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John Blanchette: House of Fury rises from ashes with Pat Ferguson as main attraction

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 27, 2018

There were great bouts and good ones, and the odd dud. There were local boxers and up-and-comers you’d hear more from and club fighters you’d never hear from again. This is every boxing card, at every venue – casino or fairgrounds or armory or Shriners’ hall.

But there was always something a little different about the fights at the House of Fury.

They had a little marketing panache – that name alone – and they had Moe Smith.

Surely you remember the TV ads. Matchmaker Moe in his newsboy cap, cigar jammed into that 1930s catcher’s mitt of a mug, growling, “We’re gloved up at the House of Fury.”

Well, guess what? The House of Fury is gloved up again.

For the first time since 2011, in fact. Six bouts of professional boxing will be the attraction at the Coeur d’Alene Casino on Thursday night, the main event featuring Spokane’s Pat Ferguson defending his World Boxing Council U.S. cruiserweight title against Mario Muniz of Topeka, Kansas.

It’s the first opportunity for local fight fans to track in-person Ferguson’s progress through 11 fights of a pro career launched by his improbable victory three years ago at the USA Boxing national championships.

Also another little referendum on whether pro boxing has a steady market hereabouts.

And there’s also some irony that the new matchmaker/promoter for the revived House of Fury is Ferguson’s trainer, Chauncy Welliver – or, more officially, Welliver’s wife, Sara.

“She’s technically Moe Smith,” Welliver said.

Well, that’s an interesting dynamic – especially in that the evening is being billed as a tribute to the late matchmaker. Because back in his fighting days, Welliver’s relationship with Smith was fractious, to be kind.

“I’ve dealt with Don King and Bob Arum, and nobody is as bad to deal with as Moe Smith,” Welliver once charged.

This was after he’d fought 10 of his early fights in a 72-bout career for Smith at the casino, and become something of an attraction as the self-proclaimed “fat guy” heavyweight. And after a 2005 appearance in another semi-main, Welliver never fought in Worley again.

“Me and Moe, we had a love-hate relationship,” Welliver admitted. “Personally, we were great – I loved hearing his stories. But on the business end, we didn’t get along. Moe didn’t like me and I didn’t want to play ball with him.

“It really hurt me to see other fighters who weren’t at my level fighting main events there.”

But it isn’t boxing without some of that soap opera drama. Welliver moved on to fight around the world, climbing into the WBC’s top 10 at one point. The House of Fury moved on, too, building on the almost instant success Smith and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe had found when they first partnered back in 1996.

Those TV commercials only hinted at Smith’s colorful history: “purchasing agent” for, uh, professional ladies in his hometown of Weiser while he was still in high school, pro boxer, then a rassler – he was the “Atomic Blonde” and played his platinum hair off zebra striped tights. He promoted “cow pasture” fights in Gardnerville, Nevada, south of Carson City that got some run on ESPN. In time, he bought the White Horse Saloon in Spirit Lake and hooked up with the casino.

But the House was shuttered after an October 2011 card and two years later, at age 83, Smith died after suffering a stroke.

“So we’re starting over,” Welliver said.

He and Sara have 1,500 seats to fill, though they were elated that all the VIP tables had already sold by last weekend. A sellout would have him “doing backflips all the way back to Hillyard,” but he’d count 1,000 as a win.

“We’re selling something that essentially died,” Welliver said. “A lot of the demographic we’re trying to reach was 11, 12, 13 years old the last time the House of Fury had fights. He doesn’t remember the name of the promotion or have any connection to it.

“Luckily, we have a guy that sold out Northern Quest (on USA Boxing title night) on one night’s notice.”

But they haven’t seen him since, either. Ferguson’s first 10 pro fights had him crisscrossing the Northwest. No. 11 took him to Ghana where he fought a 10-round draw with Abraham Tabul for the WBO Africa title. His opponent on Thursday, Munoz, is 12-4-1 – but he’s also 40 years old.

“We’d love to do more shows (in Coeur d’Alene), but we’re trying to keep that off his shoulders,” Welliver said. “Fighters live one fight at a time. But that belt has given him a sense of urgency, and he values that title. You expect to see a better fighter than the last time, and now there’s a little added pressure.”

But there’s always pressure when you’re gloved up.

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