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Philadelphia boxing icon Russell Peltz celebrates 50 years in the fight game

He will celebrate his half-century in the business with a fight card Friday at 2300 arena.

Philadelphia boxing promoter Russell Peltz, who celebrated 50 years in the business on Sept. 30., sits in his Philadelphia office.
Philadelphia boxing promoter Russell Peltz, who celebrated 50 years in the business on Sept. 30., sits in his Philadelphia office.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

In J Russell Peltz’s office are tickets from as far back as 1969.

That’s the year he promoted his first boxing card. On Friday, the local boxing personality will celebrate his 50 years in the business with a fight card at 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia.

“I just thought I was doing something I love to do,” said Peltz, 72. “You never imagine this when you are 22.”

Friday’s eight-bout card will feature Victor Padilla and Romain Tomas. The first bout will take place at 7:30 p.m. The Padilla-Tomas fight will be for six rounds, paying homage to the first two decades of the 20th century in Pennsylvania when all fights were limited to that distance.

Peltz said he saved about $5,000 after college as a student journalist at Temple. He decided to bet that money on himself.

He started a career as a boxing promoter. The decision didn’t make his parents happy. He figured that he’d spend that money in six months and, if things didn’t work, out he’d go on with his life.

Fast-forward to today: Peltz has promoted more than 35 Hall of Fame boxers, with close to half hailing from Philadelphia. His first event included Bennie Briscoe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Eugene Clark.

Leading up to the event, Peltz said, he was nervous. His father bought about 100 ringside tickets and the fighters that night also helped financially. More than 1,600 people packed into the 1,300-seat Blue Horizon arena.

“We couldn’t let everyone in, and that was last time that happened,” Peltz said.

Peltz pocketed about $1,500 from the card, which allowed him to extend his promotional career. The payday was about six times larger than the money he made on his next 14 fight cards.

Peltz acknowledges that promoting is much different than it was in his earlier days. Fighters such as Floyd Mayweather Jr. have emphasized the business side, which has led to top boxers rarely fighting each other.

“Boxing was so big then, that to be the best fighter to come out of North Philly, it was like winning the Big 5,” Peltz said, referring to the college basketball rivalries.

Michelle Rosado, Peltz’s mentee, has worked under his wing for six years, also as a promoter. Peltz credits Rosado with taking care of many of the duties leading up to fight events. He compared her to himself as a 22-year-old promoter who is “running the show.”

“One thing he has taught me was, anybody can promote Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier," Rosado said. “You know you’re a good promoter when you can promote two local kids from North Philly at a venue in South Philly and pack the joint.”

Around Peltz’s office are hundreds of tickets, gloves, belts, and many other items that he has collected. To the right of his desk is a championship belt from Harold Johnson, a light-heavyweight champion from Philly in the 1960s. There’s a picture of Johnson receiving the belt right below it. Peltz attended one of Johnson’s fights for his 14th birthday with his father.

The energy and passion that he displayed then remain after all these years. But he knows he doesn’t want to do this forever.

“My wife is afraid that I’ll miss it, and it is too much of a part of me,” Peltz said of his yet-to-be-announced retirement. “I want to lay around, play tennis, go to the movies, and enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

This story was edited to correct the names of Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Bennie Briscoe.