Prizefighting's tired, infected blood received an invigorating tonic last week in Los Angeles when two champions in blooming health defended their titles in the Memorial Coliseum, knocked out their challengers in spectacular battles and enriched the sport with a proud showing of the skill and courage it was designed to foster.
The multi-title fight card was the first in the United States since 1937—when Mike Jacobs audaciously presented in a single evening four championship bouts (bantam, welter, light and middleweight) and lost something like $37,000 on the venture. But Los Angeles promoters Cal and Aileen Eaton, who have shrewdly made their city the nation's fight capital, by no means lost on their gamble. They attracted a record California gate of $383,060 from 31,830 fans, surpassing their own previous high by $146,539.
The title defenses were by Bantam-weight Champion Jose Becerra of Mexico and Junior Welterweight Champion Carlos Ortiz of New York. Their opponents were as worthy as any a fight announcer ever grandly introduced. Becerra defended against Alphonse Halimi of Algiers, the skilled former champion who had lost his title on a surprising knockout by Becerra last July. Ortiz fought Raymundo (Battling) Torres of Mexico, a remarkable 18-year-old who had been undefeated in 31 fights, all but a few of which he won by knockouts.
Before Halimi and Torres were downed, a top-coated and to some extent sombreroed crowd, huddling in the open Coliseum under a frosty half-moon, went hoarse with excitement. Drunk more on furious fighting than on smuggled tequila (alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the municipally owned Coliseum), Latin-American fans crowed like roosters, sounded sirens and pounded good neighbors in an ecstasy of joy.
Either fight alone would have made any card a success. Taken together, they made this one a fight night to remember.
The underdog Halimi (3 to 1 against him by ring time) dominated the early rounds and was ahead on all official score cards when Becerra crunched the definitive hook against his chin in the ninth. The underdog Torres (Ortiz was a 7 to 5 favorite) astonishingly survived a score of punches that might have finished a lesser man and still was persistently trying for his own knockout in the 10th, when Ortiz at last blasted him down with a left-right combination.
VOLKSWAGEN AND TAMALES
The crowd was predominantly Mexican, drawn in part from Los Angeles' huge Latin population, in amazing part from Mexico itself. Airlines alone were reported to have ferried 5,000 into the U.S. Mexico is hungry for good fights but a solicitous government limits the price that may be charged for seats. The best fighters, therefore, are drawn to the U.S., where seat prices are unlimited. So Mexico's best fans traveled as many as 2,500 miles to Los Angeles to see Becerra and Torres in action. The day before the double-header a Volkswagen station wagon drew up before the box office and out of it crawled 17 cramped Mexican aficionados, each happily equipped to buy a $7.50 seat in the upper rows of the Coliseum. Adaptable concessionaires peddled tamales as well as hot dogs, and sold out the tamales before the hot dogs. The Los Angeles Examiner, caught up in the happy international spirit, gave its entire first page, headlines and all, to a forecast of the fights in Spanish. The tribulations of Carole and Dr. Finch, though their murder trial was reaching a climax, were committed to inside pages by the prestige of this more important news. At the weighin, which drew more spectators than some fights at Madison Square Garden, Becerra was serenaded by nine guitarists and a bull fiddler; they played and sang Corrida de José Becerra, composed in his honor after he won the title.
The promotion thus had the gay aspect of a fiesta, until the fights began.
BECERRA THE STRONG
Becerra vs. Halimi preceded Ortiz vs. Torres. Becerra used his superior strength well against Halimi, forcing his way out of tight spots, boring into close quarters when Halimi sought to make it a stick-and-run affair. The Halimi jab, generally effective in staving off Becerra, often was nullified by a brutish rush. At such moments—when Becerra and Halimi stood head to head and slugged—Becerra was wild but impressively strong. Halimi, poised and efficient, was overpowered. In the end, power prevailed.
Despite a night chill that had steam blowing from the fighters' nostrils and rising off their sweaty shoulders, and induced Becerra to cover up with a quilted robe between rounds, neither man was slowed by the temperature.
Later there was some dispute as to what, if anything, set up the ninth-round knockout punch—whether it was a left to the liver, as Becerra insisted, or a right to the body, as seen by Referee Tommy Hart. At ringside it appeared that no punch of special significance preceded the long left hook that Becerra swung grandly from somewhere behind his hips, a swing that stopped on Halimi's mouth and chin, sent him staggering back and, after a momentary pause, dropped him flat on the canvas for the full count. Minutes later, when he was finally led from the ring, Halimi walked groggily, unseeing, up the aisle.
Becerra's hard-won victory left him weeping through a shy smile as he was crowned with a magnificent sombrero and draped in an elegant Indian blanket. The first to win the undisputed bantam title for Mexico, he follows in a tradition of hard-punching Mexican fighters brought to brief prominence by the Eatons and by Matchmaker George Parnassus, but he is also the first of the lot to show signs of combining the big punch with some defensive skill.
IRISH PUERTO RICAN
The unfortunate Battling Torres, on the other hand, displayed only hardihood against right hands. He caught punches on his head in every round. Ortiz, the pale-faced, blond Puerto Rican who sports the green of New York's Fighting 69th on his robe and trunks and is known to his fans in that traditionally Irish regiment as "Charlie O'Brien," banged Torres with a straight overhand right whenever it seemed opportune, and opportunity knocked with monotonous frequency.
Not that the fight was monotonous. For one thing, every one of those Ortiz right hands was a gasper; and, though the fight was one-sided, all bettors on Ortiz were terrorized by the everpresent menace of Torres' fists, by his willingness to throw them at every chance, by the hazard that one of them would land with the timing needed for a knockout. But Ortiz shook the punches off, picked them off and continued to throw his own. The ninth round revealed that Torres was tiring, and the start of the 10th proved he could no longer absorb blows without obvious effect. Ortiz slammed home a paralyzing left and right. Torres fell, and the screaming Mexican partisans went suddenly silent. The title of junior welterweight champion is not, of course, worth much in itself. But Ortiz, conqueror of Kenny Lane, who had come within a point or two of beating Lightweight Champion Joe Brown, started a vigorous postfight campaign for a chance at Brown. Next day the Mexican caravan started homeward, happy that Becerra had retained his title, half-comforted that the double-title card had ended in a Mexican standoff.
At the invitation of the California boxing commission, recently resigned from the National Boxing Association in protest against NBA inadequacies, representatives of boxing commissions from Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington, New York and Oregon convened in Los Angeles the day after the fights to consider informally some suggestions for ridding boxing of hoodlums and for developing an efficient national body to rule the sport.
The most original proposal came from Miles Rubin, deputy attorney general of California, who suggested that the principle of "interstate compacts" might be used to regulate boxing. Under this system, for instance, New York and New Jersey established the Port of New York Authority to regulate transportation systems between the states. An interstate authority regulating boxing might obviate the need for federal regulation and, if adopted by enough states, could prevent suspended managers and fighters from obtaining new licenses simply by moving from the state that suspended them.
Jack Bonomi, assistant counsel to Senator Kefauver's committee investigating boxing's monopolist-racketeers, urged more stringent licensing standards, pointing out that commission regulations do not now adequately define the functions of managers, matchmakers and promoters. He advocated enactment of laws to provide criminal penalties for undercover matchmaking and promoting. Present statutes in some states, he said, are so vague as to be almost unenforceable. Bonomi also suggested the possibility of federal licensing of participants in "interstate" matches—those involving television, movies, closed-circuit TV and radio—the big-money matches the racketeers are interested in. Under such a licensing provision, he said, it would be possible to enlist the facilities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
But the seminar adjourned sine die and, it seemed, sine hope. Most of the representatives confessed that they had neither the funds nor the investigative personnel to keep track of hidden hoodlum influence.