A continent away from Don King, boxing was making news in another—and most remarkable—way: with a bang-up good prize fight. From the beginning, the match-up of Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora was a cinch to be a classic. Zarate, from Mexico City, was the unbeaten WBC bantamweight champion (46 wins, 45 by knockout); Zamora, also from Mexico City, was the unbeaten WBA bantam champ (28-0, all by knockout). Because it was a non-title, over-the-weight bout, both the winner and loser would come out of it with their crowns intact, if not their heads. Now that it is over, the only problem will be convincing anyone in the crowd of 14,120 in the Los Angeles Forum that the two former stablemates were not playing for keeps.
The weight limit for bantams is 118 pounds, but for matched purses of $125,000 each, the two Zs agreed to come in at 120 pounds, give or take a few ounces. When it came time to step on the scales, Zarate made 119; Zamora weighed a scant three-quarters of a pound more. They hadn't exactly fattened up for the occasion.
"This wasn't my idea," Zarate said. "It doesn't make any sense for two champions to fight and, when it is over, both are still champions. One of us will lose, but what will he lose? Some pride, some respect. But not his title. I think it is time we stop this foolishness and settle this business of two champions."
Zamora's people—primarily his father Alfonso Sr.—said they would be content to fight Zarate for money and fight other people for the championship. It was suggested that he had an old Mexican proverb in mind: when a man tries to leap across a river, it is always better if the water is shallow.
When it comes to spending large sums in boxing, there has never been any great hurry to give the money to bantamweights, even world champion bantamweights. Before last Saturday's fight, Zarate's biggest payday had brought around $80,000. That was for his title defense last February against Fernando Cabanela in Mexico City. Zamora's largest purse had been about the same.
"Nothing but good can come of this," said Cuyo Hernandez, Zarate's wily old manager, explaining why, despite his own fighter's objections, the non-title business made sense. "The winner will be able to demand a great deal of money for future fights. The loser won't make as much, but he'll have more offers to fight than he can handle. Everybody will want to fight the loser."
For Forum promoter Don Fraser, a Zamora-Zarate for-real title fight had been impossible to set up; there were enough headaches just getting them into the same ring for 10 rounds on an over-the-weight basis. Fraser had started trying to make the match when Zarate won his WBC title in May last year (Zamora had been the WBA champion since March of 1975). "Right from the beginning, Zarate said yes; just give him as much as I gave Zamora," Fraser said. "But then for a year Zamora's people drove us off the wall. We went up to $125,000. They said yes, but....
"Then we offered an extra $10,000 for expenses, and they said yes, but...."
Fraser sighed. "Finally Zamora tossed out the two guys advising him and said he'd take the fight."
What changed his mind?