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BOXING : De la Hoya Evokes Memories of Boxing's Heyday

May 23, 1992|EARL GUSTKEY

The old man sat on a bench and watched the tall, lithe boxer move smoothly about the ring.

And he remembered the great years, and how great crowds once shouted his name.

"You know, I'll never forget arriving at the Olympic (Auditorium) for one of my fights and seeing those long, long lines of people waiting to buy tickets to watch me fight," the old man said.

"I remember that as well as I remember the fights, the fact that people enjoyed watching me fight."

Enrique Bolanos was famous in boxing arenas in Southern California. Once, people paid to see him work out. He burst upon the scene in the post-World War II era here, and at 65, he sat on a bench and watched a 19-year-old who is about to follow in his footsteps.

Bolanos watched Oscar de la Hoya, but he raised his eyebrows as though he wasn't sure he believed what he was seeing.

Bolanos was in the Brooklyn Gym in Boyle Heights, watching intently, as RTD buses rumbled by the little blue and white gym.

This was no ordinary drill for de la Hoya, not with only three weeks to go until the U.S. Olympic trials in Worcester, Mass. This day, he was sparring with Genaro Hernandez, the World Boxing Assn. junior-lightweight champion.

For five rounds, de la Hoya stayed in hot pursuit of Hernandez, 26, who scored on occasion, but who for the most part seemed to be battling to hold his own. There were no knockdowns, and no one was really rocked.

But it seemed plain to most of those watching that if de la Hoya was to fight Hernandez in a 10-round bout, Hernandez would not be the favorite.

And no one was more impressed than Bolanos.

"He's going to be a great fighter," he said of de la Hoya. "And he's a good boy, too. When he turns pro, he'll need to learn some things. But he works hard and he'll learn quickly. "I'd like to see him stepping into his jab more and learn how to get his weight behind it. But overall, he's as good as any young fighter I ever saw come out of L.A."

As he spoke, de la Hoya trapped Hernandez in a corner and peppered him with rapid-fire punches.

Both boxers fought with some caution, especially Hernandez, who was bothered by de la Hoya's quick, busy jab.

Both boxers have important assignments in the near future. While de la Hoya hopes for a summer in Spain, Hernandez will head in the opposite direction. On July 15, in Fukuoka, Japan, he will defend his title against Masuaki Takeda.

After the session, Hernandez said comparisons between himself and de la Hoya shouldn't be based on sparring sessions.

"This is my first full week of training for the Japan fight," he said. "Oscar's in great shape, and I'm not--not yet. Oscar's a great young prospect. If he turned pro tomorrow, he'd be a 10-round, main-event fighter. That's why it's good for both of us to spar. We help each other."

The California Athletic Commission has a rule that prohibits amateurs from sparring with pros, but it's a rule that needs to be modified. The commission should change the rule, to designate a distinction between 14-year-olds learning how to box and world class amateurs, such as de la Hoya.

Bolanos looked around the gym and mused.

"There aren't as many good fighters today, and there aren't as many fans," he said.

"I remember in the 1940s, there were world class guys every day training at the Main Street Gym. People came on their lunch hour just to watch, and they had to pay admission."

Longtime Southland boxing observer Johnny Flores remembers paying a dime to watch fighters train at the Main Street Gym in pre-World War II days, then had to pay 50 cents in the 1950s.

"The fighters were hungrier," Bolanos said. "It was different then. Harder times. I remember the gyms being very, very crowded."

Bolanos had had a 23-2 record in Mexico City fights when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1943. His aggressive, pleasing style quickly attracted a following, and by 1948 he was filling the Olympic. He never won a lightweight world title, but it wasn't for lack of fighting the best.

He was knocked out by two champions of the era, Jimmy Carter and Ike Williams.

Bolanos is retired now, living in South Pasadena with his wife of 40 years, Ruby. After he quit fighting, he worked for a beer company and was a quality control inspector for Lockheed.

On this day, Bolanos was at the Brooklyn Gym, not specifically to watch de la Hoya and Hernandez. He was helping a 14-year-old neighbor learn how to do boxing workouts.

"I have hypoglycemia and my doctor told me to get more exercise," the boy said. "Mr. Bolanos is teaching me how boxers train."

Boxing lost a strong regulator and a good friend when Chuck Minker died last weekend. Minker, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, died at 42, after a year-long battle against a rare form of lung cancer.

His last fight was the Terry Norris-Meldrick Taylor bout at the Mirage two weeks ago. He sat at ringside in a wheelchair, emaciated and breathing from an oxygen bottle.

When Norris entered the ring to defend his junior-middleweight title, he certainly had more on his mind than Chuck Minker's health. Yet in a gesture few will forget, Norris walked around the ring once . . . and extended his gloved hand through the ropes and shook Minker's hand.

Negotiations over a proposed Norris-Buddy McGirt fight for October are bogged down over money.

McGirt's manager, Al Certo, has been offered $1 million. He wants much more.

An exasperated Joe Sayatovich, manager of Norris, said he proposed a modified winner-take-all deal.

"I said: 'Al, how about if we both sign for $1 million for both our guys, with a kicker in the deal that the winner gets another $600,000?'

"Certo said: 'I'll get back to you on that.' "

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