Title Fights to Turn Up Heat in Palm Springs : Boxing: Taylor to defend title against Garcia. Curry will challenge Norris in second feature.


There are going to be a lot of fistfights here tonight, which is not unusual during spring break week. But the young adults with beer flowing through their veins who normally do the fighting have long since gone home.

Now, in the heart of this desert resort, the fighting will be conducted by professionals, some of the best boxers in the world.

In one bout, Meldrick Taylor, the World Boxing Assn. welterweight champion, will defend his title against unbeaten Luis Garcia of Venezuela. In the second feature, Terry Norris, the World Boxing Council super-welterweight champion who dismantled Sugar Ray Leonard in February, will put his title up against former champion Donald Curry.


Those bouts, along with the return to the ring of highly regarded Arleta lightweight Gabriel Ruelas, sidelined for more than a year because of a broken bone in his elbow, will be held outdoors, in a specially built 6,300-seat arena at the Radisson Palm Springs Resort. They will be televised by HBO.

Both title fights offer some mystery.

In the first, scheduled to start at 7 p.m., Norris (27-3) will fight for the first time since his victory over Leonard, the outcome of which he termed, “a sad victory.”

A letdown is possible, and against Curry, who has been beaten four times but still possesses a crushing left hook, a letdown could cost Norris his title and millions of dollars in future bouts.

“When Terry beat Ray Leonard in February, I told a friend that Norris would fight me next,” said Curry, 29.

“I knew I was the only marquee name out there for him to fight. This fight will make or break me. If I lose, I can say goodby to boxing. And I’m not ready for that yet.”

Curry, 33-4 with 24 knockouts, won the WBA welterweight title in 1983 and the WBC belt in 1985, when he knocked out Milton McCrory in the second round.


But a year later, in a fight he said he did not train for, Curry was knocked out in the sixth round by 9-1 underdog Lloyd Honeyghan of England. It was the beginning of a long slide. Three fights later he was knocked out with one punch by Mike McCallum.

Curry won the WBC super-welterweight title in 1988 by stopping Gianfranco Rosi of Italy, but lost it seven months later when he was pummeled by Rene Jacquot of France.

Last October he stepped up to the middleweight division to fight Michael Nunn, then the International Boxing Federation champion, and was knocked out in the 10th round.

“This is it for me,” Curry said of tonight’s fight. “Either I win or I’m out.”

Norris, 23, figures Curry will be out.

“Donald Curry has great hopes, but I’ll be there to prove him wrong,” Norris said. “I’m a warrior. I’ll be at my best.”

Last year, in his last fight before facing Leonard, Norris won a lopsided decision in France over Jacquot.

In the other main fight, Taylor, who is still smarting from a controversial, last-second defeat--the only one in his 28-bout pro career--to Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez in March of 1990, vowed not to underestimate the little-known Garcia (21-0).


“I expect a tough fight,” Taylor said. “I know this guy is tough.”

Taylor and his handlers--Manager Lou Duva and trainer George Benton--apparently knew not much more than that about the Venezuelan, who has fought almost exclusively in Latin America.

“We’ve never seen him fight, but we just found out this week that the guy’s left-handed,” Duva said. “We watched a tape of him and he was right-handed. Don’t matter. Meldrick will knock him out.”

Benton was a bit more concerned after watching Garcia work out at the hotel.

“You’d think someone would have told us he was left-handed,” Benton said. “It’s just one of those things that happens. If I had known, I would have had Meldrick working against southpaws in the gym.”

Later, one of Garcia’s handlers whispered to a reporter, “Don’t tell anyone, but Luis is really right-handed. He worked out left-handed to fool them.”

All of which probably will make little difference.

“Doesn’t make any difference, really,” Benton said. “This guy won’t be able to stand up to Meldrick either way.”

As for Garcia’s record of 17 knockouts, Benton doesn’t see much significance in that, either.


“He’s fought nobody,” Benton said. “And he stops people by wearing them out. He ain’t killed nobody. He ain’t got no private graveyard anywhere. And believe me, he won’t wear out Meldrick Taylor.”

Taylor, among all of his other accomplishments, knocked out a fighter named Rocky Balboa--honest--in 1989.

In the other bout of some interest, Ruelas, 21, returns after a 13-month layoff following his freak injury during a fight against Jeff Franklin in Las Vegas. Ruelas had injured his arm in the weeks leading up the fight, and in the seventh round Franklin wrenched Ruelas’ injured right arm during a clinch, snapping a bone in the elbow.

In two extensive operations, pins were inserted to hold the bones together during the healing process. Ruelas was given medical clearance two months ago to resume his career.

Ruelas, 21-1 with 14 knockouts, is the older brother of Rafael Ruelas, the unbeaten featherweight.

The championship fights are the first to be held in Palm Springs in more than two decades. Duva, who also handles heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, said he might be back, having tired of the traditional fight sites, Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J.


“With pay-per-view TV so popular, sites like Palm Springs are the future of boxing,” Duva said. “Nice places. Not casinos full of drunks.”