Thursday night’s fight card was set weeks ago, but it will continue to be in flux right up until the bell rings for the first bout. Fighters may be replaced in the days before a fight for any number of reasons. They have to make their weight and pass all physicals and eye exams, and even then they might drop out to accept a more lucrative engagement.

“If [the fighters] get an opportunity to fight on a TV card or something that’s gonna pay a lot more, then I expect them to take that,” says promoter Jim Kelley, who organizes the monthly boxing night at The Plex. Finally, the South Carolina Athletic Commission must approve every boxer on the card. So while there may be some changes, the bouts that are scheduled for this Thursday night promise plenty of pummeling.

Fans will have a number of favorites to root for, with a good crop of local talent on the card. Luke Mauer is an Army Reservist and policeman living in West Ashley who will be making his professional debut against Dusty Davis, a fighter from Red Springs, N.C. Mauer began boxing during a tour of duty in Iraq and had a successful run of fights in the Army. He hasn’t been in the ring in three years, but he was in the crowd for the fights at the Plex last month when he decided he wanted to lace up the gloves once again.

“I’m just excited about the opportunity to get back in the ring and mix it up a little bit,” he says. Davis best take heed — Mauer says he’s been training consistently on his own and is in great cardiovascular shape.

Will Hickman, another Charleston native, will also be debuting. Then there’s Chris “The Killer” Cooke, a light heavyweight from York, S.C. Notable for his showboating, Cooke taunts his opponents with a series of feints, Popeye-esque windups, and facial expressions of mock pain — even when he’s losing. Cooke is a regular at The Plex and battered Shaun Spaid last month in winning their fight, although he surprisingly failed to score the knockout. This month he should have his hands full with Mike Englert, a former Army Ranger from Florence.

Edward Paredes is a brutally quick welterweight from Hollywood, Fla., who Kelley says has a legitimate shot at becoming a world-class fighter. He’ll square off with Charles Wade of Hartford, Conn.

One fight which was originally scheduled has become a casualty of the licensing process. A match-up between Josh Smith of Nashville and Hicklett Lau of Miami might have been the most thrilling match of the night, but the South Carolina Athletic Commission did not give it the green light. Kelley says he encountered resistance from the Commission on clearing Smith because he has lost too many consecutive fights. Nevertheless, Kelley argues that Smith has proven himself against elite opponents and should still have been allowed to fight.

“He’s only been stopped two out of his last 15 losses,” says Kelley, meaning Smith has sustained a knockout or a technical knockout only twice during that span.

When questioned about the approval process, South Carolina Athletic Commission Administrator Randall Bryant responded by e-mail. He wouldn’t comment on specific cases beyond stating, “The SCAC and LLR’s [SC Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation] statutory responsibility and sole purpose is to protect the health and well-being of the participants.”

During its tenure as the longest-running club boxing show in the country, Boxing at The Plex has seen some excellent fighters enter the ring. In fact, many have gone on to become world-title-holders. Kelley recites a glowing litany of boxing champions: Shannon Briggs, Oliver McCall, William Joppy, DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley. And for next month, Kelley has negotiations underway to hold an IBF Intercontinental Title Fight at The Plex featuring Shane “The Hitman” Benfield. (Benfield, from Sharon, S.C., has an unblemished 17-0 record.)

So you never know: when you’re at The Plex, you might be watching the next big thing. — Josh Rosenthal

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