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September 22, 2014

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Boxing:

Joint awes as a fight forum

Image

Steve Marcus

Chad Dawson, left, goes after Antonio Tarver in their fight Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel’s new Joint, an 81,875-square-foot venue that seats 2,900 fight fans. Dawson successfully defended his world title.

Dawson defeats Tarver in rematch

Chad Dawson finds an opening against Antonio Tarver in their IBF/IBO light heavyweight title fight Saturday night at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Launch slideshow »

After all the talk about the pristine sightlines at the new Joint at the Hard Rock, here are a couple of practical examples from the undercard of Saturday night’s world championship boxing show:

At the end of the fourth round of a light heavyweight bout, Canadian fighter David Whittom clocked Ismayl Sillakh with a late punch after the bell and immediately realized his error. Even from the standing-room area in the back of the room, the apologetic look on Whittom’s face was clear and vivid.

And during a women’s featherweight clash between Melissa Hernandez and Jeri Sitzes, even from the balcony seats it was easy — if a bit disconcerting — to see the fighters continually sticking their tongues out at each other throughout the bout.

Gary Shaw, the lead promoter of Saturday’s show in which Chad Dawson retained his light heavyweight world title against Antonio Tarver in the main event, was so impressed with the venue that he is negotiating to return with another nationally televised card July 31.

“Oh my God, it’s better than a good place,” Shaw said of the $60 million Joint. “It’s spectacular. I don’t have one negative thing to say about it. If I did, I would say it.”

Considering the most distant seats are only 120 feet from the boxing ring, Shaw speculated that the upper levels of the venue might offer finer vantage points than the rows at ringside.

A similar sentiment is often used to praise Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon, where generations of East Coast boxing fans have sworn that the cheaper seats are the better seats. (The big difference, of course, is that the Blue Horizon is approximately 144 years older than the new Joint.)

Shaw, who worked with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Commission for 28 years, said the setup at the Joint reminded him of the intimate boxing venue at the Tropicana in Atlantic City.

“You can stand and watch from the balconies on the side, and all the sightlines are terrific,” Shaw said.

The new Joint, part of the Hard Rock’s $750 million expansion and renovation project, opened last month and has hosted several rock concerts and a smaller Top Rank boxing card.

Saturday’s card, televised by HBO, featured the first major world championship boxing match at the Joint.

“It’s one thing to see these events on paper,” said Paul Davis, Hard Rock vice president of entertainment. “We spent the last two years looking at architectural drawings and renderings and trying to guess what the sightlines were, and that sort of thing. But to actually see the building breathe and flow with live events, there’s no substitute for that.

“The people using the building, the promoters, the artists, the band members, have just been over the moon. It’s all gone according to plan and then some.”

For boxing shows at the Joint, the ring sits in front of the stage. Some of the VIP and balcony seating in the upper levels looks almost directly down on the ring. On the floor level, the seating areas on both sides of the ring feel roomier compared with the scene at fight cards at the old Joint.

“The capacity is exactly double that of the old Joint,” Davis said. “However, the space is 4.2 times larger than the original Joint, which is why it feels that way.”

In the rear of the venue, a curtained divider separates the back bar from the main room, which means if Lou Reed ever comes back he won’t need to chastise fans at the bar for chattering and clinking their glasses during the show. (Alas, the odds of a return engagement by Reed after his notorious 2003 concert at the old Joint resemble the betting line on Saturday’s headliner: No, minus 900; yes, plus 650.)

Saturday’s fight card drew a crowd of 2,156, and all of those tickets were sold rather than comped, according to Shaw. The 81,875-square-foot venue was configured for a capacity of 2,900 for the fights. It can hold up to 4,000, including general admission, for concerts.

That size figures to hit a “sweet spot” for attractive boxing cards that do not fit into the megafight category.

“I don’t see us competing with Mandalay Bay, the MGM Grand, fights at that level,” Davis said. “The Joint is a lot smaller than those venues. But certainly the caliber of fights that appear on HBO or Showtime, we will definitely be doing more of those.”

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