Johnny Owen and Lupe Pintor exchange punches in the middle of the ring during… (Associated Press )
Boxing keeps turning up the volume on the hype. Apparently, if you sell it loudly, fewer will notice if it is lousy.
Oscar De La Hoya, never lousy in the ring, was presenting a card of boxers at a media gathering the other day for a Saturday night show at Staples Center. It is a card headlined by little guys, bantamweights (118 pounds) and super bantamweights (122).
"These are tremendous, tremendous fighters," said De La Hoya, champion of the double gushy adjective.
They may turn out to be.
But there will be those there Saturday night to watch Abner Mares versus Anselmo Moreno in the main event and Leo Santa Cruz versus Victor Zaleta in the semi-main who will remember when there was no question, when the little guys were kings in Los Angeles boxing. One, certainly, will be Hall of Fame member Don Chargin, the onetime "Boy Promoter," who is 84 now and still hasn't completely unlaced the gloves.
Chargin was the matchmaker for Aileen Eaton for 20 years at the old Olympic Auditorium. It was a golden era of boxing, the 1960s and '70s, and the place buzzed. Besides wrestling and roller derby, there were Thursday night fights. Broadcaster Jim Healy christened him "War-a-Week" Chargin, and when Healy christened you, it stuck. Other household names in broadcasting took their turns at the ringside microphones, including Keith Jackson, Dick Enberg and Tom Harmon.
To boxing fans, the names of the little guys still come quickly to mind: Ruben Olivares, Mando Ramos, Sugar Ramos, Lupe Pintor, Alberto and Richie Sandoval, Chucho Castillo, Alberto Davila, Frankie Duarte, Alphonse Halimi, Jesus Pimentel, Carlos Zarate. And many more.
This, too, was the era of the heavyweights — Ali, Frazier, Jerry Quarry, a young George Foreman, Ken Norton.
But the little guys at the Olympic — and when the fights outgrew the Olympic, they moved to the Sports Arena, the Forum, even the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium — got a big share of the sports spotlight. Chargin, who lives up the coast in Cambria, says he still drives past the Olympic any chance he gets when he comes to town.
"Just to look at it, to remember," he says. "Those were the 20 happiest years of my life."
He continues to work as a consultant for De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, is in town for Mares versus Moreno, and stopped Wednesday morning for a nostalgic look at his old work home. The Olympic is owned now by a Korean American church but remains majestic in an aging-gracefully way, rising up next to the 10 Freeway in downtown at 18th Street and Grand Avenue.
They used to line up around the block for tickets there. Chargin was masterful at placing a good little local fighter in the ring against a good little Mexican fighter and watching the fans swarm the place.
"We used to get as many as 10,000 tickets down to Mexico," he says. "They'd drive across the border, show their fight tickets and get a 72-hour pass. Nobody needed to show a passport."
That ticket allotment got to be a problem for Eaton and Chargin for certain fights, because the capacity of the Olympic for boxing was 10,400. When Mando Ramos fought Sugar Ramos in a lightweight match Aug. 6, 1970, they squeezed in an estimated 14,000.
"Aileen had a case of Scotch ready for the fire inspector," Chargin says.
Six years before that, April 30, 1964, when Mexican flyweight Efren Torres took on Japan's Hiroyuki Ebihara, the split decision went for Ebihara and against the collective will of the Mexican fans. In protest, several somehow uprooted dozens of heavy metal seats, tore off the cushions, doused them with lighter fluid and set them ablaze, before tossing them from the balcony.
"Nobody got killed that night," Chargin says, "but Aileen upped the security after that."
No security could stop death in the ring. The little guys, almost without fail, were nonstop brawlers. On Sept. 9, 1980, as the boxing era was ending in L.A. and the Olympic was struggling to stay afloat, Lupe Pintor of Mexico and Johnny Owen of Wales battled until the 12th round, when Pintor caught Owen and Owen never got up again.
"Owen was winning the fight," Chargin says. "He was from Merthyr, Wales, and he looked like a skeleton. They called him the Merthyr Matchstick. On the 20-year anniversary of the fight, they put up a statue of Owen in Wales and had a ceremony. Pintor was invited and went."
Almost exactly three years after the Pintor-Owen fight, after the Olympic had been opened and closed for fighting several times, Davila and Kiko Bejines headlined a card there at 118 pounds and Bejines died of injuries afterward.
Seven years before his famous 1970 fight with Mando Ramos had drawn those 14,000 people at the Olympic, Sugar Ramos had beaten Davey Moore at Dodger Stadium in a fight that cost Moore his life.
Those were the frontier days of boxing, when the mantra was "anything goes." Not always pretty or legal, but certainly colorful.
Chargin says he once had a packed house in Sacramento, waiting for the main event, and he had a main-event fighter in the locker room who had decided not to fight.
"I couldn't lose that big gate," Chargin says, "so when the guy refused the third time, I grabbed the gun from the security guard and stuck it next to the guy's eye. I never even held a gun before, much less fired one, but he didn't know that. We headed to the ring for the fight and I walked next to him with the gun wrapped in a towel.
"He fought and lasted 40 seconds."
Looking back on all that, De La Hoya might call it a "tremendous, tremendous" era.