As debuts go, July’s boxing card at Encore Boston Harbor — the first sporting event held at the casino — could not have gone much smoother.
The event, put on in conjunction with Murphys Boxing on July 12, was sold out, with plenty of local fighters performing in front of the home crowd throughout the night. Just six weeks later, the two collaborated again, for another night of boxing in the Picasso Ballroom.
Indications are it won’t be the last. A representative of Murphys Boxing said they are planning for another event in early 2020, with the hope of doing four shows a year.
Murphys Boxing founder Ken Casey likens the experience to finding the right concert venue when he and the Dropkick Murphys are touring.
“There’s still cities in America that we haven’t played in years,” said Casey. “People say ‘Why don’t you come here?’ Well, you don’t have a venue that’s in that size.”
The same could be said for boxing. In September 2018, TD Garden hosted a card that was promoted by Matchroom and Murphys Boxing that drew 7,000 spectators. While it was a good night for the sport in Boston, there were drawbacks. The balcony was entirely empty, as was part of the loge.
“I come from, sell out where you’re at, and then sell it out, sell it out, and sell it out,” said Casey. “People can’t get in the door.
“I think boxing, to a degree, they want to do the production so big that they went to the arenas, and the arenas aren’t full. The atmosphere’s not good when you’re in an empty arena. This will be jammed, and that creates the atmosphere.”
The 2,300 capacity of the Picasso Ballroom provides an intimate setting, getting fans a close look at the action.
“Now we have a proper boxing venue,” said Casey, “and I’ve worked hard to make sure I was the guy that was coming in here, because I’ve been the local guy that’s been doing it for almost a decade now.
“We deserve the opportunity on behalf of our fighters. We have 90 percent of the premier fighters in the New England region. It’s nice that they’ll get the chance to do proper stuff and bring proper television.”
The first two cards were streamed on UFC FightPass, which Casey credits to his relationship with UFC president Dana White.
“It’s all about building up boxing, and using the UFC platform to transition to boxing, and help Boston fighters for sure,” said Casey. “It’s been perfect timing.”
The first card paid homage to the region’s boxing history, honoring legends Micky Ward and Tony DeMarco before the main event, while cruiserweight Richie Lamontagne and heavyweight Kevin McBride (who sent Mike Tyson into retirement with a sixth-round knockout in June 2005) were also among the invited guests, posing for pictures with fans.
“We know that in New England, there is a very rich history in terms of tremendous fight fans,” said Encore president Robert DeSalvio. “They’ve loved it for years. I remember all the way back from the old days of a lot of the fights at the Boston Garden.”
So, would a large-scale, pay-per-view, Las Vegas-style event be coming to Encore? Unfortunately, no.
The Picasso Ballroom is 37,000 square feet, the largest room at the casino, making it unlikely it could host an event that size. Additionally, while the ceiling is considered high for a ballroom, it is not high enough that a large video monitor could be placed in the center of the room above the ring, allowing spectators to see replays between rounds. (There were several large screens in the corners of the ballroom that fans could watch the fight on.)
“It sets up really well for this kind of event,” said DeSalvio. “Obviously something much bigger than this, we’d have to go into a different venue, clearly.”
Maybe a joint production with TD Garden?
“We like the folks over at TD Garden. They’ve been terrific partners,” said DeSalvio. “If there was ever an event that came up and looked like a good opportunity in terms of sponsorship, certainly it would be something that we would be interested in looking at, but nothing is in the cards right at the moment.”
But fans can expect to see more sporting events at the casino, boxing in particular.
“We’re looking forward to continuing to present championship boxing cards here at Encore,” said DeSalvio. “We’re happy working with Ken and Murphys Boxing. They do a really good job. They run a really good event.
“I think it’s a good mix, with so many different sports fans in the area. I think that it represents a really good opportunity for us to present ourselves to a different audience, and we’re going to continue to do so.”