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Boxing Combines Glitter, Grit : Tinseltown Meets Fist City During Fight Night at Forum

November 21, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Campeon talks fast and from the throat.

"Boxing is beautiful," says Campeon (Spanish for champion ), a nickname that has stuck to Victor Suarez years after he last put on a pair of gloves.

He boxed in Cuba, Panama and Puerto Rico as a youth, he says. He came to New York from Havana in 1947 and moved to Los Angeles in 1971.

On this night at the Forum in Inglewood, he carries a small camera. A homemade business card typed in Spanish identifies him as a photographer for all occasions.

Campeon, one of the regular aficionados who attend Forum Championship Boxing, says the best fighter he has ever seen is Sugar Ray Robinson; "Ali, so-so"; Ray Leonard, "not bad."

He defends the sport passionately against criticism that it is too violent. Raising dark and ancient hands in a defensive pose, Campeon says: "The boxer who just wants to kill is a dummy. It's an art. Dar y que no te den . ('Hit and don't get hit.')"

"We want every show to be an event," says Hank Groschadl, publicity director of Forum Championship Boxing. "Not just two guys lacing up gloves."

By the end of 1987, the Forum will have staged 19 fight nights with an average attendance of about 4,500. The main attractions are tournaments that have become a breeding ground for potential champions, Groschadl says.

Since they began four years ago, the fight cards have not drawn as many fans to the Forum as organizers had hoped. But the matches get a sizable broadcast audience on Prime Ticket Network, a cable channel serving Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii. According to Groschadl, Forum owner Jerry Buss wants to continue offering quality fights to expand the small but dedicated following.

"It's a fraternity," Groschadl says--a fraternity that embodies the diverse elements of boxing. With a mix of grit and glitter, Forum boxing is a celebration of the culture as well as the sport.

On fight night, Hollywood meets Inglewood.

The former champion of the world weighs 118 pounds.

His name is Albert Davila. He is 33 years old, an aging man of the ring with the body of a lethal child. He has fought five times for the bantamweight championship and lost four times. He wants one more shot at regaining the title before he retires.

Davila holds court in his locker room. He has six handlers wearing blue jackets with his name on the back.

There is also a two-man camera crew on hand. Mickey Rourke, the actor, wants a videotape to study Davila's preparations for tonight's match against Juan (Dinamita) Estrada of Tijuana. Rourke will play a boxer in "Homeboy," a movie to be filmed in New Jersey.

Rourke drops in. He is bearded and talkative. He leans against a wall, making conversation with the ex-champ. Davila sits on a stool in his trunks, head back, smiling briefly.

Rourke leaves after a while. The video camera whirs as Davila proceeds to a small room filled with men and smoke. The brief medical checkup is conducted by a doctor with big forearms who looks like a former pro wrestler.

He takes Davila's blood pressure and asks him how he feels. He says he feels good.

"OK, Albert," the doctor says, pounding his shoulder. "Good luck."

Ringside seats cost $40. They are often occupied by Sylvester Stallone, Rourke, ex-heavyweight champion and actor Ken Norton, and a host of other show business names and faces. There is also a supporting cast of people who look comfortable and vaguely familiar.

Ringside fashions tend toward padded shoulders, sleek warm-up suits, deep tans, miniskirts, leather and gold.

Whether or not they sit at ringside, season ticket holders belong to the Ringsider Club. Benefits include entry to the Forum Club bar, raffles and Ringsider Club jackets.

Fight night also draws a mosaic of boxers, ex-boxers, would-be boxers, promoters, managers, philosophers. This in-crowd gravitates toward the floor areas behind the ringside seats. The language is a mix of English and Spanish, gym and street.

The cheapest seats go for $7.50. Since attendance is sparse and the atmosphere relaxed, persistent fans work their way down closer to the ring as the night progresses.

Welterweight Luis Santana lies on his back on a dressing table. Sitting near him is a 19-year-old featherweight from Brea named Uri Galvan, who looks slightly overwhelmed.

Galvan will fight in a preliminary bout for about $300. After expenses and a manager's cut, he will end up with about $75.

Galvan is talking in Spanish to Santana, who is from the Dominican Republic, about the night's schedule. Santana studies the ceiling and answers in monosyllables. He stands to make $7,500--before the others get their cuts--if he wins the tournament semifinal tonight, $5,000 if he loses.

Santana curls to a sitting position. His meditation is over. His hair is close-shaved at the sides and sculpted into a cowl of curls along the top. He has a steady glare, chin down, eyebrows raised. The mask is in place for the evening.

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