Then a local parking-lot and real-estate mogul named Jack Needleman saw a report on television that the Olympic would be doomed—i.e., would be razed to make way for a parking lot—if the club couldn't find a buyer willing to operate the building as an arena. He offered $3 million for the Olympic—and the L.A.A.C. took it. Eaton fumed. "If I'd known they'd take $3 million, I could've arranged that without any problem," she says. "I thought they owed me. I was their tenant for 40 years."
Eaton's lease was up, and Needleman searched for a new tenant. "He said I was too old—I was 71 at the time—and I didn't know what I was doing," Eaton says. "I've got about 20 million trophies, and I didn't get them from not knowing anything."
Under Needleman's ownership, boxing got off to a shaky start; in fact, for several months in 1981 there weren't any weekly fights at the Olympic. Then last summer Rogelio Robles, 33, a partner in his family's company, La Reina, Inc., which is one of the largest manufacturers of frozen tortillas and other prepackaged Mexican food, became the promoter.
The youngest of 12 children, Robles came to Los Angeles from his native Guadalajara to work in his brother's food business and became a regular patron of the Olympic. In 1976 he started promoting bouts in L.A. And now he's reaching deep into his pocket to keep alive a tradition in a city that has precious few.
There is about the Olympic an urban flavor that's absent from most of Los Angeles. An hour before the fights the congregation gathers along South Grand Avenue, crowds around the three taco vans that pull up to the sidewalk along the parking lot and argues the fight game in a cacophony of English, Spanish, and, every once in a while, Japanese.
By 8 p.m. the fans are seated and ready. They assess the potential of the kids working the four-rounders and cast a critical eye on the veterans in the main events. Punchers are preferred; art doesn't sell well in the Olympic.
It's the fans' custom to show appreciation by throwing coins into the ring. A few weeks ago there was a hailstorm of quarters, nickels and dimes. The seconds collected the booty in a bloody towel and took it to the dressing room to divide evenly between the two fighters. Each one took home $200 extra. "You can always tell when it's been a good fight," says Allan Malamud, the executive sports editor of the Herald Examiner. "The ringsiders are covered up." As Malamud speaks, it's raining cold cash and his sweater is pulled over his head.
"You shut down the Olympic and you kill boxing in L.A.," says Georgino. He started going to the building in 1936 when he was a star of the weekly amateur bouts. "Now when they ask you where you boxed and you say the Olympic, they say you must be a pretty good fighter."
The Olympic is also pretty important to the movies. From the original Body and Soul (1947) to the Rocky trilogy and Raging Bull, most every fight movie has been shot in part in the Olympic. It is, some say, Hollywood's busiest studio.
Bonilla, the last-minute substitute, certainly doesn't care about that. What he's interested in is surviving. He has earned his $1,500 by taking a beating from Montes. After four rounds he quits on his stool. The crowd proves it can be unappreciative, too. It boos Bonilla.