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Dr. Jerry Buss's huge impact on the sport of boxing in Los Angeles

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#1 Marc Maron

Marc Maron


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Posted February 20, 2013 - 12:18 AM

A lot of people may not know this but The man did a lot for the sport of boxing. He started Fight Night at the Forum. Many great boxers either debuted, or got their recognition at the Forum. De La Hoya, Barrera, and Juan Manuel Marquez to name a few. He also made sure boxers on these cards were compensated well financially. The very first HBO's Boxing After Dark was also held at the forum.

Here's a nice article about it:

Sports fans woke up to the news on Monday morning that Dr. Jerry Buss passed away at the age of 80. As a lifelong resident of Los Angeles and a diehard Lakers fan, this news saddened me and millions of others across Southern California. I never got to meet Buss but with his contributions to our city, everyone felt as though he was their rich, benevolent uncle who made sure Los Angeles got victory parades on a regular basis in June. But Steve Springer, who for years covered the Lakers during his days at theL.A. Times, did a remarkable job in capturing the essence of this man (yahoo.com/jerry-buss).

But while Buss will always be best known for owning the Lakers (his name forever linked to the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant), his contributions to the game of boxing should not be forgotten.
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For about two decades, his building on Manchester Boulevard, the Great Western Forum, was the epicenter of Forum Boxing, producing the likes of Jorge Paez, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson. Buss did more than just bring championship banners to the city; he also helped finance and develop future Hall-of-Famers.

John Beyrooty, who from 1989 to 1997 was the publicist for Forum Boxing, says, “When I think of Jerry Buss - ‘Doc’, he was always ‘Doc’ to me - I’m going to be pleasantly shocked if any of the mainstream obits that I read in the coming days even mention the fact that he had Forum Boxing and without ‘Doc’ Buss, boxing in Southern California and Los Angeles would’ve been deader than dead. Forum Boxing, thanks to Jerry, kept boxing alive in Southern California.”

Back then, the heyday of the Grand Olympic Auditorium had passed and more and more of the big fights were being shipped to Las Vegas. Other local venues like the Los Angeles Sports Arena only did sporadic cards. “It still had fights but not the consistency that the Forum did and then later, the caliber of fights and fighters. But Jerry kept boxing alive in Southern California. Take those 18, 19 years of Forum Boxing and you have nothing else,” who, before his gig with Forum Boxing, was the boxing scribe for the L.A. Herald Examiner.

It’s easy to take for granted now with the presence of AEG and Golden Boy Promotions, which regularly stages HBO and Showtime-level events at the Staples Center and the Home Depot Center. However, there was a period of time when local fans in this region didn’t have the opportunity to watch championship-caliber boxing in the “City of Angels.”

While figures like Bob Arum, Don King and Dan Duva dominated the business throughout much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, this outfit was producing consistently memorable events on the West Coast. There was the rise of one “Maromero” Paez, who was such a sensation that he earned a multi-fight deal on NBC. Oscar De la Hoya, just months removed from his Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, made his professional debut at the Forum in November of 1992. “Chiquita” Gonzalez was a huge draw as a little man and his rivalry with Top Rank’s Michael Carbajal was groundbreaking in that they both earned over a million dollars as junior flyweights in the second fight of their trilogy. There was the bloody back-and-forthing over 33 rounds between Daniel Zaragoza and Paul Banke. The beloved Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez was a constant presence at the Forum and defended his junior lightweight crown there a few times. The greatest Mexican star of all, Julio Cesar Chavez, made two appearances at the Forum, stopping Ruben Castillo in his first defense of his WBC 130-pound belt in 1985 and then in May of 1989, “J.C. Superstar” vanquished “The Mexican Assassin,” Roger Mayweather, making him quit on his stool after 10 spirited rounds.

The most memorable night in this building was perhaps the night of February 3rd, 1996, as Barrera and Kennedy McKinney christened HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” by engaging in a pulsating battle that didn’t end till the heavy-handed Mexican subdued the gutty McKinney in the 12th and final frame. The fight featured six knockdowns (five of them scored by Barrera).

Speaking of Barrera, Marquez and Johnson were among the very best prizefighters of their era. They cut their teeth with Forum Boxing. Johnson has already has his fist encased in Canastota; the other two will be joining him in a few years.

According to those who knew him, Buss was a fan who just happened to be a promoter.

“The thing that I know most about Buss, that I really felt connected him to boxing, was that he just really liked boxing,” explained Rich Marotta, the voice of Forum Boxing from 1991 to 1999 on Prime Ticket (a cable network started up by Buss with cable magnate Bill Daniels). “He loved boxing and he wanted these fights because he wanted to go to those fights. So he would try to instill in the heads of his matchmakers, Antonio Curtis and the president of Forum Boxing, John Jackson, fights he’d like to see. And the one that I bring to mind is the one he most wanted to see - and they did end up putting it together - was Thomas Hearns against Virgil Hill.

“And I think he went to those guys and said, ‘Hey, what do you guys think about Virgil Hill and Thomas Hearns?’ and he planted that thought and talked it in their minds and those guys came back to Dr. Buss and they started looking into it and said, ‘It’s going to cost too much money,’ and he insisted he really liked the fight and would like to see it made. They were going to be bidding too much and said, ‘Well, make it anyways. We’ll make it happen. We’ll make it worthwhile. By the time they put it together, he was like, ‘Just put it together and we can break even.’”

Hearns defeated Hill for the WBA light heavyweight title outdoors at the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Sources say Buss lost about a million dollars on the promotion - about the cost of a 12th man in the NBA. It was said that Buss kept Forum Boxing around mostly as a tax write-off or a loss-leader.

Marotta states, “I don’t think it was ever put together to be a big winner, financially. I think it was there to satisfy; first of all, he wanted events for his ‘Senate Seats.’ If you remember back in the Forum before they had luxury boxes, they used to have ‘Senate Seat’ holders for fans to buy tickets that they would hold for every event that was being held at the Forum year-round.” Forum Boxing also had a program called the ‘Ringsiders Club,’ which was exclusively for their fight cards. “But I think it was mostly that he wanted boxing; he just liked it and he was willing to fund it and he was willing to put up. If it was a loss-leader, that was fine with him. I think it was always a break even proposition, judging from my conversations with people, that it was never really designed to be a big money winner but a break even proposition and I think he liked going to those fights so much that I think he wanted to be able to go to those fights and have fights to go with his buddies.”

An eclectic group of celebrities and famous athletes would be seen ringside on a regular basis, along with everyone in the fight game, who would congregate to the Forum to talk shop. This included the likes of Mike Tyson and Ray Leonard. “If Sugar Ray Robinson was in the house - and Ray was in the house a lot for a long time - he was always introduced and brought into the ring. Jerry had a respect for fighters and went to almost all the fights, Monday nights in Inglewood. He was there way, way more often than not,” said Beyrooty, who’s most proud of Forum Boxing’s consistency in going through with their bi-monthly schedule, come hell or high water.

“Maybe, 15, 16, 17, 18 years, there was never a canceled boxing event at the Forum,” pointed out Beyrooty, except for one rather infamous slice of L.A. history. “The one postponement came the day of the riots. Now, we postponed that card for a week but there was never a canceled show in all those years.”

They gave fighters a chance to work and hone their skills. Its consistency is missed by boxers, trainers and managers alike. “It opened so many doors,” said Rudy Hernandez, “Chicanito’s” brother, who happened to win the Schlitz Welterweight Tournament, staged by Forum Boxing back in 1983.

Along with sharing space with the Lakers and Kings, Forum Boxing put on shows at the Anaheim Pond and various casinos in Nevada as part of its “Fight Night on KCAL” series out in Los Angeles.

Eventually, Forum Boxing was shuttered at the end of 1999 but it’s fondly remembered by us out here. All of it thanks to Dr. Jerry Buss.

“I think he tried to market in some limited way, the boxing program that he had at the Forum, in a way that would appeal the way it did with the Lakers, with the ‘Showtime [era, highlighted by the team’s “run and gun” style],’ all the celebrities,” said Marotta. “In other words, he was trying to get something exciting. He would invite celebs to the boxing, there were a lot of celebrities who would come down to those fights and became friends with him. There were a lot of beautiful girls. They didn’t have the Laker Girls - but what did they have? The ring girl contest. And that was Doc’s baby.”

(And yes, ask any heterosexual male who had the best ring card girls, pound-for-pound. They will say unanimously it was the Forum. Dr. Buss was the Hugh Hefner of the NBA.)

Marotta continues, “Those tournaments they had at Forum Boxing that was also, you could say, his baby. So there were things he tried to do with boxing that maybe in the long run didn’t work out, obviously, like they did with the Lakers but he was always thinking. And it was an enjoyable aspect, I thought, to the L.A. sports scene and I still, to this day, talk to a lot of people who miss those fights at the Forum.”



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