Becerra Set the Tone for New Sports Arena


That ticking sound you hear in Los Angeles, in the Convention Center district, is the countdown to a grand opening for the Staples Center.

Or . . . could it be the countdown to demolition of the Sports Arena?

When the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena was completed in the summer of 1959, it was the most modern indoor sports facility in America.

For Southland sports followers used to going to the fights at the Olympic Auditorium or Hollywood Legion Stadium, or to college basketball games at the Pan Pacific Auditorium (or, before that, the Shrine Auditorium), the gleaming Sports Arena took their breath away.

And 40 years ago tonight, four days after the building was formally dedicated, Los Angeles had its first Sports Arena event, an exciting world bantamweight title fight between a wildly popular Mexican, Joe Becerra, and the Algerian champion, Alphonse Halimi.

A crowd of 15,110, most of them Becerra partisans, came to watch. They were amply rewarded with a fast-paced fight, the champion, a 2-1 favorite, pressing much of the action but Becerra countering well off the ropes.

Becerra, who came in with 11 consecutive knockouts, caught up to Halimi in the seventh with a flurry at the bell.

Becerra went to work quickly in the eighth, backing Halimi up with a crisp combination, the crowd rising to its feet. Becerra caught Halimi with a left hook flush on the jaw and Halimi was counted out face-down in Becerra's corner.

Becerra fans poured into the ring, generating a wild victory celebration. Ushers cowered. The Sports Arena was open for business.

Also on this date: In 1941, in Detroit, Ted Williams, 22, brought baseball's All-Star game to a sudden end with a mammoth, three-run homer in the ninth inning to give the American League a 7-5 victory. Williams' ball landed in the right-field upper deck, 90 feet above the playing field. . . . In 1972, former heavyweight boxer Zora Folley, 40, died in a swimming pool accident. . . . In 1967, at the Coliseum, Jim Ryun, 20, broke Herb Elliott's 7-year-old 1,500-meter world record by 2 1/2 seconds, running 3:33.1. Kenyan Kip Keino, 30 yards behind, clocked 3:37.2, ninth fastest in history.

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