BOXING / EARL GUSTKEY : Fraser Took His Shows to the Suburbs

In 1948, Don Fraser was a copy boy in The Times' sports department and was occasionally assigned to cover boxing matches.

He was only three years out of Manual Arts High, but was already troubled by his career direction. Writing about boxing, he figured, was no way to make an honest living.

So he became a boxing publicist, and later a promoter.

"I became the publicist for Hollywood Legion Stadium in 1952, but I got my big break when Jack Kent Cooke put me in charge of Forum boxing in 1970," said Fraser, 64, who will retire next month after 42 years in boxing.

For the past six years, Fraser has promoted the monthly boxing shows at the Irvine Marriott. His longtime event coordinator, Roy Englebrecht, will take over after Fraser's last show next month.

When Fraser staged his first Irvine show in 1985, it was an experiment. No one had ever tried boxing in the L.A. suburbs before, but Fraser noticed that new suburban hotels all seemed to have ballrooms in which 1,400 to 1,800 seats could be placed, around a ring.

"At that first 1985 show, we sold out in two weeks," he said. Fraser marketed the shows primarily in Irvine office buildings--to upwardly mobile types. Yuppie Boxing, some call it.

Whatever, it worked. He leaves Englebrecht with a mailing list of 1,300 who have been his regulars in recent years. Fraser avoided expensive, troublesome championship-level fights. Instead, he concentrated on well-matched bouts likely to produce action.

The result was one 1,400-seat sellout after another.

Not that Fraser has no experience with championship fights. When Forum boxing was in its heyday, in the early 1970s, Fraser was in charge. His meal ticket then was Ruben Olivares, who three times put more than 18,000 in the Forum.

And when the second Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton fight fizzled in San Diego, Fraser got it.

"The promoter in San Diego had some problems, and I said to Jack Kent Cooke: 'We can do this, let's get it.' "

The result was one of modern boxing's most memorable heavyweight fights, won by Ali on a split decision. The gate that night, Sept. 10, 1973, was $548,000, a California boxing record that lasted until last year, when Tony Lopez and Jorge Paez drew $601,000 in Sacramento.

Fraser has done it all--boxing writer, publicist, promoter--and regulator. From 1981 to 1983, he was the chief executive officer of the California Athletic Commission.

He left his Forum post for the state commission post, a move he says now was a mistake.

"I figured I'd put in 10 years, get a state pension, then retire," he said. "But I wasn't born and bred in the state system. I couldn't handle it. New commissioners kept coming in, the bureaucracy . . . I didn't enjoy it at all."

And boxing today?

"Too many people are trying to run boxing, there's too much nonsense . . . too many cheap champions," he said.

"And I don't see any new, talented trainers coming into boxing. A guy can call himself a trainer, but then I watch some of these fighters and I wonder what these trainers could possibly be teaching them."

Fraser and his wife of 38 years, Ruth, live in North Hollywood but are house-hunting in Palm Springs. He hopes his won't be a complete retirement.

"I'd like to do some occasional boxing consulting, but nothing full time," he said.

Promoter Don King recently delivered on a promise to contribute a significant sum to the USO and the Red Cross from receipts of the March 18 Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock I fight.

He recently presented $379,000 checks to the USO and the Red Cross in Washington.

"He (King) told us it was from Team Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez," said Kevin McCarthy, executive director of the USO.

A USO news release said its $379,000 gift represented a share of the $33.4 million pay-per-view gross of Tyson-Ruddock I, and that Tyson and Chavez contributed $50,000 each to the sum.

Bob Maxey, chief executive officer of the MGM Grand Hotel now under construction in Las Vegas, says the facility will have 5,000 rooms and a 15,000-seat indoor sports arena/entertainment center. "It's going to be similar to Madison Square Garden," Maxey said of the arena, "and with it we'll take major prize fights in Las Vegas to a new level. The days of parking lot fights here are over."

Worth watching: The Forum's Z-card tonight: flyweight Ysaias Zamudio (25-3-1) of Blythe and super-bantamweight Rudy Zavala (12-0) of Rosemead.

Zamudio will fight Edgar Decena and Zavala will face Mark Brooks in the co-feature.

Zavala's manager, Herb Stone, hopes Zavala gets by Brooks tonight so he can push for a title fight with Forum regular Raul Perez, who recently won a super-bantamweight title at the Forum.

Quip of the week: Ex-light-heavyweight champion Billy Conn, now 74, while watching the recent Larry Holmes-Art Card heavyweight fight: "You know what? I could beat both of these guys . . . and I don't mean in 1941, I mean now."

Boxing Notes

Dr. Thomas Thaxter of Fresno, who is ill, resigned from the Athletic Commission Friday. . . . The World Boxing Hall of Fame banquet will be held Oct. 26 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. . . . Greg Haugen vs. Alfonso Perez Oct. 29 at the Country Club in Reseda. . . . Joe Byrd of Flint, Mich., coach of the 1992 U.S. Olympic boxing team, could very easily wind up with two sons on his team. Chris Byrd is ranked the No. 1 U.S. amateur middleweight by USA Boxing and Patrick Byrd is the No. 2 welterweight.

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