With the summer-like weather heating up the southwest region come the mega fights all in a row.
The southern California freeways were not crowded bumper to bumper like normal on Friday afternoon as I headed to downtown L.A. I covered the 65-mile drive in less than 90 minutes. The weather was about 88 degrees.
Golden Boy Promotions was staging its first boxing card at the Belasco Theater for the debut of the L.A. Fight Night series. The monthly series will be on Thursdays, but on this occasion Friday night was the opening salvo. JoJo Diaz was the main event.
A long line of people snaked around the building that is regularly a spot for salsa and bachata dancing. On this night there were no dancers. The fans were eagerly waiting to get inside though it was an hour before the doors were opening. I looked for parking. One parking lot had a sign for $5 dollar parking. It was a ruse to get you there. Parking was actually $10. I hate liars. I left and looked somewhere else. It’s the principle.
After spending 20 minutes looking for a better parking spot, I walked a few city blocks to the fight event. It was next door to the Mayan Theater that used to be the hot spot for L.A. back in the 90s. The first person I met at the doors was Rachel Charles, the pretty British native who does public relations for Julian “El Camaron” Ramirez and middleweight Jason Quigley of Ireland among others.
After an intense shake down and inspection by security for weapons, I had my chewing gum taken away. That was a first. There were three lines of security I had to pass through. But it went quick. Golden Boy Promotions has a whole new crew doing media and operations, except for Monica Sears. She’s still running things.
People were packed in the 20s art deco style theater, including on the balcony. On one side of the boxing ring sat Oscar De La Hoya, actor Mario Lopez and several others. On the other side of the ring sat the radiant Alysha Del Valle, ABC’s traffic advisor. She was one of the star attractions at the event and was constantly surrounded by fan requests for photos. I don’t blame them.
The Belasco Theater is located on the back street of the old Herald-Examiner newspaper that closed its doors in 1989 when Hearst Newspapers shut it down to defy the union newspaper. What kind of person shuts down a newspaper to spite a union?
About a half mile south is where the old Olympic Auditorium is located. That was a palace of prizefighting that was sold in 2005 to a Korean church group. What kind of person sells an old fight palace to a religious congregation?
Boxing took a heavy loss when they closed down the doors to the Olympic where Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Art Aragon and Manuel Ortiz all gave their heart and soul in spectacular fights back in the day.
The fights on this Golden Boy card were well matched. There were no predictable endings as seen on some other fight cards. Every bout was a struggle with undefeated guys getting upset by their opponents, until the main event. Star attraction Jojo Diaz completely dominated Mexico’s Juan Luis Hernandez with body shots. Diaz was digging into that guy’s body and was merciless. That was the first time in my opinion that Diaz looked like a prizefighter and not an amateur boxer. The bout following the main event was Ireland’s Quigley facing Louisiana’s Lanny Dardar. It was no contest. Quigley was too strong, too fast and too good for Dardar, who was simply over-matched. Quigley looked pretty good. His guard seemed a little open and wide but sometimes it works. The crowd seemed pleased with his work. Ireland may have another middleweight contender.
After the fight card the crowd was allowed to remain and partake in the party afterward. I had to leave and get ready for my trip to Nevada. On the way out I stopped along with my photographer and pal Al Applerose to grab a sidewalk hotdog. It was messy but hit the spot.
Applerose was supposed to pick both me and writer Katherine Rodriguez up at 8 a.m. It didn’t happen. When we finally departed from my house it was nearly 10 a.m. Traffic wasn’t too bad considering it was NASCAR week in Las Vegas. We made it to Vegas around 1:30 p.m.
At the MGM Grand we picked up our press credentials and ran into Chuck Giampa, the former boxing judge now working for Ring Magazine. Inside the media room we saw p.r. great John Beyrooty. He’s been around boxing since his days at the L.A. Herald-Examiner. I’ve known him since 1990 or as long as Katherine Rodriguez has been alive. She smiled at the comparison.
Premier Boxing Champions was making its first large boxing show and it was early, and there were very few journalists in the media room.
We decided to get lunch and right outside the media room we ran into referees Kenny Bayless and Tony Weeks. We said hello and visited the hotel check-in area where a display of Floyd Mayweather’s belts and robes are showcased. We ran into Norman Horton, the former p.r. rep for Sugar Shane Mosley back in the day. We shared some stories, then moved on.
The fights were about to begin so we walked into the arena. Inside we ran into our Russian colleagues Anna Dragost and Igor Frank. Both are great people and love boxing more than me. It’s something that most people don’t know about Russians: they love boxing. Anna asked to take a photo with me so we did.
Once I took my seat I spotted Laila Ali and waved to her, and she waved back. When she was fighting I often wrote about her fights. Female boxers seldom get ink. Even Laila Ali did not get the ink she deserved. She was at the PBC event as a journalist for NBC. Also working was BJ Flores. He can fight and he’s pretty good with the mike too.
Seeing Sugar Ray Leonard do the analysis was good to see. He’s a legend who’s kind of unknown to this new generation who were born in the late 80s and 90s. They never saw Leonard in action live.
The staging set up in the MGM Grand Garden Arena was quite impressive. It reminded me of concert setting, only this time the only music would be the sound of punches.
First up on the televised portion was Adrien “The Problem” Broner facing hard-charging John Molina. It proved to be kind of a dud.
Broner doesn’t know that he’s not in the amateurs any longer. He ran around the ring most of the 12 rounds and engaged Molina occasionally. In prizefighting you have to fight, not run. Pro boxing is all about entertaining. It’s not just about winning. Acting crazy and clowning in the ring won’t be enough to capture millions of old and new fans. They want to see action. Yes, he won, but so what?
Keith “One Time” Thurman and Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero came out thumping. The crowd was electrified by their exchanges and ability to evade destruction. For 10 rounds it was a classic fight. Then Thurman decided to get on the bicycle. I was thoroughly disappointed by that maneuver. Thurman has a reputation of being a big hitter. How many times did Mike Tyson ever run? None. Running is for the hunted, not for the hunter. It was a big mistake and one I hope he never does again. Thurman has talent.
The referees were also 50/50. Robert Byrd did a horrible job allowing Broner to get away with hitting during the breaks, yet warning Molina for lowering his head. It was one-sided refereeing and seemed biased from the opening bell. All of America saw it on NBC. Don’t take my word for it.
Kenny Bayless did a superb job of allowing the fight to be a fight. This time he did not stop the infighting when Guerrero decided to fight up close. It was Bayless at his best. Yes, head butts come from infighting but, they happen. It’s fighting.
My favorite fight of the night was when heavyweight prospect Dominic Breazeale was knocked down by Victor Bisbal in first round from a left hook during an exchange. The big guy got up composed and fought on for the rest of the round. It took Breazeale another round to figure out Bisbal, who won the second round too. But in the third, Breazeale zeroed in on Bisbal and zipped a left hook and right cross that wobbled Bisbal. You could see Breazeale’s eyes kind of light up as he calmly stalked Bisbal and dropped him with a series of blows. Bisbal made it to the fourth round but was turned around with left hooks and finally a left uppercut. The referee jumped in and stopped the fight at 1:28. It was an impressive comeback for Breazeale, who showed he can rally when necessary.
After the fights some of the journalists talked about the differences on the PBC fights and others, plus the lack of ring girls. Overall, it was a good showing, especially when 10,000 show up when they could be watching it free at home on NBC.
The 300-mile ride home was filled with boxing talk and other things between Al, Kat and me. What’s next?
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