.
All of which makes it especially puzzling why so much time has elapsed between main events here.
According to those most responsible for bringing the “Capital Showdown” card to D.C., economics is at the top of the list. The District is at a significant disadvantage in that regard when matched against Las Vegas or Atlantic City, the world’s top fight destinations, which have revenue guarantees for promoters.
A casino, for instance, agrees to an up-front fee to promoters in part because it can pass along tickets to its high rollers and induce ticket sales from hotel guests. The lure of a championship prize fight also attracts more patrons to that particular casino to gamble.
The other distinct advantage of staging a boxing match at a casino is that it provides all the necessities, from lodging and food to the ring itself, to the promoters, the fighters and their camps as well as virtually all the amenities. That includes self-contained areas for news conferences, the weigh-in and the all-important post-fight party.
In non-gambling cities such as D.C., the work of a promoter is considerably more demanding. Apart from hotel, food and transportation arrangements for the fighters and their entourages, promoters also must create, among other assignments, a marketing budget tailored to that particular city, whereas in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, the casino incurs that expense.
“There’s extra work, extra challenges, and let’s face it, extra risks,” said Richard Schaefer, chief executive of Golden Boy Productions, the company founded by former world champion Oscar de la Hoya that’s one of several handling the Khan-Peterson bout. “As a promoter, it’s easy to go somewhere where you get the site fee from a casino. Whether there’s somebody there or nobody there, you know what you’re going to get. Here, we’re actually starting in the negative. We’re starting in the minus.”
The Khan-Peterson fight may not have happened in D.C. at all, though, if it weren’t for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who invited Khan to a White House dinner for prominent Muslim athletes on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Khan, a Golden Boy client, enjoyed that first visit so much that he began considering the District for his final fight of the year.
The decision made even more sense in light of Peterson’s D.C. roots. The IBF No. 1 contender was born and raised here, and he and younger brother Anthony, who’s also on the card, remain active in the community many years after they overcame poverty and homelessness as youngsters.
With Khan’s growing worldwide popularity as a British citizen of Pakistani descent and Lamont Peterson’s hometown underdog story, those with a stake in the fight’s economic benefit to D.C. — such as promoters and high-ranking city officials, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray — said they are extremely encouraged by its buzz.
“My objective is to generate meaningful economic development for the city and specifically an economic impact in the multimillions of dollars from this boxing event,” said Jeff Fried, a District-based sports lawyer and entrepreneur who was a central figure in bringing Khan-Peterson to D.C. as well as Bowe-Ferguson. “We will get there.”
It’s too early to tell if or when another championship fight of this caliber would be slated for D.C., but organizers have said all week they want to come back sooner than later. Mayor Gray and members of the city council, in fact, did their best to expedite that process by officially recognizing the “Capital Showdown” during a ceremony in the Wilson Building on Wednesday.
Organizers and their partners also said the District can become at least a semi-regular stop for major championship boxing, similar to New York, where last week Miguel Cotto beat Antonio Margarito in front of 21,239 at Madison Square Garden.
“As important as Las Vegas is to the business of boxing and the opportunity it provides to put big fights there, there’s a certain built-in momentum when you go to a great sports market like Washington,” said Kery Davis, head of HBO Boxing, which is broadcasting the fight. “You have an opportunity to connect to real fans and maybe create new ones.”
MORE ON THE FIGHT:
Amir Khan is happy to take the fight to D.C.
Lamont Peterson: From homelessness to title contender