Boxing in Brooklyn: Steve Farhood looks back as Barclays Center welcomes the sport back

Alex Trautwig - Getty Images

Showtime Sports boxing analyst Steve Farhood takes a look back at Brooklyn's history of big-time boxing, as we prepare for the sport's major league return to the borough this Saturday.

by Steve Farhood of Showtime Sports

The opening night of big-time boxing at the Barclays Center serves as a link to history -- and a time when Brooklyn and boxing were linked as closely as Peter Luger's Steakhouse and the porterhouse for two.

Boxing's ties to Brooklyn date back no less than 130 years:

* John L. Sullivan, who was the first heavyweight champion of the modern era, fought in Brooklyn in 1882, just before the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.

* The legendary lightweight champion Joe Gans fought in Brooklyn in 1896 and 1897. In 1898, Brooklyn, which had been independent, became part of New York City.

* The great middleweight champion Harry Greb first fought in Brooklyn in 1917, one year after a Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker began serving hot dogs from a stand on Surf Avenue in Coney Island.

* Jack Dempsey fought an exhibition in Brooklyn in 1918, just as the population of the borough reached 2-million. (It is now estimated at 2.5-million.)

In fact, most of the stars of boxing's golden age fought in Brooklyn at some point in their careers. Tony Canzoneri (47 times) led the way. Native New Yorkers Rocky Graziano (18 times) and Benny Leonard (14 times) appeared regularly. Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, Sandy Saddler, Kid Gavilan, Abe Attell, Kid Chocolate, Joey Giardello, Terry McGovern, Battling Nelson, Ad Wolgast and Tommy Loughran are some of the hall of famers who fought in Brooklyn.

In all, there have been 37 world title fights in Brooklyn, most of them coming at various athletic clubs that have long since shut their doors. James J. Jeffries won the world heavyweight title at the Coney Island AC in 1899, knocking out Bob Fitzsimmons. The last world title fight was on August 5, 1931, when Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom retained the New York World light heavyweight title with a decision over Jimmy Slattery at Ebbets Field.

Eighty-one years later - on Saturday, October 20 -- there will be four world title fights on one card.

In one of those fights, Brooklyn's own Paulie Malignaggi will make his first defense of the WBA welterweight title. Eleven years ago, Malignaggi turned pro on the last major fight card in Brooklyn, at KeySpan Park (now MCU Park) in Coney Island.

Malignaggi is about as Brooklyn as it gets. While you might associate Michael Jordan with North Carolina, Al Capone with Chicago and Mae West with Hollywood, they were all born in Brooklyn as well.

So were a string of heavyweight champions: Floyd Patterson, Michael Moorer, Mike Tyson, Shannon Briggs and Riddick Bowe -- all born within a few miles of one another.

Other recent champions born in Brooklyn include Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Junior Jones, Zab Judah, Luis Collazo, Mark Breland and Kevin Kelley.

The Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 baseball season, and the demolition of Ebbets Field, the site of many a major fight card, began in 1960.

A new chapter in Brooklyn's history begins on Oct. 20. The Dodgers aren't likely to ever come back, but boxing has returned, and the Barclays Center is its new home.

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