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They Have Retired From Ring but Can Still Tell a Punch Line

They are like a group of war veterans when they get together, swapping old stories about old battles.

But those battles were fought with fists, not guns. The scars they carry into old age--cauliflower ears, flattened noses, drooping eyelids--were inflicted not on the battlefield, but in the ring.

They are the fighters of earlier generations.

More than a 100 of them attended a luncheon in the Hollywood area last week to honor two of their own. George Latka, a lightweight who fought from 1937 to 1942 and became a trainer, manager and referee, was celebrating his 84th birthday. Art Aragon, a welterweight from 1944 to 1959, and the man known as the Golden Boy before Oscar De La Hoya was even born, was turning 71.

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Among those in attendance were Bobby Chacon, Mando Ramos and Ruben Castillo, all big names from L.A.'s glorious boxing past.

Naturally, many of the oldest members of the group move a little slower, the once-blazing hands reduced to a mere shake. But that doesn’t distinguish them from any other group of senior citizens.

Ask them about one of their fights, however, and watch the eyes light up and the hands begin to move as they talk.

Charlie Powell a former heavyweight and a pro football player with the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, remembered a fight he had in 1963 with a brash young kid named Cassius Clay.

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“Early in the fight,” Powell said, “I hit him with a right hand to the stomach. It seemed like I hit him so well that my hand went in all the way up to the elbow. Everybody in the building thought it was over.”

It was, but not the way Powell envisioned.

“He started throwing punches so fast. . . ,” said Powell, his voice trailing off. “And when you tried to hit him, he got out of the way like he had radar in his head.”

Clay, in those pre-Muhammad Ali days, had predicted that Powell would be gone in three rounds. Clay used to brag, “They all shall fall in the round I call.”

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Sure enough, Powell was stopped in the third round.

Aragon remembers when he met actor William Holden, who had been in a boxing movie called “Golden Boy.” When a fan approached Holden and referred to the actor as Golden Boy, Holden pointed to Aragon, who was by his side, and said, “He’s the Golden Boy.”

The name stuck throughout Aragon’s ring career and was revived in 1992 when De La Hoya won a gold medal at the Olympics Games.

And how does Aragon feel about De La Hoya taking over his nickname?

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“With the money he’s making,” Aragon said, “they can call him anything he wants.”

Asked how he feels about fighters routinely making in excess of $1 million a fight, Latka, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1937 with a $1 in his pocket, said: “I envy them. Some of the guys here feel like we were cheated out of the big money.”

But Latka can’t say he was cheated out of a minute in the ring. He fought 159 times as an amateur, 55 as a pro and refereed for 28 years.

“And I loved it all,” he said.

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The money was awful in those earlier years and the medical care was often worse, but at the birthday luncheon, there weren’t any regrets heard from any of the fighters.

Other than that they all wished they’d been born a little later.

THE OTHER FAVORITE SON

Sugar Shane Mosley doesn’t have a gold medal to match De La Hoya’s. But he can match De La Hoya blow for blow in just about every other category.

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Both are from the Los Angeles area, De La Hoya from East L.A., Mosley from Pomona.

Both are champions, De La Hoya holding the World Boxing Council welterweight title, Mosley the International Boxing Federation lightweight championship.

Both are 29-0, De La Hoya with 26 knockouts and Mosley with 27.

Mosley can extend his unbeaten mark tonight when he defends his title against James Leija (37-3-2, 15 knockouts) at the Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.

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CALENDAR

Thursday--Ricky Quiles vs. Francisco Mendez for WBF junior-middleweight title, Reseda Country Club, 7:30 p.m.

Gustavo Tapia vs. Rogelio Castaneda, junior-welterweights, Irvine Marriott, 7:30 p.m.


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