In an attempt to capture the excitement of championship boxing, ESPN2 has brought its cameras to Augusta.
Augusta native Vernon Forrest will be the network's headliner for Friday Night Fights tonight at Bell Auditorium, taking on Panama's Santiago Samaniego. ESPN communications coordinator Dan Quinn said the event is often held in the hometown of one of the participants to generate enthusiasm not found on neutral soil.
"The fights look a lot better there than in casinos," Quinn said. "You get the home crowd involved with the excitement and that makes for great TV."
Quinn said Forrest's fight would begin at approximately 10:20 p.m., depending on the length of the undercard bouts. ESPN2's coverage begins at 9, with fellow hometown product Brandon Mitchem's scheduled 10-round junior middleweight bout against Larry Marks of Philadelphia.
A four-round lightweight fight between Chris Papillion of Pensacola, Fla., and Kareem Braithwaite of Portsmouth, Va., will follow before the headliner, Forrest-Samaniego. The Vivian Harris-Isander Lacen six-round junior welterweight fight is scheduled to wrap up the telecast by 11 p.m.
ESPN2 started Friday Night Fights last October and has traveled around the country showing boxing cards. Teddy Atlas and Bob Papa will provide commentary for tonight's live bouts.
Russell Peltz, ESPN's boxing consultant, said Thursday that Forrest gives the televised boxing show a dilemma.
"Since none of the top contenders will fight him, do you put Vernon in against somebody he's better than or do you try to get two fighters who are evenly matched?," said Peltz, also a longtime boxing promoter. "Whether Samaniego can stay with Vernon, I don't know."
Peltz inquired about whether there would be a full house for tonight's card at Bell Auditorium.
"Vernon told (ESPN) to come to Georgia, they'd pack 'em in," Peltz said. "The prices ($41 and $26) are not expensive for boxing tickets."
Tonight's draw could determine if the network returns for another show, whether it be with Forrest or Augusta's Brandon Mitchem as the headliner.
"It all depends what the atmosphere is," Peltz said. "If there is a sparse crowd, there's no point in us coming back."
Heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and Augusta basketball stars William Avery and Ricky Moore are expected to attend tonight's card. Avery, a first-round pick of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, attended Thursday's weigh-in at the Comfort Inn on Walton Way and said he would leave for Minneapolis in mid-September to prepare for training camp.
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