Olivares, five weeks in the Ciudad de la Nuestra Se�ora la Reina de Los Angeles
de Porci�ncula was a colossal, cloistered, confining bore. He would endure it
for the challenger's share of a championship bantamweight fight that would draw
the largest indoor gate of any boxing match in California history. He would
suffer it to bring raucous delight to an armada of Mexican fans who try to
dismantle Inglewood brick by bolt every time one of their boxers does or does
not win a championship there. He would tolerate it for the chance to add one
more racy automobile to the five now parked in front of his Mexico City home.
But somebody was going to have to pay.
Last week Lionel
Rose, Australian aborigine, world bantamweight champion, perennial pipe smoker
and calculating boxer deluxe, was the man who paid. For four rounds Olivares
pounded Rose relentlessly, and then took him out in the fifth in a superb
display of power and speed.
Upsetting as the
drubbing must have been to Rose, it was no upset, for the 21-year-old Olivares
had built an almost frightening reputation as a slugger. Of the 51 men he had
faced, 49 had been knocked out. Rose, meanwhile, had been knocked down in all
three of his title defenses in the past 18 months, was having trouble, as
usual, making the 118-pound weight limit and had a history of nagging injuries.
It was a matchup of slugger vs. boxer, but the boxer was a 4-to-5 underdog—with
reason might have been that Olivares was annoyed. Normally an easygoing,
gregarious young man, he had turned sullen in the final days of training in the
Ciudad de la etc., etc. Olivares is a relisher of bright clothes, shiny
jewelry, soft lights and hard drink. He likes to go shopping. The last time he
fought in Los Angeles he came with one suit of clothes and an empty suitcase,
and left with five outfits and a full suitcase. "He's homesick," said
Manager Arturo Hernandez the morning of the fight. "He's never been away
more than two weeks. This time it is five weeks. All he wants to do is knock
out Rose and go home." The Olivares preparations for the fight included
plane reservations for early the following morning.
Meanwhile, at the
Inglewood Forum, other preparations were being completed. Nobody had forgotten
what happened on Dec. 6, 1968, which was the last time Lionel Rose paid a visit
to California. That night the challenger was a different Mexican idol, Chucho
Castillo, and when Rose won a split decision the boxing fans from Tijuana,
Ensenada, Mexicali, Juarez and other way points on the route to Mexico City
opened an Inglewood branch office of the Spanish-American War. To insure there
would be no repeat performance, Promoter George Parnassus called in help, and
as the sun set last Friday night and the crowd moved toward the Forum there was
a feeling of entering a war zone. Helmeted police with billy clubs held high
were everywhere—and working in foursomes or pairs. Patrol cars roamed through
the parking lots. The Forum's gatemen made up a private patrol of their own,
complete with combat helmets. All this effort probably was wise, but it proved
unnecessary, thanks to Olivares.
entered the ring there was the predictable pandemonium. Mexican flags waved
everywhere in the arena, streamers poured down from the higher seats and
sombreros fanned back and forth through the heavy air, cutting off the view of
half the crowd. Banners were marched through the aisles, hundreds of balloons
suddenly rose toward the ceiling, each bearing the name Olivares, and there was
much chanting of "Viva Mexico," "Viva Ruben," "Viva
Olivares." Rose looked subdued, perhaps straining to hear just one small
nationalism rampant, came anthems. Plenty for everybody. The British. The
Australian. The Mexican. The Star-Spangled. And finally, with the 9 p.m. title
hour long gone, came Olivares vs. Rose.
The first round
was one minute and 56 seconds old, and Olivares was moving just the way Rose
had expected him to—side to side, side to side—when suddenly a flashing left
hook caught Rose on the jaw. The Australian dropped stiff to the canvas. It had
been a stunning shot, and for a moment it looked like all the helmets and
anthems and vivas had been offered in the name of less than two minutes of
action. But Rose rose, uneasily, took the mandatory eight count and prepared
himself for a new task—not victory, survival.
With just seconds
left in the same round a lacing left by Olivares knocked out Rose's mouthpiece,
an event that was to become a meaningful ritual of the fight. This left is
almost a bolo punch, only Olivares generates the power for it without the
looping windup that tends to telegraph it. He lands the punch with far more
impact than a man his size ought to be able to manage.
the second round Olivares swung and the Rose mouthpiece was sliding across the
blue deck of the ring again. The referee stopped the action to let Rose replace
it. Though it was not apparent at the time, this was the blow that finished
Rose, for it ended any chance the Australian had of establishing the pace and
poise that a boxer must maintain to defeat a slugger. It was in this round,
too, that Olivares changed his style, replacing his sideways movements with a
straight-ahead attack. "We go straight in, we go straight in,"
explained Manager Hernandez later. "That confuse Rose. We beat him that
way." Maybe so. But constant blasting with a left hook had something to do
with it, too.