The Gloves Come Off
by Frank Rubino
With the dawning of a new year, the two bitterest rivals on the business side of Philadelphia's pro boxing landscape have resolved to put down their dukes and make nice.
For an evening, anyway.
Vernoca Michael, owner of North Broad Street's Blue Horizon auditorium, and veteran promoter J. Russell Peltz, who quit the storied arena in a huff two and a half years ago after repeatedly clashing with Michael over its crumbling condition, will co-promote an eight-bout card at the Blue on Friday night.
The 10-round main event pits classy junior-welterweight Miguel Figueroa of Camden against Rogelio Castaneda of Sacramento, Calif. The bell for the first preliminary bout rings at 7:30 p.m.
Michael and Peltz like to pooh-pooh their much publicized falling out, but many plugged into the local boxing scene regard the idea of these two collaborating on a project as something akin to John Street and Vince Fumo chatting genially at a wine-and-cheese soiree.
What triggered the sudden
"It's all about business," says Peltz, who promoted a run of successful shows at the Blue from 1969 until his stormy departure. "I had a fight and I needed a venue. I called Vernoca, and we worked it out."
Michael dittoes his explanation. "Just business," she says. "Russell called me, we discussed it, and we ironed things out. I think it's something that's in the best interest of both companies."
If the Michael-Peltz reconciliation blossoms into more than a one-night stand, most agree everyone with an appreciation for the city's nationally reputed boxing tradition stands to benefit.
"It's just great," says Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb, who two years ago complained to the Philadelphia Daily News that he couldn't persuade Michael and Peltz to even speak to each other. "Vernoca has kept the Blue Horizon on the map for the past couple of years. And Russell at the Blue is like peanut butter and jelly. I figured sooner or later they'd both realize that they had a business interest in patching things up."
If there's a cloud hovering over all this goodwill, it's the fact that ESPN2, which employs Peltz as its boxing coordinator, recently opted to stop paying fees to promoters for the right to televise fights. During Peltz's heyday at the Blue, those substantial rights fees ($50,000 per show from ESPN2 and around $75,000 from USA before that network pulled out of boxing in 1998) allowed him to sweeten purses and attract thoroughbreds such as Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver and Fernando Vargas. As PW reported in a November cover story, Michael has been trying to lure major network TV back to the Blue, which underwent a $2 million renovation last year.
"Yeah, ESPN2 killing the rights fees does temper the good news somewhat," says Peltz's attorney George Bochetto, who served as chairman of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission from 1995 to 2002. "They don't want to spend money to broadcast fights anymore. They just want to broadcast them. But it's been my experience that every time one network that does boxing dries up, another one crops up. So I regard this situation as temporary."
TeleFutura, the second largest Spanish language network in the nation, will televise Friday's show. Comcast doesn't carry TeleFutura, but a spokesperson for the network says Philadelphians with satellite dishes or DirecTV can pick it up. (Some Philadelphians may also be able to pull in the signal on regular TV's Channel 28).
TeleFutura pays rights fees, but they're significantly lower than what ESPN2 was shelling out. Peltz says he's in the dark as to the rationale behind ESPN2's decision, adding that without rights fees, "it's going to be absolutely impossible for promoters to do shows for them over the long haul."
Speaking of long hauls, does Peltz believe he and the feisty Michael can cohabitate for a spell? "It depends on how this show goes," he says. "Let's just say we're dating now. We're not married yet."
Michael, who will continue to promote her own shows and lease the Blue to upstart promoters such as Greg Robinson of Power Productions (she's scheduled 10 shows this year, and hopes to be running two a month by 2005), concurs. "Time will tell," she says. "I'm not a vindictive person. As far as some of the things that Russell has said in the past, my reaction was to take them to the altar and pray for him."
She pauses, then zings a barb at certain reporters who, in her view, try to keep the feud going: "I take them to the altar and pray for them, too. And you know what? It works. It works every time."
Fri., Jan. 30, 7:30pm. $45-$50. Blue Horizon, 1314 N. Broad St. 215.763.0500