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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 19, 2001

It's time Isle boxing gets off the deck

 •  Viloria's pro boxing debut May 15

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

W hen Olympian Brian Viloria strides into the Hawai'i Convention Center ring next month, it will be the most hopeful sign local pro boxing has had since Andy Ganigan was laying out opponents.

That it has been 20 years since the Waipahu Sugarman last laced up the gloves in a championship career tells you a lot about the state of the pro game here.

It says, for example, that the wait for somebody to revive the sport has long since gone into overtime. It suggests the long-vacant stage is Viloria's for the taking.

"I've said I didn't think I'd live to see a comeback of boxing here," said Bobby Lee, former executive secretary of the Hawai'i State Boxing Commission. "But he (Viloria) could be the next shining star."

Which is why Viloria's pro debut, tentatively set for May 15 on a Tom Moffatt card, has become a much-awaited occasion. An industry that has led a hand-to-mouth existence since the departure of its last meal ticket is hoping that Viloria's nationally televised ESPN bout — and what comes after it — will help strike a spark.

For Viloria has the potential to provide what the sport has lacked these past two decades, a puncher who stirs the curiosity of hardcore boxing fans and captures the imagination of fringe followers.

Once upon a time grown distant, a succession of hard-hitting attractions, Phillip "Wildcat" Kim, Frankie Fernandez, Stan Harrington, Adolph Pruitt, Domi Manalang, Ben Villaflor, etc. kept local rings busy and the crowds coming in a heyday that stretched almost from the legalization of the sport here in 1929 until the dawn of the 1980s.

But those war-a-week days ended when a successor for Ganigan failed to emerge. Without a puncher the thrill wasn't there and neither were the fans despite some otherwise good fighters and the best efforts of a long line of promoters.

Which is where Viloria comes in. Or, at least, it is hoped he will. With the Olympic buildup and colorful personality, if he can transfer the potent punch of his amateur days to the pro game, he could be what boxing fans have been waiting for.

Lou DiBella, Viloria's well-connected matchmaker, said he plans to move Viloria around — Honolulu in May, Las Vegas on the Oscar De La Hoya undercard in June, Tokyo in the fall — for starters. But in the process of climbing the ladder toward a championship, he also wants to recharge Viloria with trips back to Hawai'i.

"I'd like for him to fight a couple times a year there," DiBella said. "It is home for him and, hey, you won't have to twist my arm to get me there."

If the 20-year-old Viloria develops the way his handlers hope and fans want to believe, then, maybe, drawing a crowd for boxing won't involve twisting arms, either.