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Bellonora McCallum: Bringing a fighting spirit to Charlotte

It’s tough to make money promoting boxing cards in Charlotte. Or it’s impossible.

Fight Lab has done a fine job promoting mixed martial arts shows. The Charlotte-based organization has, over time, developed a following.

But boxing promoters usually come in from the outside, from New York or Tampa, lose a few grand and go home. About 200 fans, several of them former boxers, show up. Few others do.

Bellonora McCallum is the exception. She’s working to turn Charlotte into a fight town. McCallum, who lives in Charlotte, will promote her seventh boxing card Saturday night. This one is at CenterStage@NODA.

Her father and mother, who live in Rockingham, where McCallum grew up, work with her, as do her uncle and aunt, brother and sister and nephew and niece. The nephew is 12, the niece 9. They sell lemonade. They return some of their profits to the company, World of Champions, so they have a stake.

“She’s not what you expect from a boxing promoter,” says Humpy Wheeler, the former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway and a lifelong fan of boxing. “She’s educated. She doesn’t smoke a cigar. And on top of that, she’s a lawyer. That’s not fair to the rest of the world.”

McCallum, 32, also was accredited in 2012 by the NFL Players Association to work as an agent.

She owns law practices in Charlotte and Rockingham. She works hard, says Wheeler, is patient and rarely is flustered.

Example: McCallum, whom everybody but her parents calls Bell, scheduled a news conference at noon Friday to promote Saturday’s show. One writer showed up. Me.

Ron Rivera, head coach of the Carolina Panthers, held a news conference at 12:30 at Bank of America Stadium. The NFL is the most popular sport in Charlotte, and understandably the media was there. McCallum understood. She said everybody who called or emailed to say they couldn’t make it was gracious.

McCallum attained her law degree and MBA from N.C. Central in 2007. She worked as a prosecutor for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney.

She wanted to find an exercise program she’d stick with. She did her homework and called Al Simpson, who runs the Charlotte Boxing Academy. She boxed for a year and a half for Simpson, one of the top boxing coaches in the Southeast.

McCallum didn’t want to fight professionally but she wanted to become involved with the sport. Simpson suggested she promote. She asked her family if they’d work with her, got her license and became a promoter.

She promoted four shows last year and tonight will be her third of 2013.

Make any money?

“No, no,” says McCallum.

She’s accustomed to dependability. While many fine, and occasionally flawed, people populate boxing, rules are often little more than a suggestion. She learned quickly.

She learned that a boxer might not be who he says he is. He might back out of a contract because he gets a better offer. He might get hurt sparring. He might not have identification or papers that attest to his eyesight and blood work.

“You constantly bargain, negotiate and argue with boxers and trainers and managers,” say McCallum, so courteous and soft-spoken you can’t envision her in an argument. “So it’s a different industry, it’s a tough industry. You have to be able to stand your ground.”

She puts together the bouts, usually featuring fighters from Charlotte and the Carolinas. A top Charlotte boxer is Jared Robinson, who is 14-0. She wanted him on Saturday’s card.

“You get people who are scared of 14-0,” McCallum says. “So it’s hard to find guys who will do 14-0 and will stay within a certain budget.”

Robinson, a quick and entertaining fighter, is not on the card.

Fights show up for Saturday’s weigh-in three pounds overweight. So if you see adult males in sweat suits running around a hotel parking lot, or on a treadmill, or in a swimming pool, do not feed them.

As the fights approach, she moves to the beat of her ringing cell phone. The hotel room isn’t right. Somebody needs money for food. Somebody doesn’t show up.

Doors open at 6:30. Where is everybody, she wonders? Somebody please show. Her biggest crowd has been 350, excellent for a local card. She insists that the fighters sell tickets.

“For local boxing to be successful, you need a local hero,” Wheeler says.

McCallum is trying to develop one, or several. She wants local boxers to know they have a place to go.

She worked as ring announcer for one card and loved it. (Wheeler will serve as ring announcer Saturday.) But she was needed at the door.

Boxers often don’t want to leave the locker room when they’re supposed to. She goes back and makes them. The man at the door says tickets were supposed to be left for him and his party. Does the DJ have the right music. Is the lighting right? Are the ropes to the ring she rents sufficiently tight?

Why do it?

“I love it,” says McCallum. “Every time I have a show and it comes off and everybody says ‘This is great’ it makes it worthwhile. It’s a rush. It’s a total rush. You think, wow, this was nothing and you put it together and created a show and people actually are out there supporting it.”

McCallum asks if Charlotte would support a major fight between two nationally known contenders.

I tell her no.

I don’t think she believes me.