The day of the fight began with mildly unfavorable auspices when Lionel Rose, Australia's aborigine world bantamweight champion, stepped onto the California State Athletic Commission scales at the weigh-in and was announced as four ounces over the limit of 118 pounds. Rose solved the problem in an aboriginal way. He retired to a washroom and spat in a basin for about 10 minutes. When he and his manager, Jack Rennie, estimated that four ounces of spittle had been disposed of, they returned to the scales and, sure enough, the scales balanced at a precise 118 pounds.
The Australian's opponent in his second defense of the title, Jesus (Chucho) Castillo of Mexico, had no trouble coming in at a comfortable 117. But after that there was nothing but trouble. First there was the fight—a magnificent display of unrelenting aggressiveness on Castillo's part and superb defensive work by the pipe-smoking, dark-skinned, heavily bearded Rose. Almost every round was extremely close and difficult to judge, but Rose did win by a trifle. Then there was the riot, which turned Jack Kent Cooke's $16 million Forum into an ugly mess. Entire rows of seats were torn up and flung recklessly in the direction of the ring. Fires were set. Whiskey bottles were flung, spectators and officials were cut and bruised and, outside in the parking lot, automobiles were overturned, set afire and their windows smashed and tires slashed.
In normally peaceful Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles, no one had anticipated such a turn of events, and the number of local police available was inadequate to control the situation—though it would be hard to say what number would have been adequate. One policeman was set upon and beaten by disgruntled Mexicans. Long after midnight taxi companies refused to send cabs into the area and hundreds of abandoned fans wandered about in thick fog, vainly seeking transportation.
Chucho Castillo, risen suddenly to prominence as the leading contender for Rose's newly acquired title, proved himself worthy of his No. 1 position on the World Boxing Association's list of contenders, and the match itself was in the classical tradition of pitting a swarming slugger ( Castillo) against a fine boxer (Rose). It made for a fascinating fight, filled with tension and suspense, for there was a question as to whether the 20-year-old Rose, a notoriously heavy smoker since he was 10, could go the 15-round distance without tiring badly. He did tire, but little more than Chucho, for there was plenty of action in every round.
There were some 15,000 spectators in the Forum seats, which had sold at a $30 top, and about 7,000 of these had come up from Mexico to see their beloved Chucho win the title. Others were from the Mexican quarter of Los Angeles. There was a sprinkling of Hollywood and television notables—Pat Harrington Jr., June Allyson, Budd Schulberg, Elia Kazan, Kirk Douglas. And there was a hardy little band of 20 blokes from Australia, who had made the long journey from down under because Lionel Rose, aborigine though he be, is a national hero of such proportions that Queen Elizabeth has made him a Member of the Order of the British Empire. The fight was, in fact, televised live to Australia by satellite, as it was to Mexico City, and on closed circuit to an overflow at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium. The lower-priced seats had long been sold out, and the crowd at the auditorium could not afford the more expensive tickets. So Promoter George Parnassus, a 73-year-old veteran of 50 years in boxing, consented to the closed-circuit arrangement, though he is not, in fact, partial to television coverage of his fights. "The TV people try to run the whole show," he explained.
The promoters did everything possible to soothe the fiercely chauvinistic Mexican crowd, members of which shot off firecrackers and danced about in sombreros of exaggerated size. Three national anthems—American, Australian and Mexican—were presented, and announcements were made in both Spanish and English. Rose, chewing gum, came into the ring wearing white nylon trunks with green stripes. Castillo's trunks were rather more elegant. They were made of black velvet, striped with red velour.
The first few rounds were given over to somewhat cautious sparring as the fighters sized each other up. But Rose did reveal a strong jab and extraordinary speed of foot, fading easily away from Castillo's rushes. Even so, the Mexican did land some good punches to the body, and in the dressing room afterwards Rose conceded that they had hurt.
By the fourth round it had become a full-fledged fight, and Rose took it on all cards, starting out with three rapid, flashing jabs in a row. Then he blocked Castillo's hook off the jab and revealed a defense against punches to the head greatly reminiscent of Archie Moore. He would hold his right arm horizontally across his face just below the eyes. It is a defense seldom seen nowadays, although it can be found in pictures of fights from the bare-knuckle days, and it seemed to baffle Chucho.
In the fifth, Rose landed the first truly sharp punch of the bout, a smashing hook to the head, and it angered Chucho, who closed with a good flurry, and was answered in kind. He pressed constantly but, with Rose in skillful retreat, missed a lot, too.
At the start of the sixth the Mexicans began to cheer in organized football fashion for their hero, who responded with a slashing attack but was countered rather easily by Rose. In this round Rose went to the canvas for the first time, but Referee Dick Young did not call it a knockdown. Rose had slipped from the momentum of a tremendously hard punch that missed.