When Jack Kent Cooke broke ground in 1966 for the Forum in Inglewood, his intent was to construct a building that would house his Lakers and Kings.
Neither Cooke nor anyone else had any way of knowing that within a quarter-century, the Forum would also be boxing's premier venue in California, if not the United States.
These days, it doesn't take much of a look to conclude that boxing here is largely being supported by Jerry Buss.
For most of the 20th Century, there has been plenty of room for anyone in the Los Angeles area who wanted to promote regular boxing shows.
At the turn of the century, the sport was anchored at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, where there were waiting lists for morning and evening boxing classes. Among the 1890s LAAC boxing graduates was Jim Jeffries, still the city's only world heavyweight champion.
The old outdoor Vernon arena was the battle site for some of America's greatest fighters, among them Sam Langford, Joe Rivers, Joe Gans and Willie Ritchie, until the arena burned down in the 1920s.
Through the first half of the century, boxing clubs were everywhere. On almost any evening in any Southern California community, all you had to do was follow the cigar smoke to find a boxing show. As recently as the mid-1950s, you could go to the fights virtually every night of the week somewhere in Southern California.
Twenty years ago, the Los Angeles area was still in a boxing boom. The Olympic Auditorium, built in 1925 and boarded up for the last several years, was still going strong under matchmaker Don Chargin. In fact, standing-room-only crowds of 10,000 were not uncommon at the Olympic as recently as the mid-1970s.
And at the Forum, matchmaker George Parnassus, heavily promoting the all-time Forum box office champion, Ruben Olivares, was packing them in as no one before or since. Olivares three times put more than 18,000 people in the Forum. When he fought Bobby Chacon in 1975, it brought in the only SRO boxing crowd in Forum history, 18,770.
Not even Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton approached that for their 1973 Forum fight. The crowd was 12,100 that night, but the gate was $548,000, still a state record.
Also in 1970, the Valley Arena in Woodland Hills did good business with biweekly Saturday night shows. And the Sports Arena, then as now, had an occasional boxing show.
For boxing here today, it may be too soon to say the bloom is off the rose. But one wonders where the sport would be in Southern California without Buss. His 1990 goal is to average a world championship fight every month, more than half of the 22 dates scheduled by his three boxing staff members, John Jackson, Mike Garrett and Antonio Curtis.
Jackson, a former assistant football coach at USC, is Buss' vice president for boxing. Garrett, the 1964 Heisman Trophy winner at USC, is Buss' director of boxing. Curtis is the matchmaker.
Nowhere else, in the United States at least, can a boxing promoter claim a monthly world title fight.
Buss, who bought the Forum and the Lakers in 1979, was first a boxing fan. In late June of 1946, for example, 13-year-old Jerry Buss spent a lot of time at the Victory Theater in Kemmerer, Wyo., his boyhood home. "I got so excited looking forward to the radio broadcast of the second Joe Louis-Billy Conn fight, I couldn't sleep nights," Buss said recently.
"And after the fight, I'd go down to the theater every day and ask the manager if he'd found out when the Louis-Conn fight films were coming to town."
Buss had family in post-World War II Los Angeles and on visits here, went with an uncle to fight shows at the Olympic and elsewhere.
"When I moved here and began going to the fights regularly, my first L.A. hero was Art Aragon," he said. "I loved the excitement he generated, just because so many people either hated him or loved him. I still remember a Times columnist, Ned Cronin, writing once that Art Aragon was the 'human equivalent of smog.' "
Although Buss is far and away the sport's major domo in Southern California, he isn't the only player. Longtime Southland promoter Don Fraser holds monthly shows--and grosses about $25,000 a show--at the Irvine Marriott Hotel. Ten Goose Boxing averages a show every six weeks at Chuck Landis' Country Club in Reseda. There also are irregularly scheduled boxing cards at the Sports Arena and in San Diego, Palm Springs, Blythe, Long Beach, Palmdale and Bakersfield. But one of Buss' Forum shows will most often outdraw all the others' combined. Five percent of every ticket to a pro boxing show in California goes to the California Athletic Commission, the state's boxing regulatory body. In addition, another $2 per ticket--a 100% increase, implemented recently--is used to pay for the state's neurological exams, required yearly of all pro fighters in California.
Last year, about 60% of the commission's income came from Forum shows.