By Steve Kim: This weekend, the newly refurbished and renovated Fabulous Forum in Inglewood (once the home of the Lakers and Kings) re-opens its doors as a boxing venue, welcoming back its prodigal pugilist son, Juan Manuel Marquez, who faces Mike Alvarado in a crossroads welterweight battle. When you think of Forum Boxing (which closed up shop in 1999) and its heyday, one of the first names you think of is Rich Marotta, who, for years, called the action for Prime Ticket and then Fox Sports.
There isn’t anyone as excited for this event as Marotta, who will be flying in from Reno to be in attendance.
“Forum Boxing provided me with my first regular job in calling boxing, blow-by-blow or color, on television,” said Marotta, who worked alongside the likes of Chick Hearn, Tom Kelly and Ruben Castillo at various times. “I was doing fights here and there even before Forum Boxing prior to getting that regular gig. After that, I got a number of regular gigs but it was Forum Boxing that was my breakthrough as far as becoming a regular broadcaster of boxing on television. So it’s special to me that way.
“And the thing is that at the Forum with the staff there, with the fighters, with the fans, it became like a family and so every couple of weeks on Monday night, you were getting together with your family and it was really a different thing,” recalled Marotta. During its prime, the Forum hosted cards twice a month. “You rarely see a situation where you’re selling season tickets to boxing matches and that was different and to see those same faces, to see your friends, people who became your friends, the same media, to see the characters, Jerry Buss, to see the ring card girls, I mean, all of that became part of it.
“It was real important for me in my broadcast career, personally.”
When Marotta was asked to list his five most memorable fights (that took place under the auspices of Forum Boxing Inc.), he gladly offered the following:
5 - Frankie Duarte TKO 10 Alberto Davila (June 27th, 1987): “This was a CBS afternoon fight when the networks were still doing it. Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy, I think were calling the fight. [Duarte and Davila] were both pretty much at the end of their careers but they had a fight 10 years earlier and Davila had won when they were both coming up the ladder. So now they were going to be where they were in the twilights of their career and it just became a bloodbath. Davila dominated the early rounds; he dropped Duarte in the fourth with a right hand.
“But Duarte came back; he cut up Davila really bad and he was just bleeding bad and Lou Filippo was the referee and they kept calling the doctor up between rounds and I think between sixth, seventh and eighth and they said that the blood was actually turning dark. And they were a little nervous about it and they stopped the fight with Davila out in front on points and Davila was really angry and there was a big controversy afterwards that they stopped it. Duarte was awarded the victory. It wasn’t a points thing; it was a TKO.”
4 - Rafael Ruelas UD 12 Freddie Pendleton (February 19th, 1994): “That was ‘Rafa’ on the way up. Pendleton was the [IBF] lightweight champion of the world and the thing that I remember most about Ruelas was that he had a great reputation as a real puncher. He was undefeated and he was just having a tremendous career under [trainer] Joe Goossen and Dan Goossen promoting him and Pendleton came in and everybody just expected Ruelas to go right through him. And Pendleton dropped him twice in the first round and it looked like Ruelas was going to get stopped in the very first round.
“But he made it through and then the rest of the fight was a very close fight and Ruelas squeezed out a very close and controversial decision that elevated him to a world championship.”
3 - Bernardo Pinango UD 15 Frankie Duarte (February 3rd, 1987): “Duarte and Pinango was a [WBA bantamweight] world championship and this was going to be the culmination of Frankie Duarte’s comeback. He had been off for a few years. He had substance abuse problems. He had a very promising beginning to his career but then he faded away and got himself in trouble. He came back and he had great popularity. It was a great reclamation job by Ten Goose Boxing and they got Frankie and built him back up and a lot of his fans were at the Forum.
“It was a 15-rounder and I got a chance to work on that fight as a broadcaster. It was Chick and Ruben who called the fight but I was doing pre-fight and I did the post-fight interview with Duarte. What I remember about it was that Duarte had the house completely. They were just rocking the Forum for Frankie, the chants of ‘Frankie! Frankie! Frankie!’ throughout the fight and he was, I thought, dominating the fight. He hurt Pinango really bad, knocked him down and then the decision came and they announced Pinango as a close winner and I still remember Chick saying these three words: ‘A stunning decision.’ It got quiet in there and I interviewed Frankie after that fight. It was a tough one for him to accept and he never won a world championship and that was his big opportunity.”
2 - Saman Sorjaturong TKO 7 Humberto Gonzalez (July 15th, 1995): “That ‘Chiquita’-Sorjaturong fight was probably the best fight I ever broadcast at the Forum from a sheer action standpoint and then a stunning finish. The thing I remember is ‘Chiquita’ was a pretty dominant champ; he had fought Michael Carbajal three times and he was really standing tall in his weight division (light flyweight), which I believe was 108-pounds. Sorjaturong was kind of unknown and Gonzalez was pummeling him pretty bad at the end of six rounds. Gonzalez had floored him in the sixth round and I think they were about ready to stop the fight and then Sorjaturong just came on and brutally cut Gonzalez, knocked him down a time or two and they stopped the fight.
“It was such a shocking ending seeing ‘Chiquita,’ who is this Mexican icon at the time, seeing him go through that. That quick transition from being in complete control of the bout to suddenly being dominated and stopped. It was a shock.”
1 - Marco Antonio Barrera TKO 12 Kennedy McKinney (February 3rd, 1996): “That was the fight where Barrera had to prove himself, that he was really world quality. Kennedy McKinney had been an Olympic gold medalist; they had a rather cantankerous pre-fight build-up to that. I think there might have even been some pushing and shoving at the press conference between the two. Barrera had had a number of decent wins over decent contenders but not anyone like McKinney, so he had to do something to show the world. And with that being the beginning of HBO’s ‘Boxing After Dark,’ that was the first time I ever got to work an international telecast. It was just me doing the fight internationally on the foreign broadcast by myself.
“So I got a chance to broadcast that whole card and see Barrera basically elevate himself against a really good fighter in Kennedy McKinney. Barrera was undefeated at the time but he had still not made his bones. This is the one he really crashed through.”
Here are some other remembrances of that building’s boxing history from Marotta (via email):
“In the era before Forum Boxing Inc. but fights that took place at the Forum, my fave 5 are:
Bobby Chacon vs. Danny “Little Red” Lopez (the all-time classic local war)
Carlos Zarate vs. Alfonzo Zamora (epic battle between 2 undefeated champions)
Julio Cesar Chavez-Roger Mayweather (tremendous battle of attrition)
Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton II, (I thought Norton won again)
Jose Napoles-Billy Backus (I sat, as a young fan, 3 rows from the top, guy in front of me had biggest sombrero ever).
“Among other memories: the quality of fighters who made Forum their regular home, MAB, JMM, Mark ‘Too Sharp’ [Johnson], Genaro [Hernandez], among them ring announcer Jeff Temkin (who died of cancer), Budweiser ring card girls.”
Oh, yes, the Budweiser girls...