A not-so-easy question will likely be answered Friday night when professional boxing returns to the Queen City.
Is Buffalo filled with enough people who will pay good money to watch prize fighting, or was the town caught up in the wave of the Baby Joe Mesi phenomenon earlier this decade when more than 12,000 people came to HSBC Arena on three occasions to watch the Tonawandan's rise to the world No. 1 contender ranking?
The aptly named "Return of Buffalo Boxing" card will shed some light on the subject. The eight-fight show starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center and features a championship main event along with appearances by four boxers with Western New York ties -- including Buffalo light heavyweight Lionell Thompson, a five-time state Golden Gloves champion making his long anticipated professional debut.
This will be the first pro card in Buffalo since Sept. 27, 2003, when Mesi KO'd DaVarryl Williamson during an HBO telecast.
"I think Baby Joe gave great exposure to boxing in this town," said Don Patterson, Thompson's trainer. "We know the people will support it. Buffalo supports its athletics. This [card] has the opportunity to launch the career of one of the town's future role models [in Thompson]."
In addition to a title bout involving former world super middleweight champion Byron Mitchell, Sweet Home graduate and 41-year-old heavyweight Paul Marinaccio will be in a co-featured bout, while Niagara Falls' Johnnie Davis and Buffalo's Greg Brady make their debuts.
The venue will be equipped to handle about 2,400 fans and there are still good seats available on a night when the Buffalo Sabres are off and the Buffalo Bandits play in Toronto. The only local competition Friday night will be the Niagara men's basketball team's nationally televised game against Illinois State from the Gallagher Center in Lewiston.
"I really believe in this city," said event promoter and part-time Youngstown resident Nick Garone of X-CEL Worldwide Promotions, who co-promoted last November's card at the Seneca Niagara Events Center in Niagara Falls that attracted 2,000 fans. "We'll have tickets for people who want to walk up. We're excited about this. We hope that everybody comes out and sees it."
Thompson, Marinaccio (24-4-3, 11 KOs) and the comeback quest of Mitchell (26-4-1, 19 KOs) are the draws.
Thompson went 84-7 as an amateur and the current Buffalo State junior has been waiting to make his debut since his bid to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team came up short. He bided his time by winning another state Golden Gloves title and representing his country twice in showcase events.
"It's for real now," said Thompson, who faces newcomer Zaid Malik in a four-rounder. "I've got to be mentally and physically focused to get to the next level I'm trying to be at."
While Thompson hopes Friday is the start of a long, successful career, Marinaccio just wants to go out with a win. The resident of Cary, N.C., admits his bout against East Cleveland's Ryan Thompson (8-6) will likely his last.
Marinaccio went the distance in his November loss to former heavyweight contender Michael Grant in Niagara Falls, earning respect for surviving the final five rounds after being floored twice in the seventh round. But . . .
"I didn't fight the best fight and I didn't fight the way I usually fight," Marinaccio said. "This might be possibly my last fight, so I want to get a win out of it."
Mitchell (26-4-1, 19 KOs) fights Zach Walters (23-3, 18 KOs) for the North American Boxing Association's United States light heavyweight championship.
Davis faces heavyweight James Rankin (0-1), while Brady debuts against fellow light heavyweight rookie Justin Riegle. Featherweight Harvey Murray (2-2-2) battles Omar Carroll (0-2-1), Mike Faragon (4-0) goes up against Lucas Rodas (3-4) and Meacher Major (15-3-1) takes on Kevin Carmody (10-10-2).
Tickets for the event are available online at www.championsofboxing.com or by calling 578-4733, (631) 878-1676 or (201) 951-0076.