They coulda been contenders

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They coulda been contenders

Flying high now: Local jouster Jimmy Lange is garnering quite a following and even attracted the great Angelo Dundee (coach to Muhammad Ali and George Foreman) to his corner.

Tonight, there’s boxing. No glitz and bright lights of Las Vegas but rather a ring in the middle of a three-quarters filled Patriot Center in Fairfax. Michael Buffer will not be booming out introductions. Instead we have ring announcer Henry “Discombobulating” Jones. This isn’t prize fighting on pay-per-view. It’s raw boxing between men who want their shot or had their chance and are hanging on to a left hook and a dream.

Tonight there’s one belt on the line when Virginia’s own Jimmy Lange will face Fontaine Cabell for the vacant WBC Continental Americas Super Welterweight title. For the others like Reggie “Concrete” LaCrete and Jamie “The Punisher” Palma, there are not belts, but eyes. The eyes of Jackie Kallen, who managed the career of James “Lights Out” Toney. Kallen led Toney to the world WBA middleweight title and was later portrayed by Meg Ryan in the movie Against the Ropes.

There are the eyes of Tommy Gallagher behind his trademark sunglasses and hat.
“This is the best,” says Gallagher, who has been a pivotal fixture in Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard’s “The Contender” TV boxing reality show. “This local stuff is the best. You got to come here before you can go anywhere else so you get to see everybody at the grass roots level, which is the best. It’s about guys who have a dream. It’s guys that don’t want to look back and say, ‘Why didn’t I finish doing what I wanted to do?’”

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Standing in the corner of the fighter’s entrance, trying to avoid attention, but at the same time always being the center of it, is the great Angelo Dundee, who served this evening as cornerman to Lange.

Dundee’s career helped mold those of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Leonard, and to be under his tutelage is a blessing from the gods of boxing. “He was real excited,” said Lange of Dundee’s wanting to work with him. “Probably not as excited as I was, but he was all about working with me and of course I’m all about working with him. It was just kind of an easy fit there. Kind of a fortunate situation.”

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In comparison to areas such as the Bronx or Philadelphia, it is hard to think of Virginia as a hot spot for local boxing. “I’m thrilled with the reception of the fans. This is a great area. I’ve been coming to Washington for a million years,” added Dundee, of the Commonwealth that has produced such talent as Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker. “This kid Jimmy Lange is one of those kids who gets the people excited. There were people in those seats tonight. Isn’t that nice?”

It is nice. Nice, indeed, for a sport that once shared the NFL-level popularity and now has fallen beyond the shadows due in part to national ridicule on safety issues and the lack of popular heavyweights.

Tonight’s not about a popularity contest, it’s about a chance. “You get a chance to see what these guys are all about,” said Gallagher. “They’re not thugs. You see that they have a family. They do this not just to get out and pound the shit out of each other. They do this because it’s their job! They just are men who happen to be fighters.”

Whether it be a chance to win, to fight again, to capture a belt, or just pay the
rent. Tonight’s about boxing. Tonight’s about a chance.

Wes McElroy hosts “The Final Round” on ESPN 840. Monday-Friday 3pm-5pm

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