Farewell to the LA Sports Arena

LA Sports Arena 2

 

On Saturday night in what was most likely the final fight card at the LA Sports Arena, the hard-luck Mauricio Herrera and the equally star-crossed Hank Lundy squared off in the evening’s main event. And in a rather anti-climactic farewell, this bout was halted in the fifth round due to a cut on Herrera that was caused by a clashing of heads in the opening rounds (our very own Michael Baca II sat next to me ringside and had all the particulars for UCNLive.)

 

This venue – which featured boxing as its first event before it even completed construction – and had a deep and extensive history with the sport – went out with more of a whimper than a bang. Now it will soon be torn down for a soccer stadium (and yeah, just think about that for a second. Los Angeles has TWO soccer stadiums but not one NFL team).

 

To be honest, there wasn’t all that much nostalgia on this night. This wasn’t like the Orange Bowl or Yankee Stadium being bulldozed and having the wrecking ball taken to it. As our city grew and expanded, more modern and luxurious facilities sprouted up and, during the past couple of decades, it was best known for hosting really bad basketball with the perennially awful Clippers (who played a distant second fiddle to the Lakers) and USC (whose games in this building usually drew fewer fans than their spring football scrimmages). Unlike other older facilities who keep their charm despite aging, the Sports Arena was never looked upon as particularly venerable or historic (despite its past). Instead it was viewed upon as a relic of a bygone area. Truthfully, as you started to sweat a bit during the proceedings due to no air conditioning and you saw the rather paltry selections at the concession stands, you understood why many Angelenos aren’t really waxing poetic about this place.

 

Still, this is a part of Los Angeles history and respect should be paid to this building. Hey, it was still ours – even though, for years, nobody really wanted it. Regardless, this was one of the first major sports venues in our city and long before the Staples Center and StubHub Center – much less the Fabulous Forum, which is now going through a renaissance – it was the place for big fights in the “City of Angels.” Now, like the Grand Olympic Auditorium (which is now a Korean church…No, seriously; it is), its chapter has closed in regard to the Sweet Science.

 

Farewell to the old building on Figueroa and King…

 

– OK, I wasn’t initially happy with the stoppage of the Herrera-Lundy fight, the featured attraction on HBO Latino but, according to one source I spoke to that worked this fight, it wasn’t so much the cut but really its placement of on Herrera. It was close where you open and close your eyelid. If that tears, I was told, it could cause permanent damage or even blindness. Fair enough; I’ll defer to the experts on this one but what I’ll never agree with in situations like this is when partial rounds are scored (especially those that aren’t even halfway completed), to me, that is completely unfair to both fighters.

 

And in this case, Lundy, who essentially lost this fight because Herrera was given that truncated fifth round, which lasted less than a minute. The scorecards read 48-47 (twice) and 48-48 in favor or Herrera, who was bound to catch a break one of these days. Personally, I do think Herrera was starting to assert control of this fight when it was halted.

 

– As for the fight itself, it figured to be a closely-contested and hard-fought affair, if not a barnburner. It got off to a rather ugly and awkward start with the clashes of heads (which were caused by Lundy) but, around the third round, Herrera started to come forward and press the action. He simply wasn’t having a lot of success waiting to time and counter the quicker fighter from Philly. As he started to make it more of a fight and let his hands go to the body, things started to heat up and a fight started to break out. And then, just like that, the plug was pulled. Because of this ending, this fight was very incomplete and despite what the records might say, its truly a fight neither man won or lost.

 

– The first fight I ever covered at the LA Sports Arena was back on Oct. 6, 1996 (geez, where does the time go?!) and it was actually on a Sunday night during football season (if you can believe that). It was the WBO welterweight title tilt between Jose Luis Lopez and Yori Boy Campas, which was promoted by Don Chargin. ‘Maestrito’ Lopez was a brilliant talent, who ended up carving up Campas in five rounds but unfortunately while he was good at boxing, he didn’t particularly much enjoy the rigors of the sport and became one of the countless numbers of enigmatic characters that has you asking, “What if?” years later.

 

There couldn’t have been more than a thousand or so people in attendance that evening and I recall there was a dispute (which may have resulted in some litigation) between the promotion and the Spanish language network – I believe it was Univision – who wasn’t supposed to televise the fight live but did anyway.

 

I was less than a year into covering boxing back then.

 

– Now that wasn’t the first time I was at the Sports Arena. Growing up as a child of the ’80s I was a huge WWF fan – and yeah, back then, it was the WWF and it will always be the WWF to me – and, along with my teammates on the La Merced Intermediate School baseball team, we went to WrestleMania II in 1986. I remember it was a card that featured three sites (Los Angeles, Rosemont, Ill. near Chicago and the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island). The featured bout in Nassau was a boxing match between Roddy Piper and Mr. T; there was a battle royale at the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena), which included a bunch of NFL players like Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic (who once threatened to get into professional rasslin’ rather than be drafted by the Minnesota Vikings) and William “The Refrigerator” Perry and our main event had Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy in a steel cage.

 

Oh, yeah; as a kid, it didn’t get any bigger than this. Admittedly though, I would have rather have been at the Piper-Mr. T match because “Hot Rod” was my guy. “Pipers Pit” will forever be one of my all-time favorites.

 

I still remember big screens being installed outside the steel cage so the other portions of the card could be seen and then you had Hogan-Bundy. Yeah, Hogan was close to getting pinned a few times but miraculously he would never get counted out and he would muster up the energy to stage a frenzied comeback to retain his heavyweight title. Needless to say, “Hulkamania’ was running wild.”

 

Personally, I booed. Like Piper once sang, “Hulk is such a yo-yo!”

 

– It was funny to see Lundy wear a sombrero into the ring, playing off the whole Roger Mayweather “Mexican Assassin” theme. What’s ironic is its this very same venue in which Mayweather sealed that legacy. He had won a few fights at the Olympic Auditorium versus the likes of Oscar Bejines and Sergio Zambrano and then, on the night of Nov. 12, 1987, he faced Rene Arredondo, just a couple of fights after losing to Pernell Whitaker (in “Sweet Pea’s” 12th pro fight. Yeah, they didn’t screw around then). He captured the WBC 140-pound title by stopping the Mexican in six rounds. Then he defeated Mauricio Aceves and Rodolfo Gonzalez at the Sports Arena – sombrero in hand, of course. However, Mayweather finally got his comeuppance on the night of May 13, 1989 as he was forced to call it a day on the stool by the great Julio Cesar Chavez at the Forum.

 

The “Mexican Assassin” had finally been slayed.

 

– Featherweight prospect Joseph Diaz Jr. got all he could handle from veteran tough guy Rene Alvarado, who never stopped coming forward and winging leather. Diaz, who is a sharp boxer-puncher, could never get comfortable in there and, for much of the fight, was pushed back. He was never able to control the center of the ring and was suffocated throughout. But I do think he was able to edge out a close victory and the judges agreed, awarding him a unanimous decision. It’s wasn’t his most impressive or eye-opening outing but perhaps it’s the one that will serve him the most in the long run. It’s exactly the type of fight every young prospect needs.

 

And it’s exactly the type of ordeal that Tony Harrison never had before facing Willie Nelson this past weekend in Tampa. It’s not that he looked bad or over-matched; to the contrary, he was probably well on his way to a decision win versus the seasoned vet. But you saw that early on; as he faced real professional resistance for the first time in the paid ranks, he wasn’t nearly as bold as he has been in the past against carefully hand-picked cannon fodder. What’s more troublesome now is Harrison may not have the greatest punch resistance. It will be interesting to see his story unfold from here on out.

 

But a lesson was learned here by Harrison: The realization that he wasn’t nearly as good as he thought he was going in.

 

– When I got home, I watched the debut of Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN and, in contrast to what I read on Twitter – which can be a cruel and unforgiving place – I’m not all that critical regarding Keith Thurman’s performance versus Luis Collazo. Yeah, he was hurt in the fifth by a body shot but guess what? This is boxing. Stuff happens; guys get hit and they can get hurt. I still recall vividly being ringside when Jose (not Miguel) Cotto badly buzzed a younger Saul Alvarez and “Canelo” turned out OK. Thurman is a good athlete, can bang with both hands and seems passionate about the sport. Beyond that, unlike many other PBC boxers, he doesn’t seem content just doing what Al Haymon instructs him to do. Thurman isn’t afraid to speak his mind and seek out some real challenges.

 

Yeah, maybe he has been overrated by some and he’s certainly not perfect but he’s a guy worth watching, regardless.

 

 

FINAL FLURRIES

 

As advertised, Nick Arce is a local ticket seller. He had two full sections of his fans, most of them decked out in his red shirt – at the Sports Arena…Jay Quigley improved to 7-0 (7) by stopping Tom Howard in two. He looks like a real prospect…Speaking of which, Mark Magsayo, who is now 11-0 (9) after halting Rafael Reyes in five for the vacant IBF youth featherweight title, is someone I’ll be keeping close tabs on. He’s got a real crowd-pleasing style and throws striking combinations…Is Serena Williams the greatest female tennis player ever?…ESPN’s “Body Issue” really is the worst, almost as bad as the ESPYs…Football training camps are juuuust around the corner…Where’s “Chapo” Guzman?!…I can be reached at steve.kim@ucnlive.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.

 

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