No Free Punch: Lange?s still banking on being a fan favorite.
No Free Punch: Lange?s still banking on being a fan favorite. Credit: Linda Siadys

Around the Beltway, and only around the Beltway, Jimmy Lange is the Golden Boy.

Lange has made himself the most successful nonchampion junior middleweight in the history of boxing. And he’s done it by staying very close to home.

He promotes his own fights, one or two a year. He puts himself at the top of the bill at a basketball arena and makes the grandest ring entrances this town has ever seen, walking through smoke and sparks as Metallica plays over the house PA and thousands of fans, who have paid from $30 to $500 per, yell to show they’re in his corner.

And the local love for Lange isn’t obvious only on fight night. He’s even got a sandwich named after him: The menu at the Celebrity Delly in Falls Church features a pastrami number in his honor.

How many nonchampion fighters can say that?

“A Jimmy Lange sandwich,” says the Great Falls product. “I was so happy when that happened, to see people taking pride in a guy from their hometown. You can’t put a price on that.” (Not to quibble with a guy who’s good with his fists, but, actually, you can put a price on it: “The Jimmy Lange is $9.99,” the Celebrity Delly waitress tells me.)

But for all the local heroism, Lange, a ’93 grad of Arlington’s Bishop O’Connell High School, wants more than regional ring stardom.

He’s going to try to make the rest of the world care about him as much as his hometown does.

Lange’s fighting in a couple of weeks in Greensboro, N.C. That’ll be his first workplace outside of the Patriot Center in eight bouts, dating back to 2005. He’s hired a new trainer, Don Turner, and moved his training camp to Arapahoe, N.C., a town that brags about being “200 miles from Greensboro,” to prepare for his push upwards.

“I don’t want the people around here to get tired of me,” Lange says. “So we’re going to try this. But I’ll be back.”

Lange’s renown, locally centered as it is, came about all because he left home. His big career break came from his appearance on a reality show, The Contender. That was the made-for-TV boxing tournament on NBC, hosted by Sly Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard, that ran from 2004 to 2005.

Pre-Contender, Lange’s ring résumé included the undercards of ballrooms in Glen Burnie and a fight club in Annandale. After he passed his audition for the show, everything changed. You’d have to watch The View and look at punditz Elisabeth Hasselbeck to see somebody who exploited reality TV more successfully than Lange.

He was eliminated in the early rounds of The Contender’s 154-pound tournament by Joey Gilbert.

But viewers liked Lange, a good-looker whose pregnant wife and young twins were featured on the show. So much so that even after he was ousted from contention for the top prize, the show’s producers brought Lange back to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to fight in a “Fan Favorite” bout on the final episode of the series. He won.

Lange came home and got right back to fighting. But while the size of the ring where he fought stayed about the same, the size of the room grew a ton. He put the Glen Burnie ballroom and Annandale fight club in his rearview mirror and made the Patriot Center his home.

Fresh from his showbiz turn, Lange formed his own fight-production company, Jimmy Lange Enterprises, and began renting out the 10,000-seat arena on the George Mason University campus to showcase himself.

Despite occasional matchups against dubious talent, all of Lange’s cards have drawn fabulously. He hasn’t won them all: Lange got outclassed and KO’d in early 2006 by Gilbert, the same guy who eliminated him from the TV show, and he earned no better than a draw against Fontaine Cabell, winner of just one of his last 10 bouts, later that same year. (That helps explain why Lange, 30-2-2, is ranked only the 112th-best 154-pounder in the world by ratings suthority BoxRec.)

But the fans still keep coming back.

“I think the lowest we’ve done at the Patriot Center is 4,500” fans, he says. “And we’ve had about [8,000]. That’s unheard of. Unless you’re talking Pacquiao–Hatton, or pay-per-views at Mandalay Bay, we’re the best around.…I don’t think anybody does the numbers we do.”

But now he’s leaving town again. The Greensboro fight will be his first out-of-town bout since winning the Fan Favorite matchup.

“This isn’t about how good the Patriot Center has been to me,” he says. “That place has been great, and it’s no secret. I have people who will come out to see me every time I fight, and I’m thankful for that. But, this is the business end, trying something new.”

Boxing eats up all but a lucky few. Lange doesn’t have to look far to see that. Former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe, based in Fort Washington, Md., could, in his heyday, boast of the sort of ring skills and paydays that Lange can only dream of. After all the pay-per-view multimillions and title bouts, Bowe ended up a punch-drunk punch line.

In fact, you could say Lange has worked the fight game in a way no fighter around here not named Sugar Ray ever has.

So why, at 33 years old, would Lange mess with such a winning formula?

Well, talking to his handlers, age might be exactly the reason he’s leaving the comfort zone for the first time since The Contender.

“Our goal is to be junior middleweight or middleweight champion of the world,” says Johnny Lange, Jimmy’s father and manager. “We don’t want Jimmy Lange to be a local fighter with local fans. We want Jimmy Lange spread all over the country. He’s got a lot of fights in him now. He’s ready for this.”

And, though the locale is distant, much of the Greensboro production will be like the Patriot Center cards. For example, Jimmy Lange Enterprises has a hand in the promotion. And, it’s hard to look at the ring record of his opponent, Jimmy LeBlanc (12–16–4, with 10 of the losses coming in his last 12 fights), without the words “tomato can” coming to mind.

Yet no matter what happens in North Carolina, Johnny Lange says his boy will be back in the Patriot Center ring again before the year’s out. They’ve booked the arena for a Saturday night in September. And Dad’s pretty sure the locals will come out to welcome him home.

“Not everybody in boxing is honest,” says Johnny Lange. “But boxing is an honest trade, a legitimate trade, a legitimate sport. It’s like any other job, any other sport. People who are successful are people who put everything they’ve got into their work. That’s what Jimmy has done, and people here have noticed that. If he would have done this in any occupation, good things will happen.” cP

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