Friday, March 16, 2007

White-collar 'Fight Club' helps keep boxing out of red

Mike Garcia trains a world boxing champion and an Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight contender, but the corners he'll be working Saturday night at the Park West will belong to a trader, a cement finisher and a marketing consultant.

''Fight Club Chicago'' is the local version of a phenomenon called white-collar boxing, and it's the lifeblood of a sport in need of help.

From legendary gyms such as Gleason's in Brooklyn to Freddie Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., white-collar boxing is keeping the doors open.

''Without white-collar boxing, we'd be in trouble,'' said Garcia, co-owner of Jabb Gym on the Near West Side. ''A lot of boxers can't afford to pay dues, and some don't want to pay.

''About 80 to 85 percent of the people who come in here are white-collar boxers.''

Anybody -- except professional boxers -- can participate as long as he or she can pass a physical, and Garcia does his best to match people with similar levels of experience.

Matt Lesser, 30, is an S&P 500 trader at the Mercantile Exchange. He'll be competing in his second white-collar bout Saturday when he takes on fellow trader and archrival Mike Cestone. It's a rematch of a white-collar bout which Cestone won by decision, and the word is there's $5,000 at stake.

''Boxing is a great way to take out aggression after a long day at work,'' said Lesser, a former football player at St. Ignatius and St. Xavier. ''And as a trader, you take risks all day at work, so what's the worst that could happen in boxing? You get knocked down with a bloody nose?''
Garcia will be in Lesser's corner for the fight. And Garcia will have help working the corner of Keith Gelman, who's the marketing agent for Andrei Arlovski, a UFC heavyweight contender and former champ. Arlovski also will be doing some coaching.

''Andrei is an excellent coach,'' Gelman said. ''He's very positive, and he's teaching me how to win by knockout, not by points.''

Doors open at 7 p.m.
DIAZ-MORALES UPDATE: Top Rank's Bob Arum said he hopes to finalize a deal to have David Diaz defend his World Boxing Council lightweight title against Erik Morales in Chicago.

''The manager of Morales is coming in [Thursday], and I hope to finalize that part of it,'' Arum said. ''Then we'll speak to David and get the appropriate date to do the fight in Chicago. ... I hope to get everything done by next week.''

Arum said he still hopes to get Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski on the undercard, but that may prove difficult. Irish coach Charlie Weis said he wants Zbikowski to concentrate only on football.

Zbikowski's exhibition match in South Bend, Ind., on March 7 netted $40,000 for charities, including Hannah & Friends, which Weis founded and named after his daughter.

HOOKS AND JABS: Mike Nevitt will face Shawn Hammack in the main event of a card tonight at Cicero Stadium. ... A club from Ireland will take on McGarry's Club tonight at the Chicago Athletic Association. Tickets are $75 and include dinner, beer and 12 bouts. ... A fight-of-the-year candidate will take place Saturday night as Marco Antonio Barrera faces Juan Manuel Marquez on HBO pay-per-view. ... Evander Holyfield takes on Vinny Maddalone on Saturday night. The bout will be shown at 11 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. ... More than 19,000 fans attended ''UFC68'' at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on March 3 and witnessed 43-year-old Randy Couture coming out of retirement to take the heavyweight belt from Tim Sylvia. The event was more important than the bouts, as the biggest crowd ever for a mixed-martial-arts card in North America was on hand. ... The International Fight League, which features teams from different cities -- including Chicago -- can be seen every Monday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 50. ... Andrew Golota's bout in Paris this weekend was scratched because of visa problems for his opponent, according to Golota's trainer, Sam Colonna.


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