Boxing: Rahman Answers
By Miguel Rodriguez
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
NIAGARA FALLS — Conference Center Niagara Falls has served the Cataract City well while operating in the shadows of the glitzy Seneca Niagara Casino Events Center.
But Saturday, the 6-year-old facility known mostly for providing meeting space for business conventions as well as housing gymnastics, dance and cheerleading competitions will step out of the casino's shadow and into the limelight when it is host to the area's biggest boxing show since 2003, when Joe Mesi fought in Buffalo on HBO.
Professional boxing returns here with former two-time world heavyweight champion Hasim "The Rock" Rahman serving as the evening's star attraction during the seven-bout "The Rock Returns" card at the Conference Center.
Rahman (46-7-2, 37 KOs) fights Shannon Miller (16-4, 9 KOs) in the 10-round main event. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; boxing starts at 7:30.
Rahman won the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation belts as a 20-1 underdog in 2001, when he KO'd Lennox Lewis. He is the most accomplished heavyweight not named Joe Mesi to fight in Western New York since Greg Page lost the world title to Tony Tubbs on April 29, 1985, at Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo.
It is believed this will be the first time a former heavyweight champion has fought in Niagara Falls.
Nick Garone's Xcel Worldwide Promotions and Greg Cohen's Empire State Sports and Entertainment approached Conference Center officials about a month ago about doing a show featuring Rahman, who is represented by Empire Sports and Entertainment.
"It's such a beautiful venue," Garone said of the Conference Center. "We discussed what the logistics would be, and also Paul Murphy [director of the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center] is very good friends with those guys ... so I feel pretty confident it's going to come off fantastic. It's a beautiful area. You're going to have the casino next door, the beautiful skyline, the next day is Father's Day — it'll be a nice night out."
Tickets can be purchased at the Conference Center or online at championsofboxing.com.
Rahman will be the star of this show, but there will be a local presence. Former state Golden Gloves champion Lionell Thompson of Buffalo (2-0, 1 KO) will face Jessie Lewis (0-1). Niagara Falls heavyweight Johnnie Davis (1-0) also is scheduled to appear on the card against a still-to-be-determined opponent. Buffalo junior middleweight Andrew Jones will make his debut against Delen Parsley (2-0, 2 KOs) of Brooklyn.
The latest fighter signed by Garone, former Canadian Olympian Donnie Orr (15-0, 6 KOs) of British Columbia, will fight in the eight-round co-feature bout against middleweight John Mackey (11-5-2, 5 KOs) of Montgomery, Ala. Hastings Bwalya (3-0, 2 KOs) of Zambia meets Matt Ellis (1-1, 1 KO) of Milwaukee in a welterweight bout, and Cecil McCalla (11-0, 4 KOs) of Baltimore battles Brad Hill (11-12, 9 KOs) of Russellville, Ark., in a six-round junior middleweight bout.
Niagara Falls welterweight Nick Casal, who is promoted by Garone, is scheduled to be among the boxing figures in attendance — a group that could include Mesi and former heavyweight title contender Michael Grant. Garone said Casal isn't fighting on the card because he is trying to line up a July fight for him.
"I think it's good [Rahman is fighting here] because they're trying to get boxing going again," said former state Golden Gloves champion and pro Tommy Hicks of Newfane.
Longtime trainer Ray Casal, Nick's father, hopes everyone comes out to see Rahman bash his opponent. "I hope 2,600 [people] show up," Casal said.
"Hasim Rahman fighting in anyone's city should be considered a big deal," Garone said.
"It's a great opportunity to see something like that."
It's an opportunity for the Conference Center to increase its exposure as it hopes to hold more boxing shows in the future.
"We're thrilled to be hosting this event, especially coming out with a big one [like this]," said Conference Center General Manager Jill Scicchitano. "I think this is one great way to showcase what we can do."