This is not your grandfather's boxing show. Unless, of course,
your grandfather happens to be a hip-hopping, cigar-smoking,
lingerie-model-ogling, break-dancing aficionado who likes his
boxing all heavyweight and a massage at his ringside seats. If
that's your grandpa, he's going to love Heavyweight Explosion,
the monthly nothing-but-big-boys (and occasional big girls) fight
card held at New York City's venerable Hammerstein Ballroom. The
brainchild of 51-year-old rock impresario turned boxing promoter
Cedric Kushner, the series made its debut in January and has been
rocking a mostly packed house on the last Thursday of each month
since. Call it TKO meets MTV.
"It's been eight years since anyone has staged regular live fight
cards in New York," says Kushner, a rotund South African with a
bushy mustache. "It seemed it was time to try something a little
different. I envision this as a monthly party in an intimate
Intimate it is. With two steeply tiered wooden balconies,
overhanging "luxury" boxes and chandeliers, the 94-year-old
Hammerstein has the air of a small European opera house gone to
seed. Throw in 1,500 fans (who pay from $125 for ringside seats
to $25 for a perch in the upper balcony), and it feels more like
a high-concept frat party than a fight night. Party favors
include free cigars and massages in a downstairs VIP room for the
high rollers--who get to hobnob with the likes of Rocky actor Burt
Young, ubiquitous sports sketcher LeRoy Neiman and a Baldwin
brother. There's usually a go-go dancer or two gyrating on a
platform above the crowd, and a break-dance troupe takes over the
ring between bouts. One evening you could stop by a table for a
free copy of Gallery magazine and have it autographed by that
month's "Girl Next Door." Another month the table was, er, manned
by lingerie models. Oh, yeah, there's also the boxing.
The fighters are paid from $600 for an undercard match to $20,000
for a main event. While the skill level is less than championship
caliber, the action is usually spirited and well received. "The
ambience is terrific," said Lou DiBella, HBO's senior vice
president of programming, from a ringside seat. "These events do
more to build up boxing than any number of pay-per-view bouts.
This is what live boxing is all about."
Just ask Grandpa--if you can tear him out of the massage chair.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER Ring moves Between bouts, strutting dancers warmed up the fans for Sedreck Fields's bombs. Fields (far left) won a decision over Shannon Briggs.
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER Living it up Fans frolic in cheap balcony seats; high rollers rub shoulders with fighters like Al (Ice) Cole (top left) and also get stress relieved upon demand.
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER Who's who The cast includes writer Bert Sugar (right), actor Stephen Baldwin (top) and some not-so-familiar pugs such as Vonda Ward (left) and Cole.
With a domed ceiling, the 94-year-old Hammerstein has the air of
a small European opera house gone to seed.
There's usually a go-go dancer or two gyrating on a platform
above the crowd. Oh, yeah, there's also boxing.