Boxing, for the first time since 1973, returns to the Minneapolis Armory this Friday. The building in its heyday was the regular home for pro and amateur boxing — Sugar Ray Robinson among others once fought there and it once housed the five-time NBA champions Minneapolis Lakers before they “caught the last train for the [West] coast,” borrowing a line from Don McLean’s “American Pie” and relocated to Los Angeles.
Local welterweight contender Jamal “Shango” James of Minneapolis will fight Abel Ramos (18-2-2) as the headline event. It will be his first fight in his hometown since 2013. “I feel honored and humbled to be the main event,” he said at a March 30 noontime press conference. “I want to come out and put on a great show.”
Minnesota Twins all-time great Tony Oliva promised to be there Friday night. He told reporters that he is a longtime family friend, but has been too nervous to watch James in previous fights because he doesn’t want to see him get hurt. “I’ve known him since he was a little kid,” said the should-be-Hall of Famer.
“The art of boxing is to hit and not get hit,” James responded in kind. Later he told the MSR, “I didn’t realize how big he [Oliva] was growing up until I got older. To know he’s behind me, he makes me want to train harder. He makes me want to fight that much harder.”
Also on Friday’s card are Marlin Sims and VeShawn Owens, both of Minneapolis in separate fights. “It’s my first time being on TV,” Owens said of the nationally televised card on FS1 and Fox Deportes. “It is on a big stage. I’m 10 minutes away [from the Armory]. I won’t be late,” he said.
“This is just my second pro fight,” Sims admitted. “I’m excited.”
Unlike yesteryear, Friday night’s fight at the Armory probably won’t look like one of the old Hollywood boxing movies — a smoke-filled room with White male reporters wearing fedoras, camped at ringside. It will be, however, this reporter’s first fight there, but I don’t own such a hat.
We asked the three boxers will they have a spectacular processional leading them into the ring — an “entourage” of glad-handlers and other such folks on Friday night.
“We just have the people we train with, and our coaches,” Owens responded. “I believe [fighters] have that entourage to keep them pumped and feel comfortable…” He did admit “two hype men” will accompany him Friday, however.
James explained, “I keep a very small close circle around me. It’s my cornermen — my father, my brothers and my cut man. I keep the ones who contribute to my work and success.” James is 22-1 with 10 knockouts (KOs); his last victory came on December 15, and his only defeat was a unanimous decision in August 2016.
The three fighters all said they can’t wait for Friday.
“I’m not thinking anything about the lights, the cameras or none of that. The only thing on my mind is the man in front of me and the W,” said Owens, who hopes to improve his 9-0 record.
“It’s going to be Friday the 13th, and it is going to be amazing,” Sims predicted. “I’m already ready for the fight.”
“He’s ready,” confirmed James’ trainer Santana Frazier of his fighter.
“I’m extremely ready for it. I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing this for my family and my community,” James said.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com