Top Rank Boxing founder Bob Arum and President Todd duBoef were walking on Figueroa Street toward the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last November to watch the wild “Monday Night Football” barn-burner between the Rams and Chiefs when they had an “aha” moment.
That was the night they first laid eyes on the neighboring Banc of California Stadium and immediately kicked around the idea that they would soon host a slugfest of their own in the soccer stadium. After all, the venue was constructed on the site of the former Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, home to classic clashes Arum put on during his promotional heyday featuring the likes of Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran and many others.
On Saturday, Top Rank will make its maiden voyage into the Banc of California Stadium with the arena’s first-ever boxing event. It will be headlined with a championship tilt as Emanuel Navarrete (27-1, 23 knockouts) defends his World Boxing Organization super bantamweight title against Francisco De Vaca (20-0, 6 knockouts).
The venture is somewhat of a shrewd move for Top Rank to be first in bringing a card there. The stadium is adjacent to the Coliseum and is more central to downtown Los Angeles compared to the AEG-owned Dignity Health Sports Park and even the MSG Co.-owned Forum, giving it a slight logistical advantage.
Top Rank will look to capitalize on the open-air feel that has made Dignity Health Sports Park appealing for boxing. Dignity Health Sports Park is billed as the “war grounds” for fight-of-the-year clashes, some of which Top Rank has even procured, like Tim Bradley outlasting Ruslan Provodnikov in 2013.
The Carson venue is a predominant home to prizefighting, and Banc of California Stadium adds yet another wrinkle to the fight between LAFC and the Galaxy in the Southern California soccer derby that’s been dubbed El Trafico.
“The battles that they have in their soccer worlds is one thing. If you’re in the venue business, everyone is fighting for events,” said duBoef. “We have great relationships with everyone. Different markets have diverse clientele, and there’s a varied barrier to the purchasing power.”
LAFC was looking to diversify its events slate and proactively reached out to procure the partnership, duBoef said. Now, Top Rank will leverage LAFC’s built-in, fervent fan base as well as USC to reach new audiences.
“L.A. offers so many different pockets and demographics,” said duBoef. “It’s competitive, and we’re in an open, expansive outreach to see where success will be at. Football and soccer work well with our demographics. The LAFC stadium is quite the facility and is spectacular. We’re excited to walk down this road with them.”
The 22,000 seat stadium, which already holds the most expensive average ticket price for its soccer product, will be scaled down to 5,500.
The Los Angeles arena ecosystem continues to provide a hotbed for the sport. The Assn. of Boxing Commissions reported in February that California hosted 118 boxing cards last year, more than Nevada, Texas, New York and New Jersey combined.
The local market will only grow with the addition of the Rams and Chargers stadium to the region’s skyline next year. The venue should serve as a tantalizing option for promoters to host super fights much like AT&T Stadium has in Dallas.
Tom Loeffler, head of 360 Promotions, has put on boxing events globally and he’s no stranger to shows in the Los Angeles area. He’s produced three Vitali Klitschko fights at Staples Center, two Gennady Golovkin fights each at Dignity Health Sports Park and the Forum, and also operated smaller club shows at the Avalon in Hollywood.
Loeffler, who previously tapped into Banc of California Stadium with an open workout before the Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez fight, said its addition to the venue menu provides a promising new avenue in the region.
“We’ve had challenges in the past looking for bigger venues, and this would be a perfect solution,” said Loeffler. “If the time of season and fighters are right, it’s another viable option to hold high-profile events. Outdoor venues provide boxing promoters a tremendous opportunity. The stadiums have a different energy to them than smaller indoor arenas.”
Come Saturday at the Banc of California Stadium, Loeffler is interested to see what the sightlines will look like from upper levels and how the action can be followed along on the big LED screens in case he plans on procuring an event of his own there down the line.
Meanwhile, Top Rank will be holding 34 events in the U.S. alone this year. In Southern California this year, it has already hosted shows from Staples Center to the Pechanga Resort Casino. It is also holding a date at the Dignity Health Sports Park for a potential fall fight.
“We’re looking forward to seeing how the public responds and what we can continue to do in the LAFC micro-market,” said duBoef. “We’re proactively looking to grow there with bigger events.”