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Boxing art event pays tribute to 2 champs

Boxing art event pays tribute to 2 champs by Tom Archdeacon for Dayton Daily News, May 19, 2011

Punchers & Painters II will return to downtown Dayton this summer and this time around it should be a real heavyweight event.

And that’s not just because there will be “An Evening with Buster Douglas.”

The former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world who dethroned previously unbeaten Mike Tyson in one of the biggest upsets in sports history will be honored with a gala reception at the Oregon District’s Color of Energy gallery in mid-July.

Once a Sinclair Community College basketball player, Douglas knows Dayton.

“We’re honored to be a part of this,” said John Johnson, the former Ohio State coach who was Douglas’ manager during his boxing heyday. “This seems like a good project all around.”

The five-week celebration of boxing and the arts — which was begun last year in part as a way to promote downtown Dayton — will feature two outdoor fight shows.

The first — similar to the inaugural Punchers & Painters “Fight Night” that drew over 2,000 fans around a ring set up in front of Drake’s Downtown Gym — will be July 16 and free to the public.

The second show — which will showcase local boxers and possibly a pair of World Series of Boxing teams, including the Los Angeles Matadors, who have everything from dancing girls and celebrity backers to Olympic hopeful Chris Pearson from Trotwood — will be Aug. 12 at Fifth Third Field. That show will be put on by the Dayton Dragons with the help of local fight club owner Milt Pearson.

Punchers & Painters II will open Saturday, July 9, with a tribute to the late Davey Moore, who is both the only Olympic boxer and professional world champ to come out of the Miami Valley.

And I’ll guarantee you this, Moore will get a much better reception this time than he did on his first fistic trips to Dayton from his home in Springfield.

When he was just 13, he mailed in an application to the Golden Gloves tournament in Dayton claiming he was 16. Then he brazenly showed up ready to fight in the 1947 tournament. Not only was he underage, but he was significantly undersized. As a pro he was just 5-foot-2 and 126 pounds and at 13 he was so small he had to stand on a crate just to reach a speed bag.

Ben Garlikov, the Dayton sportswriter in charge of the event, took one look at the eager, little pug and, sensing something was amiss, quickly asked when he was born.

Caught off guard, Moore — the son of a Pentecostal minister — blurted out the truth: “November 13, 1933.”

Told he was too young, he burst into tears.

He was sent away again the next year as well as the year after that.

Eventually, though, he became the national AAU champ, fought in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and then became the world featherweight champ. He lost his crown — and his life — when he died from injuries suffered in a 1963 Dodger Stadium bout with Sugar Ramos.

A decade ago the Springfield Sculpture Committee began a project to erect a series of bigger-than-life statues honoring famous figures from the city and Clark County.

All but one have been made by renowned Champaign County sculptor Mike Major. Funding for the work came from a local foundation and private donors, though recently the project has “been stalled by the economic downturn,” said Mike Morris, chairman of the Sculpture Committee. Over $30,000 of the $90,000-plus originally needed to erect the Moore statue must still be raised.

While Major’s magnificently detailed sculpture work has been done for two years, the statue is still in the soft Plasticine stage and needs to go to the foundry to be cast in bronze.

Punchers & Painters wants to bring awareness to the project and at the same time celebrate the career of Moore. A collection of photos and memorabilia from his career will be on display alongside the 8-foot statue at the Color of Energy Gallery.

The “Celebration of Davey Moore” reception — which the Sidebar restaurant helps put on — will not only feature Major, but the boxer’s widow, Geraldine, his children, his brother James and a couple of Davey’s sparring partners.

Throughout the five weeks of Punchers & Painters, other artists and boxers also will be honored.

Last year’s event — which included “A Night with Aaron Pryor” — drew thousands of people downtown. All events this year except the Fifth Third Field show are free.

“We were able to take the germ of an idea last year and really see it blossom into more than we imagined and now it’s happening again,” said Color of Energy owner Mike Elsass, who helps put on the event.

“The real beauty of it is that the community, outside celebrities, local boxers, artists, musicians — all kinds of different groups who normally wouldn’t associate with each other that much — end up melding together and making it possible.

“That’s something pretty special.”