There had not been a boxing match in the Minneapolis Armory since 1973. There never would be again, until developer Ned Abdul bought the Armory in 2015, dealt with bureaucrats trying to protect the historic significance of a place that had been reduced to a dusty, indoor parking area, and then spent millions of dollars refurbishing and remodeling a building that hardly had been updated since it opened in 1935.
Concerts and corporate events and civic gatherings were going to be the bulk of the business, but the finished product also made for something the Twin Cities had long lacked:
A right-sized boxing venue, one that could create atmosphere with a crowd of 2,500, and also hold twice that many were it to become attainable.
Boxing returned to the Armory on April 13, 2018, with Minneapolis contender Jamal "Shango'' James squeezing out a majority decision over tough veteran Abel Ramos in a welterweight bout.
Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions had the fight on FSI that night. There was another card that August, featuring bouts with James and also Osseo's fighting hero, Caleb Truax. The crowd was larger — more like 4,000 — and, by November 2018, PBC was announcing a deal that would put the Armory in its regular rotation of boxing arenas, along with ones in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Dallas and an MGM casino in Maryland.
Pandemic restrictions shut down the Armory's boxing comeback in 2020. There were three cards in 2021: two featuring David Morrell, the young, dynamic Cuban who had been living in Minneapolis, and also the Armory's first attempt to host a card without a prominent local connection on Aug. 7.
The alleged goal was to boost Gabriel Maestre, a 34-year-old Venezuelan trying to duplicate Morrell's rapid rise from amateur to pro, although much later in life.
Maestre was terrible. He was knocked down and pummeled throughout by veteran Mykal Fox. He then was given the decision. It was such a fiasco that the sanctioning body, the WBA, had to respond by claiming it will become more … ah, ethical, maybe?
Next Saturday, the Armory will be hosting a PBC card for the second time that does not include a strong local connection.
As in the case of Maestre, the headliner will be a veteran making his United States debut. That's where the comparison ends.
Tim Tszyu is 27 and from Sydney, Australia. He is 20-0 with 15 knockouts. He is the son of Kostya Tszyu, a legendary unified champion — a notable Russian amateur who moved to Australia shortly after turning pro in 1993.
Tim Tszyu's opponent will be Terrell Gausha (22-2-1), a U.S. Olympian in 2012.
This will be the first time an Armory card will be on Showtime rather than a Fox outlet. Tszyu's father had 10 fights on Showtime during his career.
"It's pretty cool, making my U.S. debut on Showtime, knowing my father's history there,'' Tszyu said. "This is a new chapter for me. Everything I've heard, it's going to be an exciting environment in Minneapolis.''
That's part of the drama for next Saturday. The crowds at the Armory were solid with James, Truax and even Morrell as featured attractions.
"Solid'' in boxing is anything approaching 3,500.
Face-bashing and body-punching draws a unique audience. Very diverse. Folks who don't strike me as being fearful of being in the city late at night.
Lots of couples. And I've noticed this: The ladies usually go get the drinks, and return with two in each hand.
Bottom line: I love boxing crowds. If you can't strike up a goofy conversation with a stranger at the boxing match, you aren't trying.
The question becomes, "Do we now have an Armory boxing base of fans who will show up for a night of potential lively action, but without a local angle?''
Tszyu might be showing up here at the right time to be adopted as a crowd favorite. His father and mother Natasha Anikina moved together from Russia in 1993.
Kostya went back to Russia, a town near the Ural Mountains, in 2012. He's married with two younger kids, "living quietly with a couple of small businesses,'' his son said.
Mom's home is in Sydney. She is said to have been blistering Putin publicly for the invasion of Ukraine. One report had her visiting relatives in Moscow while doing so.
"I'm not sure about that,'' Tszyu said. "I know that when they moved to Australia, before I was born, it was for more opportunities — for freedom to do what you want in life.
"Australia's a great country.''