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BOXING / TIM KAWAKAMI : At the End, They Were Hearing Bells

October 01, 1994|TIM KAWAKAMI

Six days, four fight cards.

For six days and nights, through a quirk of scheduling, the Los Angeles area was the site of an unofficial boxing festival, a blurry parade of blistering performances, ring-card girls, boos and Chuck Bodak.

There were 20 fights, and every time someone blinked, Bodak, the flamboyant cut man who plasters signs and cartoons onto his bald head as the mood strikes him, was popping up in a corner, in a locker room, on television. . . . And the one night nobody saw him, the absence was wholly distracting.

The odyssey began last Saturday night at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, moved to the Forum on Monday night, careened to the Huntington Park Casino for a late Wednesday program, then ended at the Irvine Marriott Thursday night.

Before it was over, the boxing glutton had seen one man fight twice, one boxer knocked unconscious and dozens of little-known men punch each other until somebody told them to stop. Here's how it went:

--Saturday night, Grand Olympic Auditorium: There's a crowd of about 1,200, a good-sized total for the struggling Olympic.

Young featherweight prospect Robert Garcia is the headline fighter, but newly crowned World Boxing Council junior-lightweight champion Gabriel Ruelas gets the most attention, wandering through the building with his belt and a wide smile.

As the news of Oliver McCall's stunning upset over Lennox Lewis filters through the crowd, light-heavyweights Troy Weaver and Keith McMurray hold, shove and showboat, frustrating the loud pack of about 100 on hand in support of the obviously more talented Weaver.

The unanimous decision, however, goes to McMurray, enraging the Weaver crowd for about 30 seconds. Then the music starts again and the fans quiet.

"If that'd happened 15 years ago, there'd have been some bottles in the ring," says Olympic owner Steve Needleman as he walks by press row.

A few days earlier, promoter Bob Arum had been fretting about his inability to draw large crowds to the Olympic six months into its second life as a boxing showplace. The next card isn't scheduled until November.

"The Olympic has been disappointing," Arum said. "I'm certainly not making money on it, but we've controlled the losses, at least, and I have good people working on it.

"So I have no reason to quit on it, yet. I still think I could hold a big card with the Ruelases (Gabriel and his brother, International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Rafael) on it there without worrying it'd not make a profit."

Where's Bodak? He's on TV from London, in the middle of McCall's celebration, wearing stickers on his head and working as the cut man for the new World Boxing Council heavyweight champion.

--Monday night, the Forum: Dodger catcher Mike Piazza is a judge, Magic Johnson is in the house, and it isn't because Ricky Hesia vs. Florencio Ibarra promises to be a welterweight slugfest.

Classy Manuel Medina is the headliner on the four-fight card, and the Forum is the most consistent boxing operation in California, but this is Miss Ringsider Contest finals night.

So the roars are for Camille and Sandy and Christina, the tension builds toward the announcement of the winner, and Ibarra's surging victory over Hesia is a vague preliminary.

In the virtually unnoticed first fight, local middleweight Chris (Captain Crunch) Wright wins when Don Goodwin can't answer the third-round bell.

At the end of the night, Christina wins the $15,000 prize, and there is a quiet rush of mumbling in the crowd of about 3,700, many of whom came with huge banners supporting their favorite ringsider.

Where's Bodak? He's in Medina's corner, with a huge sign bearing the fighter's name on his head surrounded by stickers saluting the ringsiders.

--Wednesday night, Huntington Park Casino: It's a small room with a low ceiling, bright lights, and, except for ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr., the language spoken is Spanish.

In this crowd, fans routinely get the attention of fighters in the ring by yelling out instructions or venting their anger. One preliminary fighter answers back in a stream of Spanish that almost sounds apologetic.

There is not a boxer on the card whom anyone but the most dedicated fight fan would ever have heard of, but the fights are competitive, the 500-600 in attendance are knowledgeable and excited, and the night ends at 11 p.m. when 129-pounder Hector Monhardin stops Raul Contrerars with a vicious left-right combination in the second round.

"It's no secret, the Mexican boxing fan is my ally," hyperactive promoter Peter Broudy says at one point. "I'm losing money tonight, but I'm going for the high up side. If I can get this place going twice monthly, get the Mexican boxing fans here regularly, this will be great."

Bodak? He's spotted in the locker room during a costume change into Monhardin headgear.

"If his name was any longer, I'd need a bigger head," says Bodak, wearing an Oliver McCall robe. "And I brought my small head tonight."

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