Don Fraser, a longtime Los Angeles boxing promoter with a reputation for a colorful wardrobe and offbeat promotional gimmicks, died Wednesday at home in Toluca Lake.
He was 92.
Fraser was a boxing lifer. A boxing historian, too. In his last job, he ran the California State Boxing Hall of Fame. He managed to live his life on both sides of the ropes. First as a fighter. Then a writer, publicist, matchmaker, promoter and regulator.
There’s not much he didn’t do, other than win a fight. He was 0-5. Perhaps that’s why he went on to spend so much time with some of the most memorable winners in the game.
At the height of his career, he was involved in promotions that included Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson and Sugar Ray Robinson. He began promoting at a long-gone venue, the Pico Palace in Los Angeles. He moved on to the Spruce Goose in Long Beach and the Marriott Hotel in Irvine. He also promoted fights at the Olympic Auditorium, the Forum, the Long Beach Auditorium and Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.
Wherever there was an opening bell in Southern California, there was a pretty good chance that Fraser was somewhere nearby.
Fraser, who graduated from Manual Arts High and was a copy boy in The Times’ sports department, is remembered best for working with Art Aragon, one of the most legendary names in the history of Los Angeles boxing.
Aragon, the original Golden Boy, was a lightweight and welterweight champion in the 1950s.
He could double you over in pain with a punch at one moment and double you over in laughter with a prank in the next.
“One time, Aragon showed up for a fight, for which he had to weigh 135 pounds,” Fraser told The Times on Nov. 8, 1987, before he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. “Well, he gets on the scale and he weighs 145. Everybody’s shocked. It looks like the fight is off. Then Aragon laughs, drops his trunks and reveals a weight he’s got strapped around his leg.”
In the promotional art of that era, nothing was too over-the-top for Fraser, who is also in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He bought costumes for Aragon, who would show up at media events dressed like Vincent van Gogh or Shakespeare. There were strippers and boa constrictors and once a lion. Fraser promoted a lightweight named Lauro “the Lion” Salas. Fraser wanted to pose Salas with the real cat. He contacted a lion tamer and a zoo.
“This lion tamer brings out a ferocious-looking lion, who starts sniffing around all of us,” Fraser said. “Salas, wearing boxing gloves, is instructed to stick his left arm into the lion’s face, acting as if he were throwing a jab. The lion takes one look, opens his mouth and tries to take a bite out of Salas’ arm. The only thing that saved him was his reflexes.”