A FEW CHERISHED boxing venues around the country that had fallen on hard times have rebounded, to one degree or another. But that doesn't appear to be the case for the Blue Horizon, whose status as Philadelphia's most recognizable remaining link to its rich pugilistic past appears to be going, going . . .
Heck, it might already have vanished like such iconic Philly boxing sites as the Spectrum, the Arena, the Cambria, the Olympia and Convention Hall. The last fight card held at the Blue Horizon was on June 4, 2010, when featherweight Coy Evans scored a six-round, unanimous decision over Barbaro Zepeda in the marquee attraction. Suftwah Dien Muhammad was the promoter. Remember that date and those names; they are apt to be the answers to trivia questions about Philly boxing, of what used to be here but isn't anymore.
The Blue Horizon was shuttered immediately after Evans outpointed Zepeda, ostensibly because representatives of the Department of Licenses & Inspections, acting on a tip from someone in the city Health Department, showed up at the stately brownstone to issue a cease-and-desist order because food and beer were being sold and dispensed without proper permits.
That relatively minor snag could have been resolved, but it quickly became apparent that co-owners Vernoca Michael and Carol Ray had a much larger problem, namely tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes dating back to 2008. With penalties, the debt grew to $60,000.
The building, at 1314 North Broad St., has been for sale for more than a year, and the hope among fight fans was that some deep-pocketed patron of the sweet science would purchase it, make sufficient repairs to restore some measure of its former glory, and, of course, bring boxing back.
The sale finally went through earlier this month when Gov. Corbett's administration approved a $6 million state grant to help Mosaic Development Partners convert the Blue Horizon into a hotel with bar and restaurant, albeit with a boxing motif.
But having pictures of fighters on the walls isn't the same as actually watching them in a facility The Ring magazine not so many years ago described as "the best place in the world to see a fight."
"It's sacrilegious, just sacrilegious, even though in my opinion the Blue Horizon hasn't really been the same since I permanently left in 2001," said longtime Philly boxing promoter J Russell Peltz, who staged his first of hundreds of fight cards there on Sept. 30, 1969, when middleweight Bennie Briscoe needed only 52 seconds to knock out Tito Marshall.
After Michael and Ray bought the Blue in 1994, Peltz had nearly as many pitched battles on the business front with Michael, who installed herself as president, as did the fighters inside the ropes. Over the past 14 months I have made repeated attempts to contact Michael for updates on the status of the building; she still hasn't called me back, but she did tell a Daily News reporter, once the sale was announced: "Nobody expected me to last 4 months. I lasted 17 years."
Assigning blame at this stage of the game does no one any good. The Blue Horizon - or whatever its new owners decide to call the place - will remain standing, although you have to wonder if any reconfiguration violates the building's certification as a historic site. It might soon become a nice place for an overnight stay on the Avenue of the Arts, or to enjoy a fine meal. But no longer will spectators be able to lean over the top rail of the balcony, so near the fighters they could almost touch them, and see some hungry kid with a dream and a big punch knock his opponent on his keister.
It's sad for fight fans, but most of these stories have lamentable endings. Emanuel Steward wanted to buy the Kronk Gym, the dilapidated birthing grounds of Thomas Hearns and 30 or so of Steward's other mostly home-grown world champions, from the city of Detroit, but eventually he threw up his hands in frustration and moved on.
The Kronk remains a rusted, stripped shell, perhaps beyond salvage.
"I'm building a new place near the outskirts of town," Steward told me. "It's been 5 years [of negotiations with Detroit officials] and I've been fighting city bureaucracy all that time. I had to move on."
I had hoped the Blue Horizon would enjoy the same sort of revival as the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach, which opened in 1951 and where brothers Chris and Angelo Dundee developed such notable fighters as Muhammad Ali, Luis Rodriguez, Willie Pastrano and Ralph Dupas. The dilapidated original structure fell to the wrecking ball in 1994, but a brand-new gym with the same name arose in virtually the same space and had its grand opening in September 2010. The rat-tat-tat sound of gloved hands on the speed bag is again heard in close proximity to where a young Ali, then named Cassius Clay, arrived after he had won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics and bragged to the Dundees that he had the stuff to become something special.
Maybe the Blue Horizon (trivia buffs: The first main event there, on Nov. 3, 1961, was middleweight George Benton's third-round stoppage of Chico Corsey) also can experience such a rebirth. If there's anything we should have learned by now, it's that anything that goes around eventually might come around.
I'm just not sure I'll be here long enough to see boxing's possible return to a venue that, in my opinion, it never should have left.