“Rodney King lived with my Dad for three months,” Damon Feldman explained. “I was married at the time, and he needed a place to stay, so he stayed with my Dad and trained.”
Damon is the owner and face of Philadelphia-based Celebrity Boxing Entertainment, which put King in several celebrity boxing matches, including one against a former-police officer.
“It was crazy, it’s fucking Rodney King raking my Dad’s yard. He loved my Dad, (Rodney was) the nicest guy ever, the cops loved him. Everybody wasn’t sure if things would be racial, but there was no problem.”
The world of celebrity boxing would likely be absurd and dramatic regardless of where it was centered, but its roots being in Philadelphia makes the circus 20 times wilder. Feldman admits to “living in the world of TMZ and Howard Stern,” and it shines through in the stories he tells, as well as the booking and promotion of celebrity boxing.
You’ll catch him saying things like “Octomom was really wild, she trained her ass off, her body was phenomenal” without batting an eye. It’s reminiscent of the way a receptionist might describe the act refilling a stapler, it’s business as usual, just another day in the office.
“We don’t want A-listers, that’s not my clientele.” The ideal candidate for celebrity boxing is someone who lived their 15 minutes of fame, has some tabloid relevance, or some type of social media following. In a standard celebrity boxing event, you can expect to see someone like Tila Tequila or Tonya Harding as the main event preceded by reality television personalities, radio DJs and social media stars on the undercard.
Celebrity Boxing Entertainment has put on more than 70 promotions under Feldman’s leadership. Fighting is the family business. His father, Marty Feldman, was a renowned fighter and trainer in the Philadelphia area, and is a member of the Philly Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. From 1953 to 1962, Marty won 20 of 23 professional bouts, all but one of his wins came by knockout.
Unsurprisingly, his brother, David Feldman, is the president of the Bareknuckle Fighting Championships.
As for Damon, he was undefeated in his professional boxing career, 9-0. Eight of those nine professional bouts took place in the Historic Blue Horizon on North Broad Street.
That wasn’t the only fighting experience in Damon’s life.
“My mom was a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. I had a crazy life growing up, lived with three different families and hit brick walls,” he said.
His work functions as a refuge from the madness of his personal life, despite the work he does literally organizing madness.
After Damon’s boxing career came to an end, he became a full-time promoter. During this time, he said he developed a serious drinking problem that would ultimately result in DUIs and prison time for simple assault. When asked about the incident that landed him in prison, Damon said, “Look, I hit a woman. I was drunk, I knew there was a problem, but at the same time, I didn’t know, and my dad was dying. I’m not making excuses. I made the biggest fucking mistake of my life, I hit her and I broke her nose. And I didn’t even remember doing it.”
Damon spent a little more than a year in prison for the assault. With tears in his eyes, he said, “If you have problems like that, you have got to go to jail. … I hit a woman, my mom was a quadriplegic, and by smacking a woman, I smacked my mom in the face.”
Years removed from the assault, Damon has had to reconcile with his past. He carries the weight of his past mistakes, and it shows. When speaking about his mother, prison time, drinking, and the assault – his demeanor changed. A normally boisterous voice turned froggy when facing the reality of his past. He has remained sober since leaving prison, and now speaks about his abuse publicly.
There is an expectation of logic in most facets of the world, but the niche world of celebrity boxing is devoid of that logic. The world of focus-grouping, tact, and political correctness is ignored as the circus churns on with its ring leader.
The world of professional boxing is devoid of stability, a fighter can get injured and ruin an entire card the night before a fight. Now imagine that difficulty, but in lieu of professional boxers eager to fight, you have to rely on the Bagel Boss and Lenny Dykstra. The nature of the business is chaotic, chasing the latest tabloid stars and trying to persuade them to fight. Mirroring his personal life, Damon has created an empire on momentary chaos which he hopes to transform into something more cohesive and stable.
“The WWE is the vision.” Damon explains “I want to be building and developing talent to the point where we have 100 guys … I want to have a weekly show like RAW.”
Celebrity boxing has been tried and failed on network television as far back as 2002, but the media landscape has evolved vastly in 18 years. Feldman pitches Celebrity Boxing Entertainment as people’s chance at their “16th minute of fame,” which is a rather enticing pitch to a wide pool of reality stars and social media personalities looking to grow.
Fighters on undercards are often sourced from Philadelphia, such as Josh Colon of “The Real World” and Nick “Fresh” DiDonato.
DiDonato is a rapper and a reality TV personality who appeared on the MTV show “Catfish.” In 2011, Nick was running for political office in South Philly (at the age of 21) and linked up with Damon for support. Years later, following Nick’s appearance on MTV, Damon booked him to begin fighting on the undercard of celebrity boxing.
Nick said that before finding his footing with celebrity boxing, he was in a “dark place” and that the promotion has given him a sense of “brotherhood.” Damon sees this as the future of Celebrity Boxing Entertainment.
The talent pool is growing as entertainment becomes further segmented. As people splinter into darker corners of the internet, the number of people who consider themselves “celebrities” continues to grow. The appeal of celebrity boxing? Debatable. It’s a spectacle without purpose, and if you think too hard about it, you’ll begin to question the idea of purpose itself.
Celebrity boxing is the modern circus, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People are no longer interested in seeing an enslaved elephant in a tutu or juggling, but they’d sure like to see Dustin Diamond or Jose Canseco get punched in the face.
“Celebrity boxing is the modern circus, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People are no longer interested in seeing an enslaved elephant in a tutu or juggling, but they’d sure like to see Dustin Diamond or Jose Canseco get punched in the face. “
Feldman lives in the world of TMZ, but to a lesser extent, so do the rest of us. Media reflects society, and vice versa. Current culture is simultaneously hyper-aggressive and hyper-sensitive, which creates a space for attractions like celebrity boxing to exist.
If you look at combat sports pay-per-view numbers from the last decade, the argument could be made that all popular combat sports revolve around “celebrity” to an extent. Spectacle and celebrity are what sell tickets beyond fans of the sport. That’s why the second-largest pay-per-view event in history was between a professional boxer and a UFC fighter. Spectacle is where the value lies in combat sports, so why not up the ante?
The world’s general interest in celebrity boxing is swelling up as personalities such as Logan Paul begin to co-opt the model to suit their own careers. Violence and celebrity are as human as sex and shelter, the general interest in watching two prominent figures fight each other dates back as far ancient duels and will continue long into the future.
The immediate future of celebrity boxing entertainment revolves around an upcoming “Fight for Sobriety” featuring former Yankee and Met star Doc Gooden, as well as other bouts. Gooden is fighting YouTube star Catfish Cooley on March 7 at the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City.
There are no aspirations of regality in the world of TMZ, Howard Stern, and celebrity boxing. This world is honest about it’s functions and intent. It’s understood that their operations thrive off of counter culture and absurdity. You’re not supposed to approve of Damon or TMZ or Celebrity Boxing, you’re supposed to disapprove so much that you can’t look away.