Down But Not Out
Houston is not the fight town it was in the '50s and '60s, though the city does still have strong connections to the sport. Evander Holyfield trains in Houston, and George Foreman was raised here. Still, past efforts to promote regular fights here have been inconsistent. For the past three years, Browning Boxing has been bucking that trend, holding matches like clockwork every month, thanks in large part to the know-how and inside connections of Bob Spagnola, and the ah-shucks charisma of the organization's very young promoter, Jim Browning.
Browning, who organized similar matches in California and Las Vegas, sees potential for "bringing boxing back" to Houston. There's a large Hispanic population here, and Texas has one of the "best-run commissions in the country," he says. What's more, Houstonians drop loads of cash on pay-per-view fights. Browning also knows how to play various Texas factions off each other. For example, this month's headliner will be the "Aggie Warrior" Michael Thornberry. "[University of Texas grads] can come to root against him, as long as they buy a ticket," the promoter jokes.
Thornberry also expects some interscholastic rivalry to surface at the fight. "Oh, sure. Sure there will be. It's always good fun." He's not as certain, however, about his opponent. "I was supposed to have been fighting a fellow out of Shreveport, but that's changed, and I don't know the new guy's name." But that won't affect his training. "I'll take a round or two to figure the guy out," Thornberry says. "The main thing is being in shape."
At the age of nine, Thornberry made the Guinness Book of Records for the highest amount ever paid for a pen of grand-champion broilers -- $61,000 -- though the record was broken the following year. "Broilers are chickens," Thornberry explains. "They're birds. Just chickens like you and I eat." Thornberry used the money to put himself and his siblings through college. While at A&M, he joined the Corps of Cadets, Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Parsons Mounted Calvary and was even Senior Yell Leader in addition to being in charge of the bonfire. "It was real unfortunate," Thornberry says of the recent bonfire tragedy. "One of my best friends was killed in it." Though Thornberry began training at the age of seven, his busy college schedule made it difficult to compete professionally until after graduation.
With the help of Thornberry and others, Browning has been slowly building a regional following for his fledgling business, but he's always looking to develop his own flagship fighter who will bring national respect to his organization. "The next level is to develop some future world champion and bring in an ESPN Friday-night fight," Browning says.
Thornberry's aspirations for the future are more immediate. "You married? There's a lot of Hooters girls there. The whole nine yards," he says, referring to the top-heavy waitstaff. "Shoot, it's fun."
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