BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Cross Cumberland Street and head over to the other side of the tracks, and the north side of the city of Lebanon has a distinctly different feel. It’s a little edgier there, a bit rougher, just slightly more dangerous.
It’s the perfect environment to foster the sport of boxing.
Over the years, boxing has struggled to gain a foothold in Lebanon, always taking a backseat to more popular team pursuits. But in the same breath, it has never totally gone away either.
The man responsible for boxing still having a pulse in Lebanon – or at least for its latest rebirth – is one Alan Blyweiss.
In addition to being the owner/trainer of the Palmyra-based Blyweiss Boxing Club, Blyweiss also co-promoted and staged Lebanon’s most recent fight card, which was held Saturday night at Eagles Auditorium on North Eighth Street. It was Blyweiss’ first attempt at conducting such an event in Lebanon.
“I think it’s a diamond in the rough,” said Blyweiss, speaking to the sport’s potential for growth in Lebanon. “I think there’s a need for it, just with kids not having things to do. There’s a lot of talent in Lebanon, but lot of these kids don’t drive. It’s not a team sport, and it doesn’t cost a great deal of money. But you know you’re touching these kids. There’s a huge opportunity for it.
“Everybody looks at it as a brutal sport, like it’s barbaric,” continued Blyweiss. “But there’s more concussions in football. Here’s a channel to take your energy out, and put it into something positive.”
On this particular evening, the event appeared to go off without a hitch. The ten-fight program – seven amateur bouts and three professional – was well organized, well attended and well received by its multicultural audience.
From the outside looking in at least, a good time was had by all.
“I honestly thought the event went well, on a personal note and on a boxing-fan note,” said Blyweiss. “But on a financial note, I think the promotion company lost money. Sitting back and playing with numbers, we’ve got to have another show, maybe at the end of January or the beginning of February. I was very pleased with the event, very proud of how I pulled it off.
“The way I judge an event’s success is by competitive bouts,” Blyweiss added. “There was a mixture of talent, from beginners to experienced. That’s really where I judge it, and all the thanks I got after it. That means a lot. That’s more than money to me. It’s a process, just like it is to train and develop a fighter. I’ll guarantee that no first fight show has ever made money. The best part was I was able to sit back the next day, take a deep breath and say, ‘I did it’.”
Blyweiss wore a wide variety of hats on Saturday evening. Not only was he trying to tie up all the show’s final loose ends, he also provided hands-on coaching and support for three of the fighters he trains, and who were competing on this night.
“It was a tough night,” said Blyweiss. “I really felt like I couldn’t be with the kids. Having to do so much and make sure the show went off without a hitch, I couldn’t spend time with my kids. The next time I promote, I’ll leave it to the promoting company. So many hats were worn that evening.
“My job was to pull the show off,” continued Blyweiss. “I was booking fights up until Thanksgiving Day (two days prior). It was tough, but it was worth it. I kept my word. But training is what I like doing most.”
From a fighter’s standpoint, the show was a chance to show off what had been learned, an opportunity to showcase talents for an audience, a pay-off for hours of hard work. To be a fighter, one must have at least a little bit of showmanship inside.
“I’m calm. I’m good,” said Shawn Zimmerman, a boxer from Schaefferstown, before turning his bout into a brawl. “I’m going to punch him (his opponent) in the face. It’s fun. I love it.
“After this fight, I’m just going to start training for the next one,” Zimmerman continued. “When I was young, it looked fun, and ever since, I just started doing it.”
“It’s huge,” said Blyweiss of the exhibition side of boxing. “You saw the excitement in the families, as well as the excitement for the fighters looking out into the crowd. It’s something for a kid to be proud of. It definitely brightens their spirit. It’s an opportunity to showcase their talent.
“Most of the crowd was followers of the amateur guys,” Blyweiss continued. “I’ve gone to the city. I’ve gone to the zoning board. I wasn’t acknowledged. Emails not returned. Phone calls not returned.”
But Blyweiss pulled it off any way.
In many ways, the event was a culmination of a dream – and not just Blyweiss’. He vowed to do it better next time, and that there will be a next time.
“I’ve been trying to bring boxing back to Lebanon for years,” said Blyweiss. “But I never had any support from the city. It’s been tough. There’s a lot of local kids who are trying to do some stuff. We didn’t get a chance to promote the show the way we would’ve liked to. But we had everything sanctioned, on both the local and regional levels.
“I still fight for Lebanon,” Blyweiss added. “Lebanon still has something. I’m still trying to believe it can. I want to bring boxing back to the Harrisburg area. There’s so much raw talent in the area. There’s definitely world champions in this area.”
If the key to the real estate game is location, location, location, than the key to the event game is promotion, promotion, promotion.
“I think that was the problem,” said Blyweiss. “They (the promotion company) thought that just by sitting back and talking to their friends that people were going to show up. You’ve got to get out into the community and get support from businesses. I know it’s not going to be a mistake made again. If we definitely decide to do another event in February, it’s going to give us plenty of time to promote it. They (the promotion company) didn’t know a lot about boxing, but they said they were going to follow my lead. We won’t make the same mistakes again. But I plan to continue to bring boxing to this area.
“I was pleased with the venue,” Blyweiss added. “Eagles Hall reminds me of the old Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. We wanted it to have that old-school feel.”
A one-time boxer who made a living as a sparring partner, Blyweiss has been around the fight game since he was seven years old. He believes he has something to offer to those with similar upbringings.
“This is more about boxing than it is about life,” said Blyweiss. “Boxing has been the most important thing in my life. I never had responsibilities growing up. I was an angry kid. I was adopted. I grew up in an abusive home. None of these kids can come in and say they’ve done something I haven’t done.”