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Boxing fans, get your fill tonight in Ybor

Promoters bring back a tradition to the Cuban Club, and they plan a boxing and "ultimate fighting" gym nearby.

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published February 3, 2006


YBOR CITY - Despite the valiant late-night efforts of security personnel every weekend, a few fights break out here now and again.

But it's not like anyone actually schedules bouts of fisticuffs in Ybor City. At least, not for about 70 years. In the 1920s and '30s, Monday night was fight night at the Cuban Club, which held professional boxing matches on its patio.

Now, two Tampa men are looking to make the past present. Through their company, RingSports Boxing, Erik Christenson and Keith Richmond are working to bring the "sweet science" back to Ybor.

Tonight is the 21st century debut of Ybor boxing, as RingSports presents eight professional fights, beginning at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6.

Christenson, the company's president and chief executive officer, said tonight's card event is the first of "six or seven" fight nights RingSports will promote at the club this year. He spent three years as area director of Calta's Fitness and Boxing Gyms.

"We think it's going to be a great thing for Ybor," said Christenson, 46, who lives in Citrus Park. "We've talked to a lot of the business owners and they're behind us. They think it's going to be great."

But RingSports' Ybor plans aren't limited to professional matches. Christenson and Richmond, the company's marketing director, are building a two-story boxing gym and fitness center in the former Babcock building on Seventh Avenue.

The center is under construction, and Christenson hopes to open in May. It will be 28,000 square feet, he said, and include training facilities for mixed martial arts.

That's better known to many as "ultimate fighting," thanks to the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championships, in which competitors punch, kick, toss and grapple their way to victory.

One could argue that Ybor has boxing in its blood. In addition to the Cuban Club's boxing history, it's the hometown of Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the "Fight Doctor," Muhammad Ali's ring physician and a longtime boxing commentator.

And the Tampa Bay area has become renowned for professional boxing in recent years, thanks to the successes of Antonio Tarver - an Orlando native who makes Tampa his home - and Jeff Lacy and Ronald "Winky" Wright, both of St. Petersburg. All are top dogs in their respective divisions.

Tonight's event features a wide variety of boxers. Among them: Olando "The Warrior" Rivera, 41, a light heavyweight who picked up boxing about five years ago after a long career as a championship kick boxer; Felix Cepeda, 27, a middleweight from Miami with a 6-0 record; and Francisco "The Wizard" Palacios, 28, with an 8-0 record, including four knockouts.

"This will be one of the better fight cards around," said Richmond, 42, who lives in Westchase. "Everyone down here's really excited about this."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 813 226-3431.

IF YOU GO

RingSports Boxing presents Ybor City's Main Event at 7 tonight at the Cuban Club, 2010 Avenida Republica de Cuba. Tickets are $25 to $40 and available at ticketweb.com. For information, go to ringsportsboxing.com.