This week, BATB celebrates a somewhat bittersweet anniversary. One that would have been a grand anniversary if the event actually accomplished what it was intended to.
Twenty years ago, on October 19, 1996, a major card took place at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, MD that was supposed to lead to an eventual unification in the middleweight division. The card had a double main event that was televised nationally by Showtime as both Beltway Middleweight champions -- WBA titleholder William Joppy and WBC kingpin Keith Holmes -- made the first defenses of their titles that they won earlier in the year. Joppy would face Ray McElroy of Long Beach, CA while Holmes took on undefeated Richie Woodhall of the United Kingdom.
The undercard would feature two future world champions,one former world titleholder and a two-time world title contender. Sharmba Mitchell was two years away from winning the WBA Super Lightweight title and DeMarcus Corley participated in just the fifth fight of his career that would eventually lead him to the WBO Super Lightweight championship in 2000. Also, former IBF Super Welterweight champion Paul Vaden was on the card. Vaden won the title from Vincent Pettway in August of 1995 but would drop the belt to Terry Norris four months later. The world title contender was Andrew Council who would eventually challenge Holmes and Bernard Hopkins for middleweight championships.
The focus, however, was on Joppy and Holmes as the Don King-promoted card was put together to showcase the two future Beltway legends and gain momentum towards a unification bout in 1997. In fact, during the week, there was as much talk about their days as sparring partners as there was about their opponents.
Everything worked according to plan in the ring for the Beltway contingent. Joppy would score a seventh-round TKO over McElroy. Holmes would have a little tougher time but would eventually stop Woodhall in the 12th. Council knocked out fellow Beltway Boxer Allen Watts in the first round. Corley won a four-round decision over Antonio Pressley. Also, Vaden who was from San Diego, CA won a 10-round unanimous decision over Bernice Barber. So, everything was in alignment for a big unification bout between our two Beltway champions that would set the local boxing scene on its ear.
So, what happened? Where did it all go wrong? Well, initially, money reported played an issue as the two camps could not agree. Both Holmes and Joppy would lose and regain their titles. The talk started a second time but money once again was a problem. Joppy was in a car accident in 1998 but would comeback strong and hold on to his title.
The last opportunity came in 2001 as both Holmes and Joppy joined Hopkins and Felix Trinidad in Don King's Middleweight Championship Series. King promised that, win or lose, the two Beltway legends would face each other during the series. Holmes would lose a 12-round unanimous decision to Hopkins in April and Joppy would be knocked out by Trinidad in the fifth round in May. Hopkins met Trinidad in late September but, for whatever reason, Holmes and Joppy did not meet in the co-feature.
One personal note: This was my first time covering a card alongside a large contingent of the British boxing press who were there to cover Woodhall, who was an undefeated rising star. I got to meet legendary writers like Graham Houston and Colin Hart. They were fired up about Woodhall but, after the card was over, Carl and Deborah King, who were holding down the fort for their father, got the press almost incensed about another King Promotions boxer, Tom Johnson and a possible bout against future world champion Naseem Hamed. The post-fight press conference was almost as interesting as the card itself.
Both Joppy and Holmes, have gone on to be successful in their post-boxing lives. However, every now and then, the urge hits them. I'll just leave it at that.