Age and Zaragoza Catch Up With Zarate : Nelson Takes Unpopular Split Decision for Super-Featherweight Title

Times Staff Writer

They played out one of boxing's old, sad themes Monday night at the Forum.

Carlos Zarate, once a mighty bantamweight champion with one of the best knockout percentages in the history of the sport, became a fallen idol. And it wasn't pretty.

Before 8,442 fans, Zarate, fighting for the World Boxing Council's vacant super-bantamweight championship, was badly beaten by fellow Mexican Daniel Zaragoza on a 10th-round technical knockout. In a second WBC championship bout, Azumah Nelson of Ghana won the vacant super-featherweight title on an unpopular split decision over Azabache Martinez of Mexico City.

Zarate, once the most feared punchers of all the lighter weight classes, was far from it Monday. He was a slow-fisted, slow-footed 36-year-old who looked 46. In Zaragoza, he was facing a 28-year-old opponent he'd have taken out in three rounds a decade ago.

But on a rainy February night, all the old armament was gone, the circuitry frayed. But mysteriously, Zarate's footwork returned after the fight was over. The new champion, Zaragoza, almost immediately came to the interview room to describe his conquest of the old champion, and where was Zarate?

"He's not here," reporters were told.

"Where is he?" reporters asked.

"He's gone to cash his check," they were told, meaning at the Forum box office. Twenty minutes later, Tony Rivera, Zarate's assistant trainer, said: "Carlos has left the building. He's gone."

"Gone," as in retired, many hoped after watching Zarate take 10 rounds of punishment from the light-hitting but bold Zaragoza. The new champion, a left-hander, needed four rounds to find the range with a straight left to Zarate's head, missing with them at first by inches, but once he found the range, he had it down to millimeters.

After the fourth, he rocked the old champion in every round with hard lefts to the head. In the last minute of the ninth round, Zaragoza ripped away at Zarate at will. After the round, ringside physician Dr. Roger Thill looked closely at Zarate.

In the 10th, after Zaragoza landed a big overhand right on Zarate's cheek, the old champion wobbled and his eyes glazed over. Immediately, referee Vince Delgado waved away Zaragoza, making him the WBC super-bantamweight champion on his second try.

Zarate was finished, with a career record of 59-4, which includes an amazing 57 knockouts. Monday night's defeat was the 14th bout of a two-year comeback.

Zaragoza hiked his record to 33-4 with 15 KOs. While Zaragoza talked to reporters, Zarate was marching off to the box office. Zarate got $20,000, the same as Zaragoza.

"He was an idol in Mexico and it was hard for me to hit me hard," Zaragoza said. "He only hurt me once, in the eighth round, with a left hook to my kidney. He's not the fighter he used to be, but he took some big punches and never went down."

The crowd was pro-Zarate, but his fans took their hero's defeat calmly.

The Nelson-Martinez result was a different matter. Most ringsiders felt that Martinez, fighting for the WBC super-featherweight had a decided edge over Nelson. So, when a razor-thin edge for Nelson was announced, the beer flew.

Whatever holds Don King's hair up, began to fail a minute after the decision. Dozens of paper cups of beer sailed down from the loge sections, most of them finding their mark--anyone in the ring. King's vertical gray locks began to wilt.

Judges Rudy Ortega and Terry Smith had it 115-113 for Nelson, judge Marty Samonn had it 114-113, Martinez. Nelson's record fell to 26-2, and Martinez improved to 47-3-2.

Martinez, many felt, had turned the tide in a close battle by knocking Nelson flat on his back with a left hook in the 10th round.

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