By David A. Avila
When the Inglewood Forum closed its doors to prizefighting years ago it also shut down a window to the past of some historic match-ups like Muhammad Ali versus Ken Norton II.
A lot of sighs were heard in 1999 when Forum Boxing ended.
But the recent re-opening of the Inglewood Forum by the Madison Square Garden Company in 2012 also signaled a return to boxing.
In the past two years a number of high profile boxing cards have taken place inside the majestic Forum including Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez versus Mike Alvarado in May 2014. That was followed by middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Willie Monroe Jr. in May 2015.
Last August, Triple G returned and brought his smaller friend Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez to the Forum. It nearly sold out.
Gonzalez, a Nicaraguan native, has proven to be a magnificent fighter with the guts of a lion tamer. The big question: can he fill the seats?
I’m a native to Los Angeles. My family has lived here since 1915 on one side and 1919 on the other. One thing about the Inglewood area has been the demographic change. It’s constantly changing. But regardless of the change boxing always fits.
Back in the 1960s the Forum was site to some memorable fights like Ruben Olivares versus Chucho Castillo. In the 1970s there were the Z Boys of Mexico City; Carlos Zarate versus Alfonso Zamora. All of these fights could pack the arena. Probably one of the more interesting match- ups was Alexis Arguello meeting Mexico’s Olivares and defeating him in 1974. It was the slender Nicaraguan’s first world title. The seats were filled to capacity for all of those fights.
When Gonzalez last fought at the Forum in April he was the co-main event along with Golovkin who was meeting Dominic Wade. In the fight card last Saturday, Gonzalez had little help. He was on his own. Mexico’s Carlos Cuadras was the WBC super flyweight titlist but few in this country knew of him.
Gonzalez was definitely on his own.
Chocolatito walked into the arena looking to prove a lot of things. Could he fill the seats? Could he prove worthy of HBO backing? And most important of all, could he move up a weight division and defeat the world champion for a fourth world title in four weight divisions?
The drive from Riverside to the Inglewood Forum is equal and more difficult than the drive to Las Vegas. You need to cross through the heart of downtown Los Angeles on a day when the Los Angeles Angels are playing and the UCLA Bruins football team is suiting up at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Traffic can be murder.
But sometimes it’s worth the drive.
Nicaraguan fans showed up in force at the Forum. Not many people know that there’s a large Nicaraguan community in L.A. and don’t forget there are also other Central Americans living in the area too. They all cheer for each other, especially when it comes to a Central American versus a Mexican. Though Cuadras walked in the arena with little fanfare, the Mexican fans always show up. Boxing is their national pastime next to soccer. There’s no Monterrey vs. Vera Cruz or Mexico City vs. Guadalajara, there is just Mexico against the world in boxing.
Flags were waving all over the arena. Blue and white Nicaraguan banners were flowing in every direction. The tricolor green, white and red Mexican flags were just as prolific. The cheers were deafening. Boxing was back in the arena the way your father used to see it.
Only 6,700 fans attended the Forum, but it seemed like 18,000 with the loudness of the fans cheering for their heroes.
Cuadras looked very fast and perhaps the fastest opponent I had seen oppose Gonzalez so far. Despite being the bigger fighter, the Mexican was very agile and showed off some flashy and quick combinations. But he was constantly on his bike like a downtown courier being chased by a big dog.
Gonzalez relishes the role as the monster on the loose. In three weight divisions he proved that his strength, power, skill and stamina were superhuman. Now here he was again looking to gobble up another weight division and another champion. Cuadras was a blur as he scooted from side to side like a surfer trying to avoid the shark.
At time Cuadras would stop and trade and Gonzalez looked surprised. Both would hit and both took blows, then the Mexican fighter would get back on the bike and scoot away. Gonzalez looked dominant.
Meanwhile, the crowd was wildly entertained. They cheered “Ni-ca-ra-gua” or “Me-xi-co” with equal vigor and intensity. It was a stand-off between the crowds. That crowd was impressive. The fight was impressive. But it would go up another notch.
Apparently, unknown to me or other members of the media, Cuadras trainer Rudy Hernandez spotted what I had seen: Gonzalez had a tougher time matching the Mexican fighter on the inside where it was strength against strength. He told his fighter to take the fight inside and stop running around the ring. It was great advice from an ex-fighter.
Back in the 80s, the LA-raised Hernandez was a welterweight that went by the nickname Rudy “Chicano” Hernandez. The Forum was home territory for Hernandez and for his younger brother Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez who passed away several years ago from cancer. Rudy once won the Stroh’s tournament at the Forum and also handed former two-division world champion Lupe Aquino his first loss as a pro. Rudy knows the game.
Cuadras followed the advice to stand his ground and suddenly a close fight was even closer. Instead of allowing Gonzalez to gain momentum for his blows, now, the Nicaraguan juggernaut was forced to defend the rapid blows coming his way with power. It was a beautiful display of prizefighting at the highest level. The crowd went up yet another notch. Man, this was fun.
The second half of the fight was even better than the first half. In between rounds, the camera captured light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev in the crowd sitting down and a sudden roar erupted from the boxing savvy crowd. It was proof you don’t need to be Latino to have boxing fans cheer for you. Here’s a Russian fighter whose mere presence is captured on camera and cheers go up.
Well the fight ended with Gonzalez winning by larger scores than I thought, but it was well deserved by the Nicaraguan. He fought his heart out and looked the part. Cuadras did very well but waited too long to make the adjustment. He made it very close.
Before the super flyweight fight, the 10-bell count for the passing of one of L.A.’s great little warriors Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon was held. This was the kind of fight he was famous for against the likes of Alexis Arguello, Ruben Olivares and Bazooka Limon at this same Forum. That’s what the Gonzalez and Cuadras fight reminded me about. Chacon.
Man, he loved to fight. Some guys that fight for a living do it because they are good at it and get paid. Chacon really loved to fight and was always around the fight game.
Sports editors in television and newspapers are always claiming boxing is dying. Yet, a fight like Chocolatito vs. Cuadras set the arena ablaze once again. Neither fighter calls L.A. home, yet the crowds paid money to see them. It was a great night for boxing.
Photo credit: Al Applerose