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BOXING / EARL GUSTKEY : Hill-Hearns Has a Personal Touch

The Forum’s entree into big-time boxing, Virgil Hill vs. Thomas Hearns at Caesars Palace June 3, is a fight that came together only after a chance airport meeting by the principals.

Hill, the World Boxing Assn. light-heavyweight champion, was beginning to think that he would never get Hearns in a ring, until he found him in an airport, he said this week.

“Six months ago, I was so frustrated over the pace of the negotiations, the problems, all the fall-outs, that I’d just about given up hope of ever fighting Tommy,” Hill said.

“Then one afternoon I flew into Las Vegas from Phoenix just as Tommy was flying out to Detroit. I mean, I literally bumped into him. We’d never talked to each other directly about the fight, so we started talking right there.”

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Hill (30-0) has defended his title 10 times. But historically, light-heavyweight champions can’t seem to get a major fight unless they take on a heavyweight champion or a big name former middleweight such as Hearns.

Fighting Hearns, Hill figured, would put his name in lights, to say nothing of lighting up his bank account. He will earn about $1.5 million for fighting Hearns, who will get slightly less than $4 million.

“We just started talking,” Hill said of the airport meeting. “Tommy’s a good guy. We both wanted the fight. I told him he needed me just like I needed him, and he agreed. It’s the logical fight for both of us.

“We both agreed if we fought, it would be a great thing for the light-heavyweight class.

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“I said: ‘Tommy, let’s cut through all this . . . and just do it. He agreed. We found out just talking that money was never really an issue for either one of us.

“And we pulled each other’s chain,” Hill said. “He kept telling me: ‘I don’t know, maybe you’re too big for me. Maybe I’d better find some little guy.’

“Anyhow, he gave me his home and car phone numbers, and we talked later. After that, things came together pretty fast.”

All of which pleased the promoter, Jerry Buss. The Laker owner has been losing money for years on his Forum boxing shows, but that might change.

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Buss has closely watched the rapid growth of pay-per-view boxing revenues. And although he might lose money on Hill-Hearns, that’s not the point, he says.

“We’re going to do the pay-per-view ($29.95 a household) ourselves, so it’ll be an educational experience for all of it,” Buss said.

“We’re novices, but we’re not without some experience, either. Our goal with this fight is a 3.5 to 4.0% penetration (in the pay-per-view market).”

Nothing has been announced, but a series of pay-per-view Forum boxing promotions could follow Hill-Hearns. Buss acknowledges that his dream is a major Forum heavyweight fight, something that hasn’t happened since Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton II in 1973.

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That will happen, he said, as pay-per-view begins to pull major fights out of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

“As these pay-per-view dollars grow (gross revenue from Evander Holyfield-Buster Douglas last October was a record $38 million), the site fee becomes less and less significant,” Buss said.

“That means promoters at other venues around the country will be more and more willing to bid on the major fights. It’s still a casino hotels game now, but that will change.

“In three to five years, the pay-per-view universe will be about 35 million homes, instead of 15 million now. That will mean $100-million fights. At that point, casino hotel operators won’t be the only ones willing to risk $6 million or $7 million site fees for big fights.”

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Virgil Hill, be advised. Forum boxing staffers are starting to answer the phone: “Forum boxing, graveyard of champions.”

First, Forum headliner Paul Banke lost his super-bantamweight world championship when upset last November by Pedro Decima.

Next, in December, light-flyweight world champion Humberto Gonzales lost to an obscure Filipino, Rolando Pasqua.

And Monday, Tijuana’s Raul Perez, a longtime Forum attraction and king of the bantamweights, was upset in his eighth championship defense by little-known Greg Richardson of Youngstown, Ohio.

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What’s going on? Has a Buster Douglas upset syndrome hit boxing in all weight classes?

That’s not how Richardson’s trainer, Earl Charity, sees it. First of all, it wasn’t an upset, he said.

“We studied Perez tapes after we got the fight, and Greg and I both knew Perez couldn’t beat Greg,” he said.

“Perez is a good boxer, but he’s a very slow fighter, and I’m talking about foot speed and hand speed. He was also strictly a two-punch fighter, a left jab and a straight right.

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“He also has a flaw with his right hand. He lifts his elbow just before he throws the punch. Greg saw every one coming before he threw it.”

Boxing writers who rated Perez one of the sport’s best boxers need more schooling, Charity said.

“Greg has been just about the best bantamweight in the world for the last couple of years and everyone in boxing knew it,” he said. “That’s why we couldn’t get him fights.

Richardson, who made $12,000 for beating Perez, has never earned more than a $20,000 purse--the sum he made when he lost to Jeff Fenech in Australia in 1987. After beating Perez on a unanimous decision Monday, Richardson is 29-3.

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Boxing Notes

Rafael Ruelas, Ten Goose Boxing’s featherweight who improved to 23-0 Tuesday in Reseda, steps up in class March 31 when he meets former champion Stevie Cruz at the Sands in Las Vegas. Cruz has slipped since his title-winning upset over Barry McGuigan in 1986, but should still be a big test for Ruelas. . . . Ruelas’ manager-promoter, Dan Goossen, is trying to match junior-middleweight champion Terry Norris against Donald Curry.

Michael Carbajal, nothing short of sensational in two defenses since winning his light-flyweight championship last summer, will defend again in Las Vegas March 17 against Hector Luis Patri of Argentina. If successful, he goes again May 10 against No. 1-ranked Domingo Sosa of the Dominican Republic. That one will be in the Angels’ Class-A baseball park in Davenport, Iowa, on the undercard of the Michael Nunn-James Toney middleweight championship fight.

Look for the “no smoking” signs to go up at Forum boxing shows. Jerry Buss, who owns the building, has quit smoking. Right now, it’s OK to smoke at the fights, but not at NBA games. . . . California Boxing Commissioner Jerry Nathanson will recommend the following sentence be written into the 1992 state rule book section regarding weigh-in procedures: “Both contestants shall be weighed in at the same time and place.”

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Seats in the Caesars outdoor arena will be scaled from $50 to $400 for Virgil Hill and Thomas Hearns. . . . At a Forum news conference, Hearns, 32, told Hill, 27, that Hill would “feel like an old man” after taking a beating. Responded Hill: “Maybe so, Tommy but I will always look younger than you.”


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