NBC-SN launches boxing series at South Philly arena

At Asylum Arena in South Philadelphia, workers set up for the Saturday night premiere of "Fight Night" on the NBC Sports Network, featuring three of the seven bouts scheduled.
At Asylum Arena in South Philadelphia, workers set up for the Saturday night premiere of "Fight Night" on the NBC Sports Network, featuring three of the seven bouts scheduled. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 21, 2012

A former bingo hall tucked underneath a rumbling I-95 overpass and located just a short walk from the city's shipping docks might be where boxing receives a needed jolt of rejuvenation.

Known infamously for its role in the rise of "extreme" professional wrestling more than a decade ago, the small, gritty Asylum Arena in South Philadelphia aims to fill the city's boxing void created by the shuttering of the legendary Blue Horizon on North Broad Street.

And on Saturday, live on the newly minted NBC Sports Network, the arena will be displayed as a stepping-stone for a sport in need of a comeback.

The debut installment of the NBC Sports Network's live-boxing series Fight Night will be telecast from the arena near Front and Ritner Streets with a card full of local talent. The event features six city fighters and a pair from South Jersey. The NBC Sports Network, formerly called Versus, can be found on most basic cable subscriptions.

"It's going to be a packed arena and you have some Philly-based fighters, so there's going to be some juice in the room," said Gary Quinn of NBC Sports Group. "The one thing we want to stay away from is going into a big casino ballroom, where there's no one there with a vested interest to root for a guy."

Quinn said the aim of the series is to promote quality boxing, which, right now, is usually available only on premium cable channels or pay-per-view. The series marks NBC's return to the sport, which it abandoned in the early 1990s after rights fees grew and promoters became too intrusive.

"I think that the boxing community is going to embrace it," Quinn said. "We're hoping this model we created is an investment in the sport, and it gives these guys a platform they wouldn't normally have."

The seven-bout card was put together by Philadelphia's Hall of Fame promoter J. Russell Peltz and is highlighted by two 10-round co-features.

Unfortunately, 29-year-old Philadelphia heavyweight Eddie Chambers injured his ribs during training and was no longer able to meet Sergei Liakhovich as scheduled. But with less than a week's notice, undefeated Philadelphia heavyweights Bryant Jennings (11-0, 5 KOs) and Maurice Byarm (13-0-1, 9 KOs) were selected to fill in as the main event.

"My strategy is to see how much [Jennings] prepared for this fight," said South Philly's Byarm, whose father, Lionel, lost by decision in Evander Holyfield's 1984 pro debut. "The only thing I didn't have time for was the mental preparation, and that's what I'm doing now."

After hearing of Chambers' injury, Jennings said, he immediately phoned his trainer, Fred Jenkins, and asked if he could take his place.

He said he's not afraid of the short notice. He has been training heavily for a fight next month in Atlantic City.

"I live in the gym - I have a bed in the back, I have some pillows, I have a dresser," Jennings said. "And I have a mirror, because I think I'm pretty.

In the other featured fight, North Philadelphia's Gabriel Rosado (18-5, 10 KOs) will face 29-year-old Mexican Jesus Soto Karass (24-6-3, 16 KOs) in a junior middleweight matchup of two fast-swinging fighters. It will be Soto Karass' third straight fight against a Philadelphia fighter. He lost two straight pay-per-view bouts against Mount Airy's Mike Jones.

Since being stopped in the second round two years ago by Alfredo Angulo, Rosado has won six of his last seven matches, including a fifth-round knockout of Ayi Bruce last summer. The 26-year-old Rosado has a strong Puerto Rican following and expects a large turnout at the Asylum, where he has won three of his four fights.

"It's real tight, when the crowd's yelling and you hear the roars, it's crazy, it's electrifying," Rosado said. "I love fighting in my hometown, I love fighting in front of my fans."

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