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'Prize Fight' Building Prizefighters

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The 2008 season of ShoBox kicks off this Friday night (11 pm, ET/PT) when bright young contenders Anthony and Lamont Peterson co-headline from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. After their bouts against Jose Antonio Izquierdo and Antonio Mesquita, respectively, it will mark the Petersons’ 50th bout under the banner of Prize Fight Boxing, which is based out of Tennessee and is co-owned by Russ and Brian Young.

Like the Petersons, they are a brother duo, and since 2004, while the Petersons have done the fighting inside the ring, the Youngs have done their part to build and craft the Petersons into seasoned professional fighters outside of it.

In an era when it is so difficult to promote and hold events without television money, Prize Fight has kept the D.C. duo active and busy throughout. They would make their professional debuts on September 25th of 2004 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis on the Glen Johnson-Roy Jones undercard and would both squeeze in four bouts in 2004. And in the formative years of 2005 and 2006, Lamont would perform 15 times and Anthony would have 17 outings. By today’s standards, that's Archie Moore-esque, even for developing prospects.

"It's been a challenge, no question," says Russ Young, of keeping the Petersons busy. "We've been blessed that we've had so many fights to offer them through our casino shows that we run through the South and I think it was a matter of good timing for us because their skill level and their amateur background allowed them to fight so much. I remember back in April of 2005 they fought three times in the month. So basically it was just a matter of us having a considerable amount of shows and they were beating everybody early, and they weren't going long rounds - especially Anthony. So they just kept fighting and the commissions allowed us to fight because they saw how talented they were."

And unlike a Top Rank, which has around 30 dates a year with Telefutura to nurture their prized prospects, outside of the occasional appearances on ESPN2 or Shobox, Prize Fight has done it largely with shows that are 'dark'.

"We've survived without having network money and I think we've been blessed geographically where we live, being in a casino market," said Young. "And then Brian has tremendous relationships with several casino GM's and it seemed like those guys all change every two years or so and move to another location. Brian knows a lot of these casino guys and has been friends with them for years. They know we put on quality shows, so they've given us casino dates. The ultimate beneficiary has been our boxers."

While the Petersons have boxed in states like Illinois, Arkansas, North Dakota and their hometown of Washington D.C., the majority of their bouts have taken place in 'the Magnolia State', from the Isle of Capri Casino in Lula and the Beau Bridge Resort and Casino in Biloxi, to Fitzgerald’s Casino and Hotel in Tunica and the Silver Star Casino in Choctaw. They have become as familiar to the natives of Mississippi as the famous river.

There's a common misconception that promoters clean up every show and leave with bushels of money. The reality is, not that many shows actually clear a profit, and in the case of Prize Fight with the Petersons, many of these promotions are loss-leaders, sacrifices to be made for a brighter day down the line.

"I can speak on our behalf, I don't know what casinos pay out west, up north and in Atlantic City, I know down here we work on limited budgets," says Young. "We know that going into it and we do it as an investment into our fighters’ careers. I can't ever remember when we've ever turned a profit on a casino show. Most people don't realize that, and I don't think our own fighters realize that.

"On the flipside, you say, 'Well, I'll do just an all-live gate show and pay for hotels and meals on my own.' But you're assuming more risk there. The casino absorbs a lot of our expenses. If we lose $3-$5,000 on a show, that's better than assuming all the risk and losing 10 to 15 to 20,000 dollars."

Lamont, a smooth boxing jr. welterweight, is now ranked in the top ten by the WBO and WBA. Anthony, an exciting, hard-hitting lightweight, is ranked fourth by the WBC and number one by the WBO. Many pundits believe that with their talent and hard-luck story that they could be future stars.

But the construction has come at a price. With what Prize Fight has paid the Petersons, their opponents and all the other miscellaneous costs that go along with it, Young says, "I would say we are in the $250-$300,000 range, easily," in terms of expenditures.

Prize Fight Promotions is a relatively new company formed by two brothers who took divergent paths into boxing.

“After I graduated from college I played professional football, injured my knee, went to graduate school, got my MBA and was a loan officer at a bank in Nashville for five years," said Young, who attended the University of the South in Tennessee. While Russ had gained a business background, Brian was getting a boxing education from the inside.

"Brian had been a strength and conditioning coach for Main Events and worked with Michael Moorer and some of their other fighters. So he learned the promotional end from the Duvas and always said that's what he eventually wanted to do.

"Over that time period in 1999 we said, 'Let's start a promotional company,' and I knew Brian had the experience and had a lot of contacts in boxing and we just basically ran with it."

In the early years, they ran between four to six shows a year. Recently, their program has expanded to between 18 and 24 cards a year and they have a regional television contract with Comcast Sports Southeast, which can be viewed in 13 states.

Prize Fight first came into prominence back in 2002 when the much talked about fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson had seemingly become an unwanted orphan. It ended up finding a home at 'the Pyramid' in Memphis, Tennessee thanks to them.

"Brian and I were eating at a restaurant reading in USA Today that it looked like Vegas wasn't going go license Tyson," recalled Young. "And at that point he said to himself that, 'I'm going to bring that fight to Tennessee,' and I stopped eating and looked at him and thought he was joking. But I realized that he was serious. Knowing my brother, when he sets his mind to something, he is determined. He got on the phone with who at that point was the Tennessee boxing commissioner, Tommy Patrick, and talked it over with him and set the wheels in motion.

"The dilemma was, can Tyson get a license anywhere? It ended up where he got a license in Tennessee and the rest was pretty much history after that point."

Young says it was the biggest statement Prize Fight had made up to that point. Since then, they have helped bring fights involving Jermain Taylor, Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver to the 'Volunteer State'.

Most of the major promotional firms are located either out west or on the east coast. Prize Fight is located in the heart of SEC country, where football is a 12 month obsession.

"We fight the stereotype of football being king in the South and we're never gonna defeat that, but we want to let people know boxing is a viable sport here," says Young, who believes there is a boxing market down South worth mining. "I think there is and the crowds that we delivered at the FedEx Forum and before that 'the Pyramid, dictate that. I think boxing and casinos go hand-in-hand and given Brian's relationships with the casinos, those guys have migrated down to the Tunica and Mississippi casino market from either, A) Vegas, or B) Atlantic City. Those guys grew up in the 80's bringing boxing to the casinos all the time and it continues to work for casinos today. We've brought that into the Tunica market for six, seven years and we sell-out every show."

They also fight the perception that their region produces cannon fodder, but not the cannons.

"We're up against a stereotype from being in the South that all the South really produces, outside of Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones, are opponents. And we've fought that stereotype as a Southern promotional company," said Young, who's inked fighters from outside the area. "If you look at our roster we do have one or two southern fighters, but we branched out and we got fighters from Cleveland, Ohio, to D.C., to Maryland to Zab Judah from Brooklyn, New York."

2008 year is an important one for the Petersons and Prize Fight. It could be time for both to become staples on HBO and Showtime, where the real money is made.

"To this point, from our company’s standpoint, a majority of our financial resources have gone into building their careers and quite frankly, they haven't made big money just because they haven't fought on HBO, Showtime or pay-per-view yet," explained Young. "So their time is coming and to be honest with you, it seems like just a week or two ago it was September of 2004 when they turned pro. But we've both been on a fast track."

But till that happens, Young admits they will still be known as that small company down South.

"I don't think we'll be respected until we get to that point," he states. "And we've had fighters in big fights, we had Zab fight Cotto, we've had Ivan Hernandez fight a Golden Boy fighter a couple of years ago, Antonio Davis fought Steven Luevano a few months ago. So we've fought and we fell short. But once our fighters win those world titles and then are defending them, then I think people will start recognizing and saying, 'That's the company of the South, that's Prize Fight. Now it makes sense.'"

It's the difference between being the company that supplies opponents and one that gets the big license fee from the major networks.

"But I don't think that happens overnight. Again, we're just paying our dues. We weren't blessed to start finding the Manny Pacquiaos or that level of fighters. We're just continuing to progress from here."

Just like the Petersons.