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Matchmaker made in Marin

Howes inching toward big time in boxing promotions

Marin Independent Journal | September 23, 2001
By Dave Albee

In a business long dominated by Don King and Bob Arum, 1974 Redwood High School graduate Peter Howes is beginning to make a name for himself in boxing promotion, which is why he’s spending this weekend in Las Vegas meeting with the sport’s high rollers.

Howes lunched with Gary Shaw and Jeff Lacey of Main Events at poolside of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, and they weren’t playing “Marco Polo.”  They were talking about how Howes might someday pull off a big event like the one he recently proposed – Mike Tyson boxing at Pacific Bell Park. That one got away from Howes and went to Denmark.

“If I step up to the plate, one of these times we’re going to get a hit,” Howes said via telephone before going to the weigh-in of last night’s Fernando Vargas-Jose Flores fight. “Maybe it’ll be a double or a triple. That’s why I’m in Vegas right now. We’re locked and loaded.”

For the time being, Howes will remain committed to bringing big-time boxing back to San Francisco. On Friday night, Howes Entertainment, LLC is promoting “Curriculum Pugilatus” at USF’s War Memorial Gymnasium. The fight card will have at least six bouts, including Novato’s Susan Howard in a four-round lightweight battle against Gloria Ramirez of El Paso, Texas. The main event will pit Leo “The Lion” Dorin (18-0), a two-time Olympic bronze medalist and world amateur champion, against Emanuel Burton in a 10-round lightweight bout.

It this main event is anything like the main event in Howes’ last card, it’s going to be a doozy.

That card – dubbed “On The Waterfront” at Pier 32 – put Howes on the radar screen as a promoter and helped him land another televised card with ESPN this Friday night. Howes even had an audience with the Honorable Willie Brown, mayor of the San Francisco, at ringside.

“That was one of the best shows we’ve had around here in years and years,” said Andy Nance, former IBF world welterweight champion from San Rafael who accompanied Howes to Las Vegas. “Everything was in place that needed to be in place.”

Howes’ road to his role as boxing promoter was quite unexpected, even though he started out as a boxer. He used to train with Nance and Paul Nave in the basement of Jack MacPhee’s house in San Rafael. Whenever it rained, the wannabe boxers had to sweep leaking water off the basement floor so they could work out.

“Many years ago it was like ‘Fight Club’ on the weekends,” Howes said, noting the 1999 Brad Pitt movie of that name.

“He was like the toughest baddest guy on the street that I’ve ever met,” Nance said “He carries the same intensity into the ring. He wasn’t a trouble-maker but, if anyone gave him the least bit of lip, he’d take it to the next level He was a bad, bad man.”

But a very reliable one. Howes would take fights on short notice and box at “smokers” at places such as Kezar Pavilion. He always put on a good show, so he kept getting invited back.

“He was a fireball,” Nance said. “We boxed together, but the furthest thing from my mind is he’d end up being a big promoter. He’s always been able to excel at what he did. He’s a very driven person.”

Howes eventually got older and wiser. He went to the University of California at Berkeley and, in 1978, earned a degree in social science. Still, the closest he came to promoting a contest was when he served as master of ceremonies for the 1986 Miss Marin USA beauty pageant at the Civic Center.

As it turned out, Howes had an eye for scantily clad talent, but it was the kind that wore trunks, gloves and mouth pieces.

Howes continued to follow and support Nance and Nave whenever they fought. Nave asked Howes to be a ringside commentator during videotaping of his matches in Marin. It was here that Howes looked between the ropes and saw his destiny.

“I was between projects and I thought, ‘Why don’t you let me promote this for you and we’ll take it to another level?” Howes said.

Nave, who was growing weary of having to promote his own fights, was receptive to Howes’ offer.

“I’ve known Peter as a doer, as a go-getter,” said Nave, a former world title holder whom Howes is trying to lure out of retirement. “He stepped in at the right time. It took pressure off me because he’s so thorough. He’s going to put his mind to something and get it done. The key thing is he’s trying to make the event – how do you say – entertaining...To offer much more to the fans than the straight boxing.”

That’s been Howes’ trademark. His sideshows include booths that sell boxing fashion and gear, VIP tents and rooms, and other items that cater and market toward a boxing fan’s interest.

“So it has kind of a Las Vegasy feel,” Howes said.

Even when it’s in a longshoreman’s hall, as was the first fight card he promoted with Nave in San Francisco. Howes’ promotions may lack top-name national-quality fighters, but they are big-hitting, evenly matched contests designed to give fight fans a good time.

“He really looks at it from a fans perspective,” Nance said. “With me (as a boxing manager) I’m going to try to get an easier fight, but he (Howes) wants it to be a competitive fight that the crowd likes. It makes it harder for me, but it makes it better for the fans.”

One advantage Howes has is he works out of a neutral corner, so to speak. He doesn’t feel an obligation to fighters because he’s not aligned to any single one like other promoters.

“I didn’t have a stable. I didn’t have a predisposition of fighters,” Howes said.

Yet Howes possessed marketing and sales skills from his on-the-job experiences with Fortune 500 companies such as Honeywell and American Express “learning things like it’s 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration,” he said.

The hard work came easy because he learned that from the first day he stepped down into Jack MacPhee’s basement and dreamed of being a professional boxer. That didn’t pan out, but Howes applies the same principals to promoting the sport as he did when he competed in it.

“I put my heart into both,” Howes said. “As a fighter I’d go for the first-round knockout or in the first couple of rounds. But that was in the amateurs. This is the pros. The difference is I can go 12 rounds as a promoter. I hang in there.”

That philosophy is paying off. When his “On The Waterfront” card on ESPN2 last May 22 ended with a classic slugfest between a couple of heavyweights – Terrance Lewis came back to KO Robert Davis – Howes opened eyes with his matchmaking ability.

“Seeing the crowd so elated and the vibes and the vibration and the spirit everyone was participating in,” Howes said. “That’s what I was most proud about. Everything has come together.”

And, best of all, right in front of national TV cameras.

“TV gigs definitely puts him in a different league,” Nave said. “He’s grown his audience.”

Not to mention increasing his chances of moving up the promoters food chain. His work is getting noticed where it counts.

“You’re in high demand if you’re coming off successes and not coming off failures,” Howes said. “This is all momentum.”

That’s why he’s in Vegas. Locked, loaded and looking good.