It began with an off-the-subject conversation a few months ago with local artist Mike Elsass, the owner of the Color of Energy Gallery in the Oregon District.
I was interviewing him for a story and somehow we got to talking about boxing — my favorite sport.
I told him that over the years — as the boxing writer for the Miami News in the late 1970s and the ’80s and here in Dayton especially in the 1990s — I covered more than 200 fights.
Some of the memorable ones included Muhammad Ali’s later bouts, Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello in the Orange Bowl, Marvin Hagler’s breathless three rounds with Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard and so many of Mike Tyson’s fights.
We talked about the 1985 fight when I watched my friend Howard Brooks get killed in the ring.
And, of course, there were the bizarre moments, none more so than the Vegas night when Tyson made the top of Evander Holyfield’s ear an hors d’oeuvres.
I told him how I spent my lunch hours at the now-razed Fifth Street Gym, the fabled Miami Beach fight club that was home to Ali, Angelo and Chris Dundee and a stable of world champions.
But the most magical thing, I said, was Fight Night, especially when it was a heavyweight title bout.
It’s like the circus has come to town. The fight crowd is filled with big-name athletes, movie stars, models, pimps in chartreuse suits and matching gators, hookers with dresses smaller than wash cloths, high-stakes gamblers, politicians and, of course, the old-time, bent-nosed, cigar-chomping fight characters.
And finally when the handlers and the hangers-on, the anthem singer and the announcer all are forced from the ring, it’s just the two bare-chested fighters in opposite corners waiting for the opening bell.
The electricity and tension are palpable.
This isn’t a basketball game with four designated quarters. A heavyweight fight can end in the blink of an eye. It takes just one, sudden, violent punch. To me there are no more courageous athletes than boxers.
I told Elsass I had a collection of boxing photos and posters — most from the fights I’d covered — that were in my basement.
“That day, when I heard the passion you had for boxing it really caught my attention,” Elsass said. “I wanted to see those posters and photos. And when I did, I was blown away. It’s a pristine collection that should live in some fashion.
“To me boxing evokes a real energy and I started to think, ‘We ought to do something with this.’ ”
And now I think we have.
It’s called “Throwdown at Fifth and Brown: A Celebration of Punchers and Painters.”
A six-week show at Elsass’ Color of Energy Gallery just off Fifth at 16 Brown St., it opens this Friday evening, June 18, with a reception — that will include fighters weighing in for an upcoming boxing show — at runs from 6 to 10 p.m.
While the Celebration includes my collection of posters and photos — a few taken by former Dayton Daily News and Miami News photographer Bill Reinke — it will have a whole lot more, too.
On July 2, the gallery will host “A Night with Aaron Pryor,” one of the most-celebrated junior welterweight champions of all time and a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
I covered several Pryor fights including the brutal 1982 classic with Arguello in the Orange Bowl. Ring magazine named it The Fight of the Decade.
He and Arguello became my friends and for a while we all lived in Miami. Pryor’s life went up, then down and now has rebounded.
His son, Aaron Jr., a former Edison Community College basketball player, has a promising pro career. He’s 13-2 and fights this afternoon in Philadelphia.
On Friday night, July 23, the gallery will host “A Salute to Chris Pearson,” the Trotwood-Madison High grad who has a legitimate shot at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
A junior middleweight, he’s been embraced by USA Boxing and attends the Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University. He’ll fight in the U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs in mid-July, then fly back to Dayton for a communal embrace before leaving for China where he’ll represent the U.S.
The centerpiece of the six-week show will be Saturday, July 17. That’s “Fight Night” and that’s when John Drake, who runs Drake’s Downtown Gym at Fourth and Patterson, takes over.
Drake is putting on an amateur fight show inside his gym or maybe outside under the lights.
We’ll start with a prefight party — including a re-weigh in of the main event fighters — at the gallery. Then we’ll move the show to Drakes, where, along with the boxing, Elsass and Dayton Daily News artist Greg DeGroat will be doing paintings and sketchings at ringside.
Afterward we’ll come back to the Gallery and the surrounding restaurants and bars at Fifth and Brown — places like Sidebar, Oregon Express, Thai 9 and Boulevard Haus — for a postfight party.
Elsass also is working on having a few other offerings during the six weeks. Best of all, everything is free.
“It’s an awesome exhibit to begin with and everything we’re doing just makes the whole thing come to life,” Drake said. “It’s bringing all different kinds of people together and I think it will bring some real energy downtown.
“It’s going to be fun.”