Rising Contenders on Display – Only a few remember the early beginnings of the colorful theater and even fewer remember that the great Duke Ellington Orchestra played there in the late 1930s or early 40s. It was the swing era and swing music was king.
Actors like Joan Bennett, Lionel Barrymore, Betty Grable, Helen Hayes, May Robson, Gilbert Roland, Warren William and Tallulah Bankhead performed in the theater that was constructed in 1926. Many made their start inside the plush theater.
Today the Belasco Theater has become home to salsa dancing and swing music has been replaced by prizefighters swinging from the heels. It’s a chaotic mix that seems to work with the mostly Latino crowd.
Dancing follows fisticuffs.
Rising Contenders on Display
Christian “Chimpa” Gonzalez, a California prizefighter from Buena Park co-headlines the Golden Boy Promotions fight card on Friday. The lanky lightweight prospect (pictured on the left with his opponent) has become something of a phenomenon. Gonzalez (14-0, 12 KOs) faces Jonathan Corrales (8-3-2) in an eight round bout.
“I really like the Belasco,” said Gonzalez who has fought and won five times at the theater located on Hill Street near 11th. His last victory at the legendary theater was against former contender David Rodela. He stopped him early in the first round. “It’s an unbelievable feeling fighting here. It’s like a second home.”
Recently, Golden Boy Promotions has made Belasco its home grounds with a steady stream of fight cards the past two years. Most of the cards are filled with young teen-aged prospects or those in their early 20s. Almost all come from California but not entirely. A few have been signed from Texas, Arizona and Mexico. The strategy seems to have paid off in many ways.
Aside from developing its own prospects, Golden Boy’s new direction has also begun building a fan base in the center of downtown Los Angeles. It harks back to the glory years of L.A. boxing when prizefight wars took place in nearby arenas like the Olympic Auditorium, L.A. Sports Arena and Hollywood Legion Stadium.
After the Olympic and Inglewood Forum shut their doors, the sport of boxing was exported to suburban venues in Ontario, Irvine, Anaheim and North Hollywood. The bigger fights were sent to Las Vegas casinos.
But when former Golden Boy executive Richard Schaefer split from the company, it forced a re-building move that mushroomed into a thriving California strong boxing company. Boxing happens to be the constant favorite of the heavily Latino population and the Golden State has always been a haven for prizefighting. The first Mexican world champion came from Los Angeles back in the 1890s.
Crowds come early to the Belasco. Regardless if the doors open at 5 p.m. a long line forms around the theater with fans eager to walk through the doors to support local fighters or simply watch boxing at the pro level.
Gonzalez could be a future champ and has a sizeable following at age 20. It’s the sixth time for him to step in between the ropes at Belasco Theater.
“I have a lot of family and friends that always go. This Sept. 2, should be no different. It always sells out. The atmosphere is a good one,” says Gonzalez. “They really enjoy it. All the fights. Belasco is always a good time.”
Gonzalez knows very little about his next foe. But he learned a great lesson in his last fight when he fought outside of Belasco and met Jhon Gemino, a Filipino southpaw with a quirky style and unimpressive record at StubHub Center this past June.
“You should never go based on a record. We knew he (Gemino) was a tough opponent,” said Gonzalez who for only the second time in 14 bouts won by decision. “I’m 21 years old. I still have things to learn.”
Gonzalez will be joined by several other prospects at Belasco. It’s fast becoming a factory showroom for West Coast talent. The fight card can be watched on RingTVLive.com at 6 p.m. PT or on Estrella TV at 7 p.m. PT.
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