On the first night of boxing at the refurbished Armory, Jamal James of the Circle of Discipline gym in Minneapolis stalked to the ring to the strains of Prince and James Brown and turned in a ferocious performance that ended with blood streaming from his left ear.
His opponent, Abel Ramos of Phoenix, wore blood, as well, although it was difficult to tell its origin.
James won a majority decision, with one judge scoring it 95-95 and the other two scoring it 96-94 in James’ favor.
James, normally a showman, was so weary his celebration seemed to contain more relief than joy.
With a national audience watching on FS1 and an announced crowd of 3,521 packed around the squared circle, boxing again felt like a big deal, and so did the Armory.
“It was exciting,’’ James said. “A really tough fight against a really tough fighter, but we pulled it off. Had some really nice shots, got in the cleaner shots.
“It just feels good to be able to open up the Armory as the main event and pull out the win in front of my hometown crowd.’’
The Armory looks like Vegas got married to Minneapolis in a chapel inside a casino. The joint features chandeliers and limestone, glitter and flannel shirts, champagne and light beer, and a venue that felt like the First Avenue of boxing, with tiers of fans overlooking the floor seats and the squared circle, as if Prince were about to appear below.
The crowd filled the floor seats, but what created an unusual sense of drama were the crowds standing on the second tier, in front of the colorful bars.
James and Ramos put on a show that had the crowd roaring. By the end of the fight both fighters had welts under their eyes and blood on their backs.
James is ranked ninth in the United States and 16th in the world. A nationally televised victory could move him toward the title fight he craves.
James was the aggressor in the first round, but he fell, seeming to slip, in the second. In the third round, Ramos hit him hard under the left eye, but James seemed to rebound and dominate the middle rounds with his superior reach and mobility.
Ramos, though, proved tough and relentless, wading in, taking jabs and cornering James often enough to keep the fight competitive.
The fighters embraced after the final bell, and again after the referee raised James’ hand in victory. James cut short his usual celebratory routine and spoke quietly with his trainer, Sankara Frazier, as the crowd cheered.
On television, too many modern boxing matches reek of anonymity, and the decline of what once was one of America’s favorite sports. In person, up close, you are reminded of the bravery required to trade punches with another athlete in public. You are reminded by the way faces turn red, and those unsettling moments when a fighter takes a meaningful punch and temporarily loses his sense of balance, or place.
Whatever the future of the savage science, the Armory is a contender. The Twin Cities have built or rebuilt one of the most impressive arrays of sporting stadiums in North America.
U.S. Bank Stadium, Target Field, Xcel Energy Center are among the best venues in their respective sports. Target Center’s refurbishment has made it a more comfortable place to watch a basketball game. Williams Arena’s flaws are its charms, and TCF Bank Stadium is ideal for a college football program lacking the wherewithal to fill one of the sport’s 100,000-seat monstrosities.
Minnesota United is building what appears to be a state-of-the-art soccer stadium, and now the Armory — without having sought public funding — provides an ideal place for boxing matches and concerts too big for First Avenue and too small for a full-fledged stadium.
This was an evening to celebrate James and the Armory, two contenders who got to show off on national television on Friday night. Both boxer and building performed well enough to earn another high-profile fight.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org