Veteran publicist Bill Caplan recalls, “There was a big fight scheduled in there; they hadn’t even completed the building. I remember going in there; there was scaffolding up, plastering and painting and all kinds of stuff. They hadn’t finished the building but the bantamweight champion of the world was a guy from Morocco who transplanted to France. His name was Alphonse Halimi, a very interesting guy. I was actually working on the fight. He happened to be a Moroccan Jew - so I got to know him very well - and when I say interesting, this is a guy that before he decided to be a professional boxer, he was an acrobat in the circus. If you’re familiar with European circuses, they take their circuses and acrobating and stuff like that very seriously. And the guy could really do it. He was a good fighter too; he was the bantamweight champion of the world when there was one champion in each division and he came over and he fought a guy from Mexico by the name of Jose Becerra and this was at a time when the bantamweight title was king in Los Angeles. Just one after another and another important bout and they were all here. And they would either sell out the Olympic Auditorium or they’d have them outdoors.”
Becerra would lift the crown from Halimi by halting him in eight rounds in front of a sellout crowd of “about 7,000,” recalled Caplan, who will never forget the din of that evening. “The noise was so loud, so shrill. It’s the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in my life. I don’t know how many decibels but it was painful. It was physically painful and that was opening night at the Sports Arena.”
John Beyrooty, who is working this event for Brener Zwikel Public Relations, also has fond memories of this place. During his stint as a scribe for the now-defunct Herald Examiner (where he worked from 1973 till its demise in 1989), he was on hand for many of their events. “The greatest memory came from the greatest fight, that’s when Roberto Duran fought Pipino Cuevas. The place was packed; the atmosphere was beyond electric. It was just a tremendous action evening,” he recalled of that January night in 1983. Five months later, “Hands of Stone” would continue his resurgence by dominating Davey Moore in five rounds for the WBA junior middleweight title.
Beyrooty also remembers, “There was one time when they had fights on the usual Thursday nights at the Olympic [Auditorium] and then a rival promoter put one on - I forget if it was Don Fraser or not - and so, in those days, there was a lot of pressure on me to cover - or at least alleviate pressure - both cards. So what I did was, after finishing parking cars and taking off my red-and-white striped shirt at the Sports Arena, I went in and covered the fights. Then hustled over to the Olympic. So I covered both fights just to keep the P.R. people of my ass for five minutes.”
While it’s looked upon as a relic now, there was a time when this was a state-of-the-art structure. When it was built, Los Angeles was a relatively young metropolis. Before the Great Western Forum and the Staples Center, there was the L.A. Sports Arena, no stranger to the “Sweet Science.”
“On the same property as the historic L.A. Memorial Coliseum and a lot of history at that Sports Arena. For example, the 1984 Olympic boxing, that was all in the Sports Arena.” said Caplan. “We had a lot of great fighters who had great professional careers including Evander Holyfield, who came off the American team. I mean, so many fights and I think I saw ‘em all. Muhammad Ali fought three fights in one year at the Sports Arena. I think the one that was most notable was against Archie Moore, who was a legendary fighter, a light heavyweight,” said Caplan, who says Ali’s slogan for that fight (which was emblazoned on fight posters) was “Moore in Four!” “And you know what? He knocked out Archie Moore in four rounds.”
The year of Ali’s trifecta at the Sports Arena was 1962. Other notable fights held here include the 1960 bout between Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer and Bobby Chacon versus Danny “Little Red” Lopez in 1974. Roger Mayweather cemented his status as “The Mexican Assassin” in the late ‘80s.
As the Sports Arena went up in 1959, Los Angeles truly was a boxing town during this era.
“I have to tell ya, before the Dodgers came here, there were only two major league sports in this town and that was boxing and horse racing. And everything else was minor league here. Now, I’m not talking about UCLA and USC; I’m talking about professional sports,” said Caplan, who may have forgotten about the Rams who drew large throngs at the Coliseum. “Boxing was obviously very big. You had the Olympic Auditorium that went every Thursday night. You had the Hollywood Legion Stadium that went every Saturday night - they both had local television; in fact, they were regional television networks - and then you had Santa Monica Arena, which has been a bowling alley for many years. It used to be an arena. They went every two weeks. Southgate Arena went every two weeks. There was an arena in the valley in Burbank; I think it was the Jim Jeffries Arena that went every month.
“There was a lot of boxing in this town.”
A month ago, boxing made its return to the Sports Arena where a highly entertaining card featuring the likes of Brian Viloria and Roman Gonzalez was held on a wet, rainy night in front of a somewhat sparse but spirited crowd. The promoters of the card didn’t exactly have what you’d call a traditional press row (in fact, most of the press just sat in the front rows near ringside and there was no internet access - something Beyrooty swears will be taken care of for this promotion). This venue isn’t modern by any means but it’s well kept and just a few minutes from the campus of USC. So yeah, this isn’t the Silverdome West. It’s still the site of Naturalization Ceremonies and recently, Bruce Springsteen sold out the house on two nights in late October.
If you’re looking for modern amenities like luxury boxes or sushi stands, yeah, this isn’t the place. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles here. But it does come with a certain charm. Because of its configuration, there are very good sightlines and it’s boxing in our fine city. It’s right off the 110. How can you beat that?
Besides, we’re here to watch boxing, not the ballet.
Beyrooty, who has seen everything from the circus to the rodeo, concerts and car shows, says simply of the Sports Arena, “It’s a fine venue.”
While Showtime/CBS has a full day of boxing, on HBO, Nonito Donaire defends his junior featherweight title against Jorge Arce in Houston. And Abner Mares admits to being Donaire’s number one fan.
“I guess I am this Saturday; believe me,” he says laughing. “I’m going to be cheering for him. I hope that he wins and I hope that he even makes it spectacular. Why not? I would make the fight even bigger.”
But he’s well aware of the “Cold War” that exists between Golden Boy and Top Rank that will most likely keep this fight from becoming a reality.
“I really hope they come to their senses and really realize that who they’re hurting here is the fighters and the fans. We as fighters, we just fight and obviously by fighting, we provide for our families and also they get to take out of it too,” said Mares, who holds the WBC belt at 122 pounds. “It’s a win-win for everybody. I don’t know why they don’t want to make the fight. I know it’s their egos here more than anything. I just hope both of them come to their senses and really make this fight happen.”
Can we give peace a chance in 2013?
SPORTS ARENA FLURRIES
Other great events at this place include the filming of the first two films in the “Rocky” franchise (no, the Creed-Balboa fights weren’t actually filmed at the Spectrum) and Carver High winning the city title on “The White Shadow.” Yeah, they did for Jackson...And I can’t forget the steel cage match between Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania II, which I was in attendance for...All the festivities begin at the Sports Arena around 12:30 (when the doors open) and from there, it’s boxing all day long...Lotsa boxing on tonight from cards on CBS, Showtime and HBO. You also have the “All-Access” for Austin Trout-Miguel Cotto (SHO) and “The Fight Game with Jim Lampley” (HBO). As always, check your local listings...