For the first time in roughly 65 years, The Met has a boxing event on its schedule.
In a partnership between LiveNation and Hard Hitting Promotions, the historic venue at North Broad and Poplar Streets will host a nine-card bout on Feb. 23.
The Met was built in 1908 as an opera house. It held boxing events in the 1940s and ‘50s before slowly becoming an abandoned ruin in the ‘60s.
But after a $56 million renovation by LiveNation, a concert production company, the Met has been restored into a 3,400-seat venue drawing large music acts, consideration for Pollstar’s ‘Theater of the Year,' and now sporting events.
Geoff Gordon, president of LiveNation Philadelphia who helped spearhead the project, is partnering with Manny Rivera, head fight promoter for Hard Hitting Promotions, for the event.
“I think boxing has been for a long time, certainly before I was even born, in the fabric of Philadelphia ...” Gordon said. “The great thing about this venue is it really, truly is a multi-use venue, and we’ll highlight that.”
To accommodate boxing events, show-runners will remove 800 seats in front of the stage and create a general admission section, increasing the capacity to 4,000 people. The ring will be on the floor, and the seating surrounding it is expected to give a classic feeling.
“We’re really trying to get the authenticity of having the boxing ring on the floor,” Gordon said. " ... I think the pageantry of boxing is, in my opinion, half of what makes it an amazing event. Just going to it and talking about it and when you get to feel the energy of it. That’s important."
According to a spokesperson, the last known boxing event held at The Met was in 1954. The venue’s history also includes basketball games and classical performances, and it sometimes even served as a recording studio for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The main card will feature Jeremy Cuevas (11-0, 8 knockouts) fighting fellow Philadelphian Steven Ortiz (9-0, 3 KOs). Both lightweights are nominees for the 2018 Briscoe Award, given to the best prospect in the area.
Diaz said he and boxing experts in the area think the main card has a chance to be the fight of the year.
“It’s two of the best fighters in Philadelphia fighting each other to prove who really is the best fighter in Philadelphia and also the tri-state area,” Rivera said. “It doesn’t happen often because two prospects of this level usually don’t want to fight each other because they want to keep that undefeated record as long as they can.”
While the venue was in ruin, a pastor, Mark Hatcher held weekly church services there and persuaded City Council President Darrell Clarke not to destroy the building.
“I told Councilman Clarke 21 years ago, ‘You can’t tear this historic building down. It means a lot to the neighborhood; it means a lot to the City of Philadelphia. That building had a plan and a purpose,’ ” Hatcher told the Inquirer in September.
“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rev. Hatcher for keeping a pulse going,” Gordon said.
The other fights are:
Super lightweight Samuel Teach (15-2, 7 KOs) against Tresean Wiggins (13-6, 6 KOs)
Welterweight Malik Hawkins (13-0, 9 KOs) against an opponent to be determined
Super lightweight Brandon Pizarro (13-1, 6 KOs) against Travis Castellon (16-3, 12 KOs)
Super featherweight Gadwin Rosa (9-0, 7 KOs) against Frank Trader (11-2, 3 KOs)
Lightweight Christian Tapia (7-0, 6 KOs) against TBD
Bantamweight Emanuel Rodriguez (3-0) against Jose Lopez (0-0)
Light heavyweight Benjamin Sinikin (2-0, 1 KO) against TBD