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Boxing: McKernan debuts multi-purpose sports arena

Boxing promoter Joe Chavez stands in the ring at the Sports Complex at Sunset and Bridge SW. He will be helping to hold a boxing card at the South Valley site Saturday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Boxing promoter Joe Chavez stands in the ring at the Sports Complex at Sunset and Bridge SW. He will be helping to hold a boxing card at the South Valley site Saturday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The address is 933 Sunset Road SW. The building has housed a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, a Levine’s department store. More recently, it was the home of Victory Outreach Ministries.

Now, it’s a multi-purpose sports arena.

For Michael McKernan, it’s a cherished dream come true.

For Joe Chavez, it’s a perfect fit.

Saturday, Chavez will promote a professional boxing card at the McKernan Events Center in the South Valley. The main event matches Albuquerque welterweight Josh Torres (13-3-1, six knockouts) against Jose Marrufo (4-2-1, no KOs) of Phoenix.

Except for a roller-derby event that McKernan describes as a “dry run” for his new undertaking, Chavez’s card is the arena’s maiden voyage.

The arena sits on the northwest corner of Bridge and Sunset SW. Fittingly, the card is labeled “Battle at Sunset.”

But the arena is also a bridge of sorts – intended to bring boxing, mixed martial arts, professional wrestling and other sporting events across I-25 to the South Valley.

McKernan is the son of the late Pat McKernan, the longtime president and general manager of the Albuquerque Dukes. He wants it known that the building is named not for him, but for his late father.

The site of Saturday night’s boxing card used to be the home to a grocery store, department store and now will play host to varied sports events. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The site of Saturday night’s boxing card used to be the home to a grocery store, department store and now will play host to varied sports events. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

A few years ago, the younger McKernan left a career in hospital administration to form a sports promotional company. He’s involved with the New Mexico Sol soccer team and heads an ownership group that in May rescued the New Mexico Stars arena football team.

He’d been searching the past three years for a location for a place to put a sports arena, and he wanted to do it in the Valley.

“I’ve lived in the Valley,” McKernan said. “… The Valley maintains a lot of the charm that Albuquerque had about 30 years ago for me.”

Chavez, meanwhile, had been promoting boxing since February 2012 with the goal of helping young New Mexico boxers like Torres reach their potential by fighting regularly.

“Josh is a good fighter, a very good fighter,” Chavez said. “He just needs to be brought along the right way.”

Chavez and his wife and co-promoter, Isabel, staged several cards at the Wool Warehouse on the fringes of Downtown. They had one at the Convention Center’s Kiva Auditorium, one at the new PAL Auditorium on Wyoming NE.

But the Wool Warehouse seats fewer than 500 people; the Kiva was a bit pricey. Both offered theater seating, not ideal for boxing. Chavez wasn’t happy with the amenities at the PAL Auditorium.

And he wanted to bring boxing to the South Valley.

Somewhere along the line, McKernan and Chavez got together to pursue their common interest.

It didn’t hurt that Chavez is a general contractor, nor that he’s chairman of the Bernalillo County Planning Commission.

“We needed a contractor (to renovate the building, owned by Coe and Peterson, an Albuquerque commercial properties firm),” McKernan said. “Joe’s from the South Valley and knew how to navigate the political system.”

Another thing that didn’t hurt: Las Vegas, N.M., boxing promoter Carlos Crespin owns a paving and concrete pouring business.

Having partnered on boxing promotions, Chavez and Crespin have done the same in renovating the McKernan Events Center.

Arturo Crespin, Carlos’ son, is a junior middleweight boxer with an 11-3-1 record. He’s scheduled to fight on Saturday’s card.

Chavez said the arena seats about 860 people for boxing, almost exactly twice the capacity of the Wool Warehouse. The ring will be in the center of the floor, with seating on all sides.

His hope, Chavez said, is to stage a boxing card at the arena every two months, with, perhaps, cagefighting and wrestling events in between.

McKernan said the arena also is suitable for basketball, youth recreation events, etc.

“I’ve worked with almost all of the boxing and MMA promoters in town, and people were having to leave the Valley to go to the fights,” McKernan said.

“Now, we’re gonna be bringing people down to the Valley.”

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