The rebirth of boxing in Ventura after a six-year absence found its roots in Orange County through a casual conversation of two friends.
Paul Konapelsky, the president of LBA Associates of Costa Mesa, a boxing promotions company, and Gary Folgner, owner of the Ventura Theater, were having dinner a few months ago at another Folgner establishment, The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.
"Gary and I were talking about boxing in general and he suggested to me to check out Ventura," Konapelsky said. "So we came to an agreement for a trial run of six monthly matches at the Ventura Theater."
Konapelsky, a lawyer, specializes in boxing and closed-circuit and cable broadcasting contracts through his company, LBA Associates. Konapelsky believes that his background and promotional skills give him the necessary background to make the return of boxing to Ventura a success.
By all accounts, the former boxing programs at the Ventura Fairgrounds were well supported, but for one reason or another--some say a lack of promotional skills--the fight cards disappeared.
"There were a loyal number of boxing fans in the 700 range every month, but it just wasn't enough to keep it going financially," said Art Amelio, an assistant manager at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
Amelio said the lack of seating at the fairground's inside buildings discouraged Jim Gilio, the promoter at the time, from putting on larger programs. Gilio also lost some of his financial backers along the way and could no longer afford to keep the matches going on his own.
Although Ventura hasn't changed much since 1983, the boxing venue has changed, moving from the sparse surroundings of the fairgrounds to the intimate surroundings of the historic Ventura Theater, built in 1928 as a vaudeville show house.
"It's a very beautiful place for a boxing match and the great thing about it is that there is not a bad seat in the house," theater special-projects manager Bill Detko said. "It will hold 1,200 people and we can open up the stage to accommodate more if needed."
LBA promoted amateur boxing at the Holiday Inn On The Beach in Ventura about eight years ago, and was encouraged by the response.
"We feel that pro boxing is a viable sport in this area," said Bobby Rey, LBA public relations director. "Ventura is a beautiful place right on the ocean. There is no reason that boxing, Continental basketball, arena football and other sports can't survive here. This area should be able to support sports events all the time."
LBA hopes that quality matches and the promise of title fights will draw fans from Santa Barbara and the San Fernando Valley.
The first title fight took place last week, complete with some verbal sparring out of the ring. Larry Musgrove, who scored a TKO over James Kinchon to win the World Boxing Assn. Americas middleweight title last February in Las Vegas, fought California state champion Tim Williams.
But Williams refused to put his state championship belt on the line prior to the bout, which incensed Jason Schlessinger, Musgrove's manager.
"We had a contract for both titles and it called for an extra thousand dollars for Williams to put up his belt, but now he denies it," Schlessinger said. "We will file a complaint with the California State Athletic Commission. They should strip him of the title since he hasn't defended it for two years anyway."
Despite the controversy, the evening was deemed a success.
"LBA is putting on some excellent boxing here and I'm so happy to see it," said Fred H. Lampson, treasurer of the WBA and chairman of the Kentucky Athletic Commission, who was on hand to supervise the title bout for the WBA. "The programs should do well here, this is a good area for boxing."
Attendance increased from 300 in March to 738 for the last program and the crowd appeared to enjoy the intimate setting of the old theater. All seats have an unobstructed view of the ring and no seat is farther than 50 feet from the action.
The March crowd appeared more curious and was somewhat disappointed as two of the six bouts were cancelled and the main event lasted only two rounds before the fight doctor stopped the match.
The scene last week was much more festive. It was a fight crowd, not just a bunch of curious observers, and those on hand seemed to enjoy the matches and the night-club atmosphere. This time, only one bout on the card was cancelled.
Among those on hand for the title showdown were super welterweight Lupe Aquino of Santa Paula, the retired Ray (Windmill) White, heavyweights Mike Hunter, Rufus Hadley and Ron Lyle, and WABF welterweight champ Derrick (Hurricane) Kelly.
There has been speculation that Aquino, who awaits trial on vehicular manslaughter charges, could be on an upcoming LBA card at the theater, even as soon as next month. Robert Caron, Aquino's lawyer said, "Lupe is at a training camp in the mountains near San Diego right now, but I am sure he would be interested in fighting in Ventura again."
Ticket prices range from $20 in the balcony to $40 ringside, a price that may be high for local blue-collar types. Nevertheless, LBC pushes on with bigger plans.
Rey said they have been talking to fight promoter Bob Arum about setting up a future title fight. "We want Arum to have Roberto Duran fight Musgrove for his fifth title shot as a middleweight, then he could go after Sugar Ray Leonard if he is able to get it set up."
Rey says the Musgrove-Duran fight, if it comes off, could be in Ventura, but LBA would probably have to move to a bigger building, such as Ventura College or the outdoor stadium at the Fairgrounds.
Most of the job of finding the right talent falls on the shoulders of the LBA's Buddy Bereal, who apparently has the right contacts after five years in the ring. Bereal, who fought as a welterweight, posted 24 knockouts in 28 pro fights.
Bereal's insight to the boxing game was also expanded with a five-year stint on the California Athletic Commission as a boxing inspector.
"My job is to get the best talent and match-ups possible," Bereal said. "Boxing is like a big family and we all help each other out to get quality matches. I will call all around the country to get the best matches."
Bereal says experienced friends like Eddie Futch, George Foreman, Ritchie Steele and Carlos Palomino have been giving him leads and assistance.
But Bereal has not forgotten that there is some boxing talent in Ventura County. He booked three local professionals on the first LBA card in March and he will continue to do so as long as the talent holds out.
But Bereal stressed that he will not book a local fighter just for the sake of having someone from the area on the card.
Will the boxing fans of Ventura County support this new venture or will it be a six-month experiment that fades away? Can Ventura be a championship boxing town?
"When anyone puts on a nice professional event anywhere, it can be successful," said Dan Goossen, head of the Ten Goose Boxing Club of North Hollywood that developed International Boxing Federation middleweight champion Michael Nunn. "Some of my people were at their show the other night and they said they put on a very nice program."
Another boxing promoter, Don Fraser of Irvine, was not as optimistic.
"I think they would have to draw at least 1,000 people every time to make it financially," he said. "I have a lot of business promotions and support in Irvine and they will have to do the same there or it will be a struggle for them."
The next four months will be telling. Professional boxing will be on the critical list, hoping to improve each time until it becomes a viable monthly operation.
But after round two, LBA is still punching and looking strong, searching for that knockout punch that will keep the local fans coming back for more.