January 21, 2008 — Briana Giovanello started her evening at a steakhouse and planned to end it at the hip Chelsea nightclub Pink Elephant.
Somewhere in between, she saw a 170-pound man knocked off his feet twice after being punched repeatedly in the head.
No, the pretty and petite 22-year-old from Westfield, NJ, did not witness a mugging or bar brawl. She was ringside at Madison Square Garden – and on Saturday, it was the only place to be.
“It’s exhilarating,” she said. “This is my first fight.”
In a throwback to the days of Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Robinson, ringside glamour is back in the Big Apple, helping to KO the stereotype of pugilism as a seedy pastime.
“Ringside at a fight [nowadays] is the opposite of seedy,” said promoter Lou DiBella. “Ringside is where people want to be seen.”
In recent years, Las Vegas has held claim to most of the glitter and flash of the big fights. But it is bouts like Roy Jones Jr.’s victory over Felix “Tito” Trinidad on Saturday night at the Garden that are helping to steal some of that spotlight away from Sin City.
“Vegas is Vegas, but the Garden has the history,” said 27-year-old fight fan Jay Birnbaum, who works in oil distribution.
Last year, the Garden hosted seven fights, the most in more than a decade.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to focus on boxing and bring boxing back to the city,” said Joel Fisher, senior VP of MSG.
Of course, those efforts come at a hefty price.
Ringside seats initially went on sale for as much as $15,000, although fans said they started to drop as the event drew closer.
High-profile fans joined the throngs who gathered to catch the action.
Chuck Zito, of HBO’s “Oz,” and Duane “Dog” Chapman, of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” fame, mingled alongside Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks, singer Marc Anthony and “Top Chef” star Padma Lakshmi.
“I love boxing,” Lakshmi, estranged wife of “Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie, told The Post.
But the flash of Saturday-night boxing is also drawing a fresh crowd.
Giovanello, who wore a Diane von Furstenburg blouse, said, “I was nervous [at first]. I’m fearful of the blood and the violence.”
But she said seeing the fighters in person made the bout seem less brutal than on television.
“It’s energetic and it’s fun,” she said of the atmosphere. “And it’s still quite elegant at the same time.”