When Steven Gamache, the son of Maine's greatest boxer, former world champ Joey Gamache (the Pride of Lewiston), was preparing to make his professional ring debut last August, his camp was shocked to discover that Maine no longer had a Boxing Commission. Augusta had dismantled it, in a cost-saving measure. The result was that, with no official oversight of professional boxing, the sport was effectively banned in Maine. Team Gamache scrambled to relocate the fight at the eleventh hour, and Gamache the Younger eventually won his first pro bout, in Somersworth, New Hampshire. (Belated congrats to him.)
As a fight fan, the commission's demise made me wonder how the Portland Boxing Club would be affected. The non-profit club hosted USA Boxing's New England Championships every November, one of Maine's greatest annual sporting events, and I worried that the three-weekend tournament might not occur. I need not have fretted. The tournament, in its 124th year (yes, it's been going on since 1886), will happen, with matches on consecutive Saturdays, November 6 and 13, at the Portland Boxing Club (33 Allen Avenue), and then a championship night at the Stevens Avenue Armory, on November 27. Tickets to the first two nights are just $15 each, with more expensive seats available for the finale if fight fans want to upgrade.
It turns out that while professional boxing is currently in limbo (Maine's boxing community plans to petition lawmakers to reinstate the commission), as an amateur, non-profit organization, the Portland Boxing Club's activities are governed by USA Boxing, a venerable institution beyond the reach of Augusta's economic woes. This is good news, and anyone who has the chance ought to attend this month's tournament. The milieu created by the sweet science is one of the richest, most interesting, and to experience it for 15 bucks (while also supporting the Portland Boxing Club, which helps at-risk kids by teaching them to box) is a no-brainer. Beer and food will be available, and the tournament is huge fun. There are always young fighters from all over New England showing unbelievable heart, and there are always some getting knocked out. According to the tournament's organizers, this year's field is large and talented.
"The 152-pound class is overflowing. I can't even get it wrapped up in three shows. The finals will have to be in Massachusetts at a show down there in the first part of December," says Bobby Russo, who heads up the non-profit Portland Boxing Club. Russo also notes that the 141 and 165 pound divisions are "stuffed" with good fighters.
Still not convinced you should attend? Maybe this will help: former World Heavyweight Champion James "Buster" Douglas, who, in one of the greatest upsets in sports history, defeated the seemingly invincible Iron Mike Tyson (the dude with the face tattoo and the tiger from The Hangover) in 1990, will appear at the November 27 finals. I met Buster once, several years after his most famous bout. It is no exaggeration to say that Buster was the largest man I had ever seen, over 400 pounds. He was always big, even when he was fighting, but at that time he hadn't been in the ring for a few years, and he looked like all he had done since then was eat. Jabba the Hutt would have told him, Damn, Buster, you really let yourself go. According to Russo, Buster is now down to a more manageable 260 pounds, and he will sign autographs and pose for pictures on the 27th for a small fee, with all proceeds going to the Portland Boxing Club. What a gent.
Rick Wormwood can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.