It’s a well-known fact to even casual sports fans that Ventura County has become a hotbed for boxing. Some of the sport’s biggest names, such as Victor Ortiz, Sergio Martinez and Brandon Rios, call the area home; and several other current and former champions have come to the area to train at world- renowned gyms like Robert Garcia’s Boxing Academy in Oxnard and Knuckleheadz Boxing in Ventura.
Strange as it may seem, however, with the area’s current status as the home of great fighters, trainers and gyms, there hadn’t been a live professional boxing event in the county for more than five years until 2012, when Oxnard-based El Dorado Promotions put on two events at the Port Hueneme Oceanview Pavilion.
There were promises it would be the start of an ongoing series, but the third event was abruptly canceled the day of. It seemed that boxing, with its many permits and commission fees, not to mention the cost of onsite doctors and ambulances, was just too complicated and expensive a venture. Despite its popularity, live boxing was yet again down for the count in Ventura County.
That’s all about to change, though, with next month’s event, Ice and Fire, at the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Friday, July 12. The latest promoter to throw its hat into the ring is Top Players Promotions, a company formed by Alec Benke and William Kracht of the Players Casino.
The genesis of the event came was with Benke, a Russian-born, longtime resident of the area, who quite accidently fell into the sport a few years ago through a chance encounter with a group of visiting Russian fighters. He had an epiphany while attending a boxing event at the Chumash Casino in rural Santa Ynez.
“It was a rainy day, the venue was in the middle of nowhere, there were no major fighters on the card, yet there was a thousand people there, mostly from Ventura County,” Benke said. “We’re the boxing capital of the state if not the country, and yet there’s no live boxing here. It became my goal to change that.”
In no time, Benke was pitching his idea to his friend William Kracht of the Players Casino, who loved the idea. With casinos having long been supporters and backers of boxing, and finding a lot of success in the sport, he agreed to form a promotional company, and plans were underway for the first event.
Headlining the debut card will be new Ventura resident Maxim Vlasov, a 25-1 super middleweight contender from Russia who is the current WBO Baltic Champion. Vlasov was urged to move to the area by his friend and now temporary promoter Benke for the greater opportunity it would provide, and so far so good, as Vlasov has recently secured big-time management and could be just a few fights away from a shot at a world championship.
While Vlasov, who is following in the footsteps of fellow Russians who moved to Ventura County — like heavyweight contender, Magomed Abdusalamov and recently crowned IBF featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich — is the event’s headliner. Benke and Kracht are well aware that there’s no way a local boxing event can survive without actual locals. The seven-fight card is promising several up-and-coming Oxnard and Ventura-based fighters in addition to the Russian contender.
The promoters are also wisely aware that the first event of any promotion is a building block and that successful professional boxing series need time to build an audience.
“We agreed early on that if we were to do this, it needed to be a professional, well-presented event that fans of all ages and incomes would want to come back to. We’re hoping it’s something that will exceed expectations and we can build from there.”
So the bell is about to ring once again for boxing in Ventura, and only time will tell if the big gamble will pay off; but if anyone can do it, Benke and Kracht seem to be the right combination for the knockout.
Ice vs. Fire, a night of professional boxing, takes place at the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Friday, July 12. Doors open 6 p.m. and the first fight is at 7 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit www.pcventura.com/boxing.
Who’s on first? is a new monthly column featuring local sports-related stories. If there is an athlete, team or sporting event in Ventura County we should know about, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.