After recently covering the Mauricio Herrera vs. Hank Lundy fight at the LA Sports Arena, I wandered into the deserted square where the work crew was breaking down the ring.
First the turnbuckle came down, followed by the ropes and the ring posts until all that remained was a platform with a blue canvas. It didn't take long to bring it all down.
In a few months, the entire building will follow to make way for a new structure. Fifty-six years of sports memories will be turned to rubble in a matter of minutes.
Over the past 56 years, boxing has played a prominent role in the life of the LA Sports Arena in Los Angeles, Calif.
Legendary Golden Boy publicist Bill Caplan remembers what it was like when the arena opened in 1959.
“The first time everyone came here was opening night,” said Caplan. “It was for the bantamweight championship of the world. The sports arena wasn’t even completed yet. The place still needed more paint, but they had the date, so the show when on.
“The fight was incredible. The noise I heard from that fight was piercing and painful. I’ve never heard anything like it since.”
Caplan also witnessed the emergence of a young heavyweight then known as Cassius Clay, who a few years later would change his name to Muhammad Ali—who fought three times at the arena.
“His (Ali) most important fight at the sports arena was when he fought a guy who is considered to be the greatest light heavyweight of all-time, Archie “The Mongoose” Moore,” Caplan said.
“He said he would knock out Moore in four and he did it.”
The 20-year-old Ali was unique, according to Caplan.
“I recognized that he was something special when I went to the Main Street Gym in downtown Los Angeles,” said Caplan. “The day that I met him, inside a sixteen-foot ring, he was going backward faster than most athletes can run forward. I had never seen legs like that on a heavyweight.”
Since then, a number of great fighters have graced the arena. In 1974, it was undefeated featherweights Danny “Little Red” Lopez, and Bobby “SchoolBoy” Chacon. Their fight was one of the most anticipated in the Los Angeles area at the time.
It didn’t disappoint.
Last Saturday night, Lopez and Chacon were back to take one more bow at a venue that staged their fury. The poignancy is real.
The last ever bout at the LA Sports Arena was between junior welterweights Herrera and Lundy. Herrera was declared the winner by technical decision.
The fight was a strange one. Both boxers looked awkward at times. Their styles weren’t meshing, but the intensity in the ring was mesmerizing. It was easy to understand why.
Both were coming off setbacks. Each needed a win.
Boxing doesn’t suffer fools, or losses, easily. Herrera’s had been especially hard to stomach. Most writers thought he did more than enough to defeat Danny Garcia over a year ago. Nine months later, against Top-Rank wonder kid Jose Benavidez, Herrera again appeared to be the busier boxer, but like the Garcia fight; Herrera left the squared circle with another “L” on his record.
Lundy, a more bombastic individual than Herrera, had been on the short end of a close decision in his last match. Weeks before his bout with Herrera went down, he told anyone who would listen that he was in great shape and would win by knockout. Fighters always say they’re in great shape--even when they’re not, but Lundy did looked primed and focused as he glared at Herrera.
The first round was about jabs (Herrera) and a couple of left hands (Lundy) until the last few seconds. A clash of heads produced a bad cut on Herrera's eyelid.
Most of the pro-Herrera fans groaned. It was obvious the fight wouldn’t go the scheduled ten rounds.
Herrera did better in rounds two and three. The key was his (or his corners) decision to work over Lundy’s body. Herrera doesn’t punch very hard. He’s only knocked out seven guys in his eight year career, but he’s crafty as hell. The fight turned the second he landed a combination to Lundy’s midsection.
Lundy fought back with steely-eyed determination, but so did Herrera. When the ringside doctor advised referee Jack Reiss to call a halt to the proceedings near the end of round five, the outcome was still up in the air.
But not really.
For once, Herrera would be rewarded for his busy work. The decision in his favor was the correct one in this writer’s opinion, and in the lopsided world of boxing, justice had been served.
I glanced back at the arena one last time as I walked away. The workers had left. I could see part of the ring, but nothing more. A slight hum rose from somewhere in the far reaches and then was gone.
Ghosts of her former glory?
I’d like to think so.
Longtime sportscaster Tom Kelly is the latest inductee into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame. Kelly broadcast USC Trojan football games for 40 years. He also was ringside to call many fights from the Olympic Auditorium in the late 1960s. Kelly has been struggling with health issues of late.
President Rick Farris will proudly present Mr. Kelly with his award in the next few days. We at the WCBHOF are proud to welcome Mr. Kelly into our family.