This is not your grandfather's boxing show. Unless, of course, your grandfather happens to be a hip-hopping, cigar-smoking, lingerie-model-ogling, break-dancing aficionado who likes his boxing all heavyweight and a massage at his ringside seats. If that's your grandpa, he's going to love Heavyweight Explosion, the monthly nothing-but-big-boys (and occasional big girls) fight card held at New York City's venerable Hammer-stein Ballroom. The brainchild of 51-year-old rock impresario turned boxing promoter Cedric Kushner, the series made its debut in January and has been rocking a mostly packed house on the last Thursday of each month since. Call it TKO meets MTV.
"It's been eight years since anyone has staged regular live fight cards in New York," says Kushner, a rotund South African with a bushy mustache. "It seemed it was time to try something a little different. I envision this as a monthly party in an intimate setting."
Intimate it is. With two steeply tiered wooden balconies, overhanging "luxury" boxes and chandeliers, the 94-year-old Hammerstein has the air of a small European opera house gone to seed. Throw in 1,500 fans (who pay from $125 for ringside seats to $25 for a perch in the upper balcony), and it feels more like a high-concept frat party than a fight night. Party favors include free cigars and massages in a downstairs VIP room for the high rollers—who get to hobnob with the likes of Rocky actor Burt Young, ubiquitous sports sketch LeRoy Neiman and a Baldwin brother. There's usually a go-go dancer or two gyrating on a platform above the crowd, and a break-dance troupe takes over the ring between bouts. One evening you could stop by a table for a free copy of Gallery magazine and have it autographed by that month's "Girl Next Door." Another month the table was, er, manned by lingerie models. Oh, yeah, there's also the boxing.
The fighters are paid from $600 for an undercard match to $20,000 for a main event. While the skill level is less than championship caliber, the action is usually spirited and well received. "The ambience is terrific," said Lou DiBella, HBO's senior vice president of programming, from a ringside seat. "These events do more to build up boxing than any number of pay-per-view bouts. This is what live boxing is all about."
Just ask Grandpa—if you can tear him out of the massage chair.