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The Rumble at the Roxy

You don't have to go to Vegas for a ringside seat

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Sherri Thompson does bruising damage to those who, awash with political correctness, sniff that boxing is a boorish and brainless exercise in testosterone-driven machismo.

Thompson, you see, is a doll. Plastered on promotional posters around Atlanta is a photo of the dollish Thompson. Big hair, blonde and straight. A quizzical, slightly seductive, slightly mysterious smile. Trim, bare midriff.

Oh, and her hands are wrapped for business and poised in the finest traditions of the Marquis of Queensbury. Thompson may be a doll, but she's a cutie who could punch most guys into the middle of next week.

The posters on gym walls proclaim Thompson a "women's sensation" in the boxing ring. She'll match up with another woman, as yet unnamed, Fri., June 28, at the Roxy in Buckhead. The rest of the card will be fights between guys -- headlined by cruiserweight champ O'Neil "Give 'Em Hell" Bell.

When I met Thompson, she was slap-slap-thud-ouch sparring with a much larger man at LA Boxing on Roswell Road. Before I could ask her something inane such as: "What's a nice girl like you doing ..." -- hell, give me a break, what do you ask a perky-cute person in a sport whose range of characters is bookended by Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson? -- Thompson was off to bounce frog-style in a circle of 20 or so other pugilism aficionados. Part of training for kick-boxing, Thompson told me after I started doing my own bouncing to get her attention. Anything for a celebrity interview, I say.

Thompson, in this case, is only a demi-celebrity. The diminutive athlete works 60 hours a week at a Steak & Ale to afford her passion: boxing. She's professional -- in this case meaning she might pocket a heady $500 for a bout. This isn't about money, however.

"When I was a sophomore in college," she says, "I thought I was getting fat. So, I did some training and started boxing. I knocked out a girl in my first fight. Wow, I thought. This is a helluva workout, and the adrenaline rush is insane."

Unfortunately for Atlanta, not many other people feel the rush. It's tough to sell out a house for a fight, says Tom Mishou, the administrator of the Georgia Boxing Commission. "Things are getting significantly better than in the past, but ..." He lets the thought trail off.

Last week, for example, an outfit called the Ares Co. had booked the Atlanta Civic Center. Ares couldn't come up with the cash the boxing commission requires to pay the fighters and fees, so the event tanked.

"It's really hard to make a profit in boxing here," Mishou says.

Moreover, after Evander Holyfield, it gets a little difficult to come up with names of Atlantans who have scored big in the ring, or are on the way.

Nor do we have a frizzy-headed, bombastic Don King promoting fights. We do, however, have David Oblas.

True, his name isn't likely to clang a bell. The 26-year-old nascent promoter is a former sportswriter for the Northside Neighbors who gave up journalism due to an attack of entrepreneurialitis. For the last year, he's been busy with an online news service for high school sports, DiVarsity.com.

"Actually, most of my money comes from waiting tables," he confesses shyly. "My parents keep asking each week when I'll make enough money to stop working" at Chequer's Seafood Grill on Ashford-Dunwoody Road.

Maybe that day will come this week with the fights at the Roxy. Oblas needs to come up with $15,000 to pay the bills for the fights. He's raised $4,000 in sponsorships, has commitments for more -- "and, if I have to, I'll get a loan from the parental units. I'll have the money, though."

Mishou comments: "David is going to succeed. He's done this the right way."

To break even, Oblas has to sell about 700 of the Roxy's 932 seats. Ten days before the fight, 250 tickets had been sold. "Yeah, I know," he says before the question is asked. "There's 500 to go."

Oblas got the idea for the fight after meeting O'Neil Bell at a bout in Columbus in October 2000. At stake was the title belt for National Boxing Association's cruiserweight division. The NBA is one of the minor boxing groups, and cruiserweight is one step below heavyweight. But a gold belt is a gold belt (and Bell also has one from the North American Boxing Federation).

Oblas recalls: "O'Neil joked with me, saying, 'If I win this fight, you can wear the belt in Buckhead.' I never thought I see him again. But he called me up and said if I'd put on a fight in Atlanta, he'd do it for as little money as possible."

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