PHOTOS BY BRITTANY SELLS
The sold-out crowd bellowed for blood.
For the first professional boxing event at Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett, promoted by Murphys Boxing, thousands showed up from all the requisite walks of life: authentic old neighborhood barnacles recalling their days in the ring; ambitious up-and-comers on hand with their timeworn trainers; and, of course, scores of Dropkick Murphys fans who have beaten the dogshit outta at least one dirtball who gave them shit for ordering a cranberry juice or parked in their shoveled-out spot. Which was relevant, since there may be more streetside parking in a Southie snowstorm than there is anywhere near Encore.
In case you missed the torrent of flattering press that the casino has won over the past month, the gambling den is not actually located in Boston, but does offer a shuttle service to squire patrons through the clusterfuck of Sullivan Square, which is actually a deadly pair of traffic circles. Last Friday, those buggies helped aplenty get to the main event by the ring, which is actually a square.
It takes all of three steps inside the door and a deep breath to realize that the Encore casino isn’t Bob Hope’s turf. Nor is it Frank Sinatra’s, though there’s a restaurant named for the chairman that pays tribute “with modern, sophisticated riffs on classic Italian cooking … starting with Frank’s Clams and ending with Ossobuco ‘My Way’ or the signature Veal Parmigiana.”
The lobby smelled of high-grade formica and palm trees. The plastic kind. You’ve heard about the befuddling carousel that spins front and center, flanked by a crass statue of Popeye (yes, the sailor) that magically causes people to scratch their heads and make that insanely goofy look as if they are embarassed about being too dumb to know why the work before them exists, let alone is headlining a gambling facility across the pond from Somerville. Must be something to do with the water.
While the spectacle of Encore is surely that of a glitzy Vegas-style refuge for high rollers and big spenders, the heads on hand for fight night came from a whole other planet altogether. I’m not talking about the sort of casino diversity the Boston Globe can’t stop gushing about; last month, the paper celebrated how the “Chinese market was present en masse,” along with “European tourists, a klatch of well-tailored lesbians eating Italian food, couples and families of all ages from Boston and nearby towns who came to see a carousel made of flowers, and plenty of ruffians at the gaming tables and pensioners at the slots.” And earlier this month the broadsheet further explained, “Encore Boston Harbor in Everett has drawn a clientele that cuts across demographic lines—race, class, and age—to an extent rarely seen” in this region.
But last Friday was something else entirely.
Instead of insufferable upper crust yuppies who use “summer” as a verb and dress for the Cape and Islands when they’re pounding vodka sodas downtown, most of the bloodsport spectators looked as if they stashed away a few months of blue-collar paychecks in order to get there. In the moment, tattooed crowds converged upon the craps tables and filed into the big ballroom to see noble fighters beat each other stupid.
But who were these people? These faces! From where did they come? They looked like caricatures of car mechanics from Dorchester. But they’re real. And, sweet Jesus, there were a hell of a lot of them—screaming through the gaming area all evening, wet humping the American dream, that vision of a winner somehow emerging from the rust like a casino in Everett.
Such striking images abound; the bouts were precisely what the night called for. Greg Vendetti, proud son of Stoneham, won the IBA Junior Middleweight Championship belt after 12 rounds, and a Southie kid scrapped out a victory too, as Joe Farina picked up his third win of the year. Luis Arcon Diaz dropped Mario Lozano in the third round, while Dublin’s Lawrence Fryers stopped Bryan Abraham, Carlos Hernandez handed local favorite Mike Ohan Jr. his first loss, and James Perella went the distance for the first time in his career, beating MMA veteran Bryan Goldsby.
Through it all, the casino was a colosseum; well-placed punches separated hunters from the hunted.
“It was a very special night,” said Ken Casey, the beloved Dropkick bassist-singer and Murphys promoter. “To be the first-ever ticketed event at a brand-new resort casino that hasn’t even been open for a month and to sell the place out with a local fighter in the main event was an amazing experience and a historic night.”
It’s terrific news, especially as Encore otherwise finds itself on the ropes in a class-action lawsuit. The house is presently accused of rigging the gloves on its one-armed bandits and intentionally throwing low blows at blackjack players with payouts that could “result in an additional $30 million more in profits each year,” as estimated in a suit filed in Middlesex County Superior Court.
Only the tale of the tape will ultimately tell, to be sure. Will future knockouts be delivered via gavel? Or glove?
With Murphys returning for a hardcore encore on Aug 23, the latter’s a sure bet.
Nate is a Boston-based reporter who has written for the Boston Phoenix, the Boston Metro, and DigBoston among other publications.