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Jack Tobin
September 01, 1969
A swinging Mexican with a ring in his shoe, a car on his mind and one of the hardest left hooks anywhere takes the bantamweight championship from Australian aborigine Lionel Rose at Los Angeles
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September 01, 1969

Ruben Wilts A Rose

A swinging Mexican with a ring in his shoe, a car on his mind and one of the hardest left hooks anywhere takes the bantamweight championship from Australian aborigine Lionel Rose at Los Angeles

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To Ruben 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.

One further 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.

As 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 "Viva Lionel."

Then, with 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.

Midway through 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.

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