50 years of boxing in Philadelphia

Hall of Fame Boxing promoter Russell Peltz signs copies of his new book “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye” for fans at the 2300 Arena on Swanson Street in South Philadelphia. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

After more than 50 years as one of boxing’s hardest-working and most recognizable figures, Russell Peltz still thought he had something more to offer.

The famous promoter who oversaw 1,000 boxing events and more than 40 world championship fights has put his experiences down on paper in a book called “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye,” which chronicles 50 years of boxing in Philadelphia.

Peltz said he felt an obligation to tell it like it is in his new 404-page book, while signing copies for fans at the 2300 Arena on Swanson Street.

“There’s a whole generation of people who are sports fans now who have no idea how big boxing was in the country and Philadelphia was at the forefront of that,” Peltz said. “From the beginning of time until 1958, there were only three sports that mattered in the United States. There was baseball, horse racing and boxing.”

Peltz, a native of the Wynnefield section of the city who moved to Bala Cynwyd in the third grade, became a boxing fan at a young age, begging his father to take him to a fight at the old Convention Hall at 34th and Spruce. That’s where the magic happened.

“I was just a fan and fell in love with it when I was 12, watching it on TV,” Peltz said. “And after a year and a half of pestering, my dad took me to my first live fight and I had an epiphany. I said this is it. This is going to be part of my life somehow.”

Peltz went on to promote hundreds of fights in his half-century career, including several at the 2300 Arena. He remembered with a laugh at some of the early hurdles he faced before the place was eventually remodeled.

“When I first saw it, it looked like it had been a bombed-out factory from World War II,” Peltz said. “The old high school bleachers in there. And slowly but surely, they’ve done a heck of a job. This is where the Eagles had their ring ceremony. This is a hot place right now. It’s like night and day. I’m glad for his success and I’m glad I played a role in the beginning.”

Peltz remembered one specific night in South Philly when he wasn’t laughing.

“It’s in the book, the second show I did here, the power system went down right before the show and I wanted to kill (General Manager) Roger Artigiani,” Peltz said. “Someone had placed a blanket or a coat over the generator. That’s how tenuous the setup was but he eventually figured it out and we went on with the show. We hemorrhaged money in the early years.”

Stories like those fill the book, which is available for purchase via Peltz’ website peltzboxing.com and major book retailers.

“Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye” isn’t a blow-by-blow book. It details how deals were made, and how purses were negotiated. It explores the good, the bad and the ugly.

“I think the truth has to be told because there’s so much misinformation on the internet today, written by people who weren’t around but they act like they were around and it’s so erroneous that someone should tell the history of Philly boxing from the inside,” Peltz said. “The truth, the figures, the finances and how fights were made. It’s a behind-the-scenes book. People have been bugging me for years to write it.”

The pandemic finally gave Peltz the chance to do it. Some time away from the crowds at boxing arenas provided just enough time to put pen to paper. Peltz had a background in writing as a graduate of Temple University’s journalism program. He also wrote for the Evening and Sunday Bulletin.

“If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, it probably wouldn’t have happened,” Peltz said of the book. “It’s consumed me for the last 19 months. You can’t write a book on the side.”

Peltz’s boxing credentials run long, as he is a member of several prestigious clubs, including the  World Boxing Hall of Fame, International Boxing Hall of Fame as well as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fames. He was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame last year.

According to Peltz, writing this book trumps all of it.

“I’m as proud of this as anything I’ve ever done in boxing,” Peltz said. “It was very emotional reading the stories and watching the videos. I’m very proud of the book. It’s the best.”