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Downtown's New Home Team: Matadors Open Home Season at Nokia Theatre

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, December 01, 2010, at 06:13PM
Mexico City Guerreros vs. L.A. Matadors, 11/28/2010 Sye Williams

L.A. Matadors’ Rau’Shee Warren, a 2004 and 2008 Olympian, lands a punch during his bout with Mexico City Guerreros’ Elias Emigdio.

Downtown has a new home team, and it is via an unlikely team sport. Part of the new World Series of Boxing (WSB), the Los Angeles Matadors opened home play on Sunday at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, defeating the Mexico City Guerreros 5-0.

The 12-team international league straddles two worlds, offering pro-style fights but allowing its athletes to keep their Olympic amateur eligibility. Teams are split between the Americas, Europe and Asia. Each carries a 10 to 20-man roster, facing off against division rivals throughout a 12-week regular season that runs into March.

The Matadors opened their season last week with a controversial road loss to the Miami Gallos, but now sit atop the Americas division after two weeks.

The team considers Nokia Theatre its home court. “When people go down to L.A. Live, we not only want them to think of the Lakers and Kings, but also the Matadors,” team General Manager Jeff Benz said on Monday. Ticket prices range from $20 to $195, and the team has placed a focus on making sure the in-venue entertainment keeps the crowd engaged.

Sunday’s first outing was a success in Benz’s eyes. “The energy in the room was fantastic,” he said.

Instead of fighting just a couple times each year, WSB boxers can fight as often as every two weeks. Bouts consist of five rounds that are three minutes each, and team matches feature fights in five weight classes.

Benz believes the mix might be just the thing that boxing needs to regain its place in a crowded sports market. “There’s this latent boxing community out there that’s not getting its needs met,” he said. The WSB offers “a very approachable format.”

The long season leads to consistent training. “We have a training camp going for a season that is six months,” Benz said. “This will change the face of boxing in many ways.”

The league was formed by the International Boxing Association, the governing body for the Olympic sport. Fighters are paid a salary that can range from $20,000 to $200,000 across the league, and the top individual competitors will receive qualification for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Here in the United States, the question of amateur versus professional is more cloudy. State-by-state rulings will determine whether the fights count as a professional record and what parts of a state’s professional boxing rules the matches must apply.

“This notion of amateur versus pro is one that exists these days really only in boxing,” said Benz. “The simple fact that you’re being paid shouldn’t change your status in the world of competition.”

In the end, it may not matter. The Olympics are amateur boxing’s top prize, and that status is already assured.

The Matadors return to action on December 12, hosting the Memphis Force.


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