When Ring Announcer Leonard Jacobsen stood up in his deep tan shoes and heavy-cream dinner jacket before the Patterson-Harris fight and, amplified, told the people that Los Angeles was "the boxing capital of the world," they laughed in 151 movie theaters, but in Wrigley Field a clamorous cheer arose. Although the Southland (a patois collective noun for L.A. and its broad banlieues) is hardly modest territory, Jacobsen had more than hyperbole going for him.
Los Angeles is the only city in the U.S., if not the world, which has two clubs putting on boxing shows practically every week of the year: the Olympic Auditorium on Thursdays and the Hollywood Legion Stadium on Saturdays. And business isn't half bad. Last year boxing admissions in the U.S. totaled $5.1 million. California did $1.3 million—more than any other state in the Union—and the Southland earned $900,000 of that. Now that New York's St. Nicholas Arena, which was subsidized by network TV, is dark, no other city has even one consecutive show with any kind of historical continuity. L.A., of course, does not support boxing in the heroic fashion it rallies to professional and collegiate football and those 13-game-behind arrivistes; even at the fights while all eyes are on the ring, many ears attend the Dodgers or Rams on portable radios. The record gross gate for L.A. and California is a so-so $234,183.25 (Patterson-Harris), a figure which has, however, been approximated regularly by such recent attractions as Halimi-Macias and Bassey-Moreno and is expected to be approached if not surpassed by the Aragon-Basilio fight on September 5.
The major reason why Los Angeles can sustain two clubs and occasional outdoor promotions in Wrigley Field is its large Mexican population and the Mexican nationals in wool hats who make the long bus trip up from the border to see their boxeadores. El culto extremado de los h�roes (hero worship) is very big with Mexicans, and it helps make them the best and the most violent fight fans in the world; they say that in Mexico City, a net protects the contestants in the ring from the spectators' sentimentalismo. Although L.A. promoters have, on occasion, frantically telephoned the border ("They're coming in the windows!") to head off the buses, they must continually develop new Mexican fighters (or talent, as they say in the Southland), for el culto extremado demands that as soon as a h�roe is soundly beaten, he is ignored and forgotten.
BIG HEART AND BEER
And why do Mexicans enjoy boxing? "There are no Mexican football players and no Mexican baseball players to speak of," says auburn-haired Aileen Eaton, who, with her husband Cal, a shallow-chested little man who tilts his hat to one side with both hands like John Barry-more, runs the Olympic. "There are Mexican jockeys," she says, "but who roots for jockeys? Boxing is their sport here because there is no bullfighting or soccer."
"They enjoy that type of entertainment," says Jim Ogilvie, manager of the Legion. "It's cockiness. It's the nature of the people."
"They got big heart, man," a guy told me. "I mean, those Mexicans go. The people just stand up and go ole, man."
The place where the Mexicans "go" is the Olympic, a big mauve-and-gray building erected in 1924 on South Grand with Roman medalions and "murials" of 20-foot fighters posed in front of draped curtains on the outside. Inside, it is a high, dark octagonal hall with the 10,400 seats steeply placed and Mexicans whistling with mucho sentimentalismo and length at the girls, without regard to beauty, whooping at their fighters—"�Cigalo! �Cigalo! (After him!)"—and drinking enormous quantities of beer. "They drink beer, have a ball," says Mrs. Eaton. "And thank goodness for that. I have the concession."
The Original Juvenile Band, Mexican boys and girls from the East Side, play bullfight music with great feeling from the gallery between bouts. "We pay them a few dollars," Mrs. Eaton says, "and they see the fights. We bought them uniforms but they didn't wear them. 'Why aren't you wearing your uniforms?' we asked. 'We are afraid we will get them dirty,' they said. So we agreed to pay the cleaning bill but still they don't wear them unless it is an important fight. 'They are too hot,' they say."
The night I attended the Olympic, two bantamweights were in the star bout—Joe Becerra and Willie Parker. "We are going to lose money, on this fight," said Olympic Matchmaker George Parnassus, a somewhat melancholy Greek. "Becerra got knocked out in his last fight here. He has won in Mexico since then, but they do not know about it. But if Becerra wins tonight, we will make money the next time. Things they go up and things they go down. Two or three young fighters come along, and boom! they go up. It is like any other business. Boxing is not on the way out. We are fortunate enough, or crazy enough, to run every week. Many weeks we lose money but that's what develops the talent. A fighter cannot become an attraction sitting on his fanny."