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Primm fight cards launching stars in the desert

You still see it in movies. How boxing once was. How it truly mattered to all those watching. How the action inside the ring was thought far more exciting than whatever celebrity might be attending outside it.

The intimate setting. The animated crowd. A time when you could feel, smell, almost touch the action.

You know, like Rocky Balboa fighting Spider Rico in an old church converted into a gym and mothers screaming their heads off for someone to throw a punch.

A simpler time.

“That’s what we have tried to do since starting this 18 months ago,” Michael Starr said. “We are about trying to provide the right venue for the right sport at the right price and time. We’re hoping to do it for a while.

“We’re not trying to compete with the MGM (Grand) or Mandalay Bay. We know what our niche is.”

It is built on the memory of another time in Las Vegas. Starr is executive vice president and general manager of Primm Valley Casino Resorts and remembers well those weeknight boxing cards at the Showboat and Silver Slipper, of watching a young brawler named Freddie Roach go seven rounds before he had to leave and begin a graveyard shift at a local casino.

Old-time Vegas stories. Great stuff.

The boxing part is being re-created inside the Star of the Desert Arena in Primm, where an “ESPN Friday Night Fights” card that begins at 6 p.m. today will feature a main event involving super welterweight Alfredo Angulo.

He was steering a rocket straight to becoming the next great Mexican sensation, winning his first 15 pro fights. Then came a unanimous decision loss to Kermit Cintron in May and the rocket suddenly stalled in midair.

What it means: Tonight is incredibly important to which direction Angulo’s career will follow — continuing its ascent to other planets in terms of fame or crashing back to earth as someone who never realized his full promise.

Which is why Primm is the ideal place for Angulo to meet Gabriel Rosado on a card that includes local Sharif Bogere, an 11-0 lightweight who enters arenas wearing the head and mane of an African lion and carried in a cage by four African warriors.

It is said to be quite a spectacle. Simba with gloves.

Primm is the kind of place where a fighter proves he is worthy of bigger venues and paychecks or begins rethinking his choice of profession. Legends have been born at places such as the 6,000-seat Star of the Desert Arena. All the greats once fought in a similar setting.

“It’s a throwback place, nothing fancy but with local fight fans who love supporting local fighters,” said Gary Shaw, whose company is promoting tonight’s card. “Personally, I don’t think it’s right to charge someone $1,500 to $2,000 to see any fight. It’s wrong.

“We’re chasing away our bread and butter — the young kids who should be growing up on the fights. We need them. When you tell someone the cheapest ticket to a fight is $100, that turns people off.”

It isn’t that much at Primm. Hardly. You can buy a ticket for $10 and any Clark County resident is eligible for a two-for-one evening. Two fans, $5 each. Simba’s costume alone must cost twice as much.

Boxing needs this kind of outlet. It’s one way to perhaps penetrate the mind of a youngster now obsessed with mixed martial arts. That’s where boxing is in large part — back hoping it can create interest at a grassroots level being dominated with visions of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and its stars.

Primm has worked cards with Shaw, Golden Boy, Top Rank, all the major promotional players. The fights are competitive because of what is at stake for most in the ring. It can be the beginning or end of a dream.

“People can make the drive here, eat dinner, have a few drinks and watch the fights and still forget there is a recession because it’s so affordable,” Starr said. “I think a lot of people miss the days of fights at the Showboat and Silver Slipper. … That was old-school Vegas.

“By offering these fight cards, we hope to allow others to experience that kind of feeling.”

You still see it in movies.

I have to believe the real thing is better.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on “The Sports Scribes” on KDWN (720 AM).

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