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A boxing revival on Hollywood Boulevard

The L.A. Matadors are the U.S. representative in the World Series of Boxing, which features amateur fighters from 12 countries squaring off in team competition.

November 17, 2011|Chris Erskine
  • Javier 'The Monster' Torres, right, of the L.A. Matadors goes up against Kazakhstan's Doszhan Ospanov in a World Series of Boxing heavyweight bout. Torres won the fight.
Javier 'The Monster' Torres, right, of the L.A. Matadors goes… (Myles Regan )

Fits me like a pair of handcuffs, this street. Hollywood Boulevard. Sirens in the distance. Marlowe's playground.

There is nothing like the counterintuitive gesture to tickle my interest, so here I am checking out a team boxing league, across from one of my favorite Hollywood joints, the Frolic Room, the kind of place cockroaches go to retire.

Counterintuitive? Because the sport of boxing is down for the count. Remember the days when everyone knew the name of the heavyweight champion? He was one of the three most famous people on the planet. These days all we get is bantamweights and Las Vegas sequels.

Yes, boxing needs something fresh, and maybe this is it: the World Series of Boxing, featuring amateur fighters from 12 countries squaring off in team competition.

I'm here because I'm always looking for the next big thing, or any big thing. Plus, I hear Evander Holyfield will be in the house, no pun intended. (Honestly, his right ear — the one Mike Tyson chewed like a sock 14 years ago — looks pretty good.)

So, there's your scene, four married guys off to watch boxing on a Sunday night. Almost anything can happen.

The evening starts at little brew house called Blue Palms. I drink beer despite the taste, not because of it, so give me a watery domestic and I'll be fine. Those yam and pumpkin brews are just wasted on me. Most of that stuff tastes like it's been run through a goat.

Next thing I know I am washing down some pretty good boar sausage; they also have elk and pheasant, off a menu that adds to the man-cave ambience. Turns out one of the damsels at the next table is Audrina Patridge, who French kisses cheeseburgers on the beach in that Carl's Jr. ad. Like you, I never forget a pretty cheeseburger.

Meanwhile, one dude at our table keeps talking about the "cleansing juices of Manila," how it saved his soul during a bad stretch … blah, blah, blah. As if I don't have bad stretches every day, pal (though he does make Manila sound kind of juicy).

But I like the Blue Palms, recommend it completely. Sausage plate: 11 bucks, sauerkraut and all. To no avail, I dripped mine seductively down my chest.

Next door is the Music Box, where the boxing takes place. Big old music club, it has one of those upholstered doors, very old school, and you sort of expect Rita Hayworth to come bursting out, all mouth and hair, screaming at her manager.

She's not here, but Holyfield is. He tells me he's working to help promote this league as it kicks off its second season. The boxing's pretty good, he says. Reminds him ofthe U.S. Olympic team he was part of in 1984.

Here's what you need to know about team boxing: It pits a dozen teams from across the world against one another in a four-month season. The boxing powerhouse of Kazakhstan is tonight's opponent, against our very own team, the L.A. Matadors. As you know, Los Angeles is famous for its bullfighting.

There are five matches in five weight divisions, bantam to heavyweight. Three-minute rounds, five rounds to a match.

The league got off to a rocky start last November, overspending at the Nokia Theatre. Now, in digs better suited to a start-up, the L.A. franchise is starting its second season. Fox Sports West is on board, and the Matadors just signed their first sponsorship deal, with an energy drink called Tbolt.

"We're turning it into a club night with five great boxing matches," says Ray Doustdar, the Matadors' general manager.

Here's another novel thing about this league: The amateur fighters are paid a salary but retain Olympic eligibility. In fact, one of the Kazakhstan middleweights won a bronze medal in 2008 at Beijing, and at least a dozen of the league's fighters have qualified for the 2012 Olympics.

First match: Adlet Yegizekov (sounds just like it's spelled) beats Eric Fowler in a split decision. This boosts the winner's amateur record to 168-150, which is a lot of fights for a 23-year-old. Heck, it's a lot of fights for an entire continent.

The former bronze medalist, Kanat Slam, wins the second fight, giving Kazakhstan a 2-0 edge, meaning the U.S. must sweep the remaining three matches to win.

And that's exactly what happens, a U.S. sweep, though there are looks of disbelief from the crowd of 800 — and hisses of "fix" — when Rau'Shee "Baby Pit" Warren is declared the winner over the more aggressive Kazakhstan fighter in the final fight.

I ask the young fan next to me how you say "booooooo" in Kazakhstan, but she doesn't really get the joke, or even know what language they speak in Kazakhstan.

I guess that's team boxing for you — more mysteries than answers right now, a counterintuitive work in progress. But in the meantime, it's a noirish and fetching little escape, here on this Boulevard of Broken Screams.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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