The sport of boxing is dying.
That’s not hyperbole, but rather, a commonly held notion by many pugilistic aficionados, including Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White. The former South Boston resident turned mixed martial arts promoter has a long-standing love affair with boxing, and hopes that his new reality series, “The Fighters,” will reinvigorate interest in the sport – especially among youth.
“I think that if you don’t bring in the younger generation and get them interested in it, it will eventually die,” said White. “If you look at the demographics for boxing right now, it’s older. I mean, it’s definitely older.”
The eight-part reality series, set in South Boston, debuts on the Discovery Channel Jan. 23 at 9 p.m., and, according to White, will showcase the heart and grit of the area’s up and coming boxers. The UFC president also hopes that this show will succeed where previous boxing reality series, such as Sylvester Stallone’s “The Contender,” have failed.
“I think we did things different. I think we nailed this thing,” said White. “We’re going to find out whether I’m right or wrong on Thursday, but, I think that this is a character-driven show in a cool city.”
One of those characters is Southie boxing legend Peter Welch, whose gym on Dorchester Avenue will serve as the battle ground for the series’ fighters. For Welch, he hopes the show will showcase just how influential the sport is on the lives of those who dare to step into the ring.
“It gives these kids a platform, a foundation, of who they are,” said Welch. “Neighborhood pride, honor, respect amongst their friends, their peers – who are the most important people in the world to them – and that just carries on. And this is what this show is about.”
Welch himself can attest to the transformative power the sweet science has on young lives.
“I wandered into a boxing gym at the advice of a local neighborhood beat cop, who witnessed me take a savage beating in the streets at nine years old,” said Welch. “He told me, ‘You got to get your ass up to Muny, kid. Learn how to box.’ So, the rest is history and my love for boxing and fighting has grown ever since I was a nine-year-old boy.”
White and Welch, who began training together in the late ‘80s, also want to show viewers Boston’s rich history in the sport. Both men believe the city will serve as the perfect backdrop for the series.
“To start this thing in Boston was obviously personal for me because I love the city of Boston and everything about it, specifically South Boston where I lived,” said White. “Boston has that, you know, when you get inside, you listen to the accents and the guys and the way everything goes down, it just – it is boxing.”
To fully grasp just how much of an impact boxing has had on the city, Welch points to famed 1920s promoter Tex Rickard.
“Look back in the history books, Tex Rickard was the Dana White of his day,” said Welch. “He built Madison Square Garden for boxing, the success of that drove him to Boston, where he built the Boston Garden for boxing. That’s what Boston Garden was originally built for. So that will tell you something about the landscape of boxing and what it was like back in the day.”
Like White, Welch hopes that “The Fighters” will bring back the sport’s former glory, at the very least, on a local level.
“I hope that it gives the fans, the viewers, some insight on neighborhood boxing in the state that it’s in,” said Welch. “We’ve been doing this our whole lives, so, I’m hoping that the people will get an understanding of the state that boxing is in and try to support us and help us to bring it back to a level that’s dignifying.”