With the Sabres breathing in their last breath of playoff air this season, Buffalo sports enthusiasts are left with only one viable option Friday night. The question is: are they ready to rumble?
Apparently, they are. Sugar Ray Boxing Productions announced they are expecting to see Alumni Arena's biggest crowd ever Friday night for "Buffalo Blast," with local phenom Joe Mesi versus fellow heavyweight Keith McKnight in the main event. It took only 40 days to sell out Alumni Arena's 9,554 seats. The previous record was the 8,926 seats sold to witness the North Carolina-Buffalo men's basketball game on December 7, 1999 - when the Tarheels were still good.
"To have set a new attendance record at UB's Alumni Arena and to sell out four days before the event is virtually unheard of," Sugar Ray Leonard said during a press conference on Monday.
"The team of Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing, Team Mesi, the UB Division of Athletics, Infinity Broadcasting and the Buffalo News have delivered a knockout punch, but the real thanks and congratulations goes to the great fans of Western New York for making this sellout a reality."
While Mesi, who is 21-0 with 19 knockouts, has captured the attention of the Western New York community, his merger with Sugar Ray gives him instant credibility on the national front. In boxing, like life, it often comes down to who you know, not what you know, and getting a good promoter who has the boxer's best interests at heart is often half the battle.
Leonard's managerial skills, however, have been brought to question, in particular for the way he handled flash-in-the-pan prospects such as Andrew Maynard and Shawn O'Sullivan. He was criticized for rushing them along too fast and putting them against stiffer competition than they were ready for on their aborted rises to greatness.
With Mesi, it appears Leonard may have learned his lesson. While McKnight (41-3, 28 knockouts) has an impressive record, a lot of those victories have been racked up against has-beens and never-were's. Indeed, McKnight's last three victories have come against opponents with a cumulative record of 26-232-7. Their average age has been 44. Still, at 6-6, 235 pounds, McKnight is an imposing presence and a win for Mesi would almost certainly springboard him into the upper echelon of heavyweights.
Although Mesi is rapidly becoming one of the most popular athletes in the Buffalo area, many of those 9,554 tickets sold may be attributed to the lore and history Leonard brings to the sport. While his performance inside the ring fluctuates anywhere within the top 10 all time depending on what expert you ask, Mohammed Ali is the only boxer in the sports history to surpass him in terms of charisma and panache.
This fight will be a win-win for Mesi, Sugar Ray, athletic director Bob Arkeilpane and UB, with one stipulation: Mesi has to win. In boxing, unlike other sports, one loss may be devastating. An unexpected loss to McKnight could set Mesi back as much as two years until he can retrieve his fringe contender status.
UB is already a big winner in this event. Ticket sales and public interest went beyond anyone's wildest expectations. A win by Mesi, however, could mean an encore performance in Alumni, which would bring in more revenue as well as open up the possibility of Alumni becoming a big-time sports and entertainment venue on the East Coast.
Fight time begins at 7 p.m., preceded by Leonard speaking outside of the arena at 6 p.m. The other bouts feature mostly local products, except for the co-main event featuring John Michael Johnson (30-7) against Oscar Leon (21-2) for the International Boxing Association featherweight championship.