Column

Boxing offers opportunity to pay respects to the fading Sports Arena

The fate of the 56-year-old Los Angeles Sports Arena has been sealed, but there remains time for a curtain call or two before the wrecking balls roll in.

After the wrecking balls will come soccer balls.

Two months ago, the Los Angeles Football Club, which has nothing to do with the NFL and is apparently trying to convince us of the need to be more universal in our sports terminology, announced plans to build a new stadium. The plan is for 22,000 seats and lots of the fancy facility enhancements that fans now demand, and correctly so, for their attendance dollar.

It will become home for an expansion team in Major League Soccer.

Nothing there to feel bad about. It should be just another great sports facility in a city filled with great sports venues.

Look at it this way. If we build five or six more, maybe put out another $100 billion or $200 billion to do so, the aristocrats of the International Olympic Committee who decide which places are best suited for Olympic Games, might stop awarding them to cities that have to go belly up with construction costs.

One of these years, a city part way along in its Olympic preparation process is going to call the IOC bluebloods and back out of the deal, saying it has decided to put a higher priority on feeding and housing its poor than creating comfort zones for rhythmic gymnasts. Over tea, and in desperation, the bluebloods will call L.A.

IOC board member Anita DeFrantz and David Simon, president of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, will have a meeting; 1984 Olympic organizer Peter Ueberroth will be on speaker phone; and Los Angeles, with all its venues long in place, will be ready to host another Olympics in a month or so.

"Better hire some ushers," Ueberroth will advise.

Until then, while celebrating the new, we shouldn't let go of the old without a going-away party or two. Oscar De La Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions are throwing one Saturday. Attendance is not mandatory, especially if you aren't keen on boxing, but the tickets are cheap and the doors of the Sports Arena won't be open a lot more before the heavy equipment knocks them down.

USC runs the Coliseum and Sports Arena now. USC official Todd Dickey, in an email, was clear about the path ahead:

"The goal is to have the stadium built to open for the 2018 MLS season … With city approval, the Sports Arena will be demolished. The timing of this approval is unknown, so we are continuing to book events."

Saturday's Golden Boy event would be a fitting last one. It matches two lesser-known main event fighters, Mauricio (El Maestro) Herrera and (Hammerin') Hank Lundy. They are super-lightweights, brawling little guys.

Los Angeles used to be the main spot in the universe for brawling little guys. And when the really good brawling little guys became too big for the Olympic Auditorium, they went to the shiny new Sports Arena.

The place officially opened 56 years and two days ago, the Fourth of July, 1959. Richard Nixon, then the vice president, did the ceremony. The real opening came four days later.

Bantamweight champion Alphonse Halimi, a Moroccan Jew and a former circus acrobat, took on Mexican Jose Becerra. In L.A. in those days, that was Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman.

The Sports Arena was so new there was still scaffolding up.

Longtime boxing official Bill Caplan, there on a free ticket that started his run of 56 years without paying to get into a sports event of any kind, characterized the sound when Becerra knocked out Halimi, as "a jet airplane taking off."

Boxing has a huge piece of the place's history.

Ali fought there, told the world he would knock out an aging Archie Moore in four rounds — perfect for an Ali slogan, "Moore Must Fall in 4"— and did so.

Danny (Little Red) Lopez and Bobby Chacon grew too big for the Olympic, so they went to the Sports Arena and Chacon won.

There was so much else.

The Minneapolis Lakers came to town in the early 1960s and played there. Tommy Hawkins often tells about the days when players drove around in open top cars with megaphones, begging people to come to their games. They averaged about 5,000 attendance, but then, they didn't have any really good players, only a couple of guys named Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

John Wooden won 20% of his NCAA titles in the Sports Arena, prevailing in 1968 and '72. The U.S. once was good in Olympic boxing and best in '84 in the Sports Arena, where it won nine gold medals and Evander Holyfield got jobbed on an officials' decision and only got bronze.

The L.A. Classic basketball tournament, a marquee event, attracted great college basketball matchups to the Sports Arena. Adolph Rupp brought his Kentucky Wildcats there, then scolded Wooden because the attendance was only about 5,000.

For 43 years, Al Franken ran his Sunkist indoor track meet there, and all the world's track stars came because it was a great event and Franken was relentless in getting them there.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy got the Democratic nomination there in the summer of 1960 and eventually walked next door to the Coliseum for his acceptance speech. There, he said his Catholicism "is not relevant" and noted that he was standing on the edge of "a New Frontier."

And there were great concerts. Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, U2, Madonna. Tom Hoffarth in the L.A. Daily News recently wrote about Bruce Springsteen knocking 'em dead in the Sports Arena, even in its less-than-slick-and-shiny recent days, and The Boss calling the place "The Dump That Jumps."

The dump won't exactly be jumping Saturday night for this boxing card. But it will be holding an event.

In light of what is about to happen, that makes it special.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

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