Prizefighting's tired, infected blood received an invigorating tonic last week in Los Angeles when two champions in blooming health defended their titles in the Memorial Coliseum, knocked out their challengers in spectacular battles and enriched the sport with a proud showing of the skill and courage it was designed to foster.
The multi-title fight card was the first in the United States since 1937—when Mike Jacobs audaciously presented in a single evening four championship bouts (bantam, welter, light and middleweight) and lost something like $37,000 on the venture. But Los Angeles promoters Cal and Aileen Eaton, who have shrewdly made their city the nation's fight capital, by no means lost on their gamble. They attracted a record California gate of $383,060 from 31,830 fans, surpassing their own previous high by $146,539.
The title defenses were by Bantam-weight Champion Jose Becerra of Mexico and Junior Welterweight Champion Carlos Ortiz of New York. Their opponents were as worthy as any a fight announcer ever grandly introduced. Becerra defended against Alphonse Halimi of Algiers, the skilled former champion who had lost his title on a surprising knockout by Becerra last July. Ortiz fought Raymundo (Battling) Torres of Mexico, a remarkable 18-year-old who had been undefeated in 31 fights, all but a few of which he won by knockouts.
Before Halimi and Torres were downed, a top-coated and to some extent sombreroed crowd, huddling in the open Coliseum under a frosty half-moon, went hoarse with excitement. Drunk more on furious fighting than on smuggled tequila (alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the municipally owned Coliseum), Latin-American fans crowed like roosters, sounded sirens and pounded good neighbors in an ecstasy of joy.
Either fight alone would have made any card a success. Taken together, they made this one a fight night to remember.
The underdog Halimi (3 to 1 against him by ring time) dominated the early rounds and was ahead on all official score cards when Becerra crunched the definitive hook against his chin in the ninth. The underdog Torres (Ortiz was a 7 to 5 favorite) astonishingly survived a score of punches that might have finished a lesser man and still was persistently trying for his own knockout in the 10th, when Ortiz at last blasted him down with a left-right combination.
VOLKSWAGEN AND TAMALES
The crowd was predominantly Mexican, drawn in part from Los Angeles' huge Latin population, in amazing part from Mexico itself. Airlines alone were reported to have ferried 5,000 into the U.S. Mexico is hungry for good fights but a solicitous government limits the price that may be charged for seats. The best fighters, therefore, are drawn to the U.S., where seat prices are unlimited. So Mexico's best fans traveled as many as 2,500 miles to Los Angeles to see Becerra and Torres in action. The day before the double-header a Volkswagen station wagon drew up before the box office and out of it crawled 17 cramped Mexican aficionados, each happily equipped to buy a $7.50 seat in the upper rows of the Coliseum. Adaptable concessionaires peddled tamales as well as hot dogs, and sold out the tamales before the hot dogs. The Los Angeles Examiner, caught up in the happy international spirit, gave its entire first page, headlines and all, to a forecast of the fights in Spanish. The tribulations of Carole and Dr. Finch, though their murder trial was reaching a climax, were committed to inside pages by the prestige of this more important news. At the weighin, which drew more spectators than some fights at Madison Square Garden, Becerra was serenaded by nine guitarists and a bull fiddler; they played and sang Corrida de José Becerra, composed in his honor after he won the title.
The promotion thus had the gay aspect of a fiesta, until the fights began.
BECERRA THE STRONG