NORTH ANSON — Carrabec High School isn’t in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not smack in the middle of a metropolis either. So when 1,000 people show up for a night of boxing in the school’s small gymnasium, it’s a big deal.
Boxing is back in Maine, and it’s becoming more popular with every show.
“We’ve got more gyms in the state of Maine now. Everybody’s talking about doing pro shows now,” Ken ‘Skeet’ Wyman, owner of Wyman’s Boxing Gym in Stockton Springs, said.
Saturday’s event at Carrabec was the third professional boxing event in Maine in 11 months. It started with a show last May at Skowhegan Area High School, and last November there was a show at the Portland Expo. On June 14 the Expo will host another show, and on August 2 boxing will come to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
At November’s show in Portland, 3,000 fans came out.
“We expect 4,000 fans for the next show,” Bobby Russo, of the Portland Boxing Club, said.
Maine was the place where Muhammad Ali knocked down Sonny Liston faster than you can say “pour me a Moxie.” Lewiston’s Joey Gamache held championships in the super featherweight and lightweight divisions. Yet the state went more than 20 years between hosting professional boxing matches. A big reason for the drought, Russo said, is Maine simply didn’t have the fighters.
“We were struggling to get to that point where you have good enough guys to be pros. Now we have them,” Russo said. “If you have the local talent, the people will come out to support it. Especially in the smaller towns.”
The main attraction on Saturday night was Brandon Berry, the West Forks native who became a professional boxer last year. Saturday night’s event was Berry’s fifth pro fight, and a large number of the fans at Carrabec were there to see the local boy fight another local boy, Skowhegan’s Josh Parker.
“There’s more interest, thanks to the young fellas like Brandon Berry,” Wyman, Berry’s trainer, said. “He’s an inspiration to the young guys.”
West Forks, Maine measures its population by the dozens, yet Berry is on his way to becoming the face of Maine boxing.
“Boxing is just powered by the characters and the players we have in it,” Russo said. “We happen to have a bumper crop of boxers right now who are doing very well, that draw a lot of fans.”
Wyman outlined Berry’s very busy schedule. Next month he’ll go to Atlanta to train for a week at a camp run by Demetrius ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade, the light middleweight champion. Then Berry will fight in the Expo in June, and in Bangor in August. There’s another fight in mid-September at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H.
“When Brandon got to the point where we knew he was going to turn pro, we hunkered down,” Wyman said. “Wyman’s Boxing Club, we’re bigger and healthier than ever. Eleven years ago when I started this, I had no idea that we’d be here. Now, you know, who knows where we’re going? I have no idea.”
Russo looked back to his youth, when Portland hosted boxing matches on a regular basis, as frequently as any city in the world.
“We’ll never hit that again,” Russo said, “but we can make some noise.”
At 7:30 p.m., minutes before the first fight was to start, the Carrabec High gym was packed. The noise is already being made.