Monday, June 21, 2010

Back in 1965 . . .

By Rick Farris

Thursday was fight night at L.A.'s Olympic Auditorium back in the mid-60's.
In early 1965, KTLA Ch-5 began to televise weekly boxing from the 18th & Grand arena.
Almost immediatly, "Boxing from the Olympic", became the highest rated sports broadcast in Southern Cal.

My first visit to the Olympic had taken place the previous year, when flyweight champ, Hiroyuki Ebihara defended his title against Mexico's "Alacran" Torres. That one ended in a riot, and it was nearly a year before my dad would take me back to see a fight live. When he did, I would see the Olympic on a thursday night for the first time. This time, two TV cameras were perched on a platform hanging right below the balcony. Above the cameras on the edge of the balcony, were ten 2,000 watt spotlights, providing front fill light for the cameras. The ring was bathed in a blanket of white light beaming down from a cluster incandescent light fixtures directly above the ring.

The aura of the Olympic ring came to life when accented by the TV lights. The powder blue canvas would glow in the light, something very surreal. I was hooked the moment I stepped into the Olympic that night. At ringside, calling the action for the TV audience were matchmaker Mickey Davies and a young sportscaster named Dick Enberg. I felt at home there, I felt I belonged, I felt the presence of the spirits of greatness that had once boxed and wrestled there. I wanted to spend a lot of time there, and I would, as both a fan and a fighter.

My dad took a buddy and I to the fights that night. We had tickets about a dozen rows back from the ring, good seats, great view.
The main event that night was a barn burner. State featherweight champ, Danny Valdez, fought a ten round war with Pete Gonzalez of Portland. Valdez had beaten Gonzalez in a twelve round state title defense the previous year. This time he would lose a ten rounder in a very close fight.

After the fights, my dad took us across the street to what was then a drive-in restaurant, "The Olympic Cafe".
We were seated at a booth, waiting to order when we see the two main event fighters enter the restaurant together. They walk over to the counter and sit down together. I could see that Valdez cheek was swollen, and was holding one of the Reyes boxing gloves he'd worn that night. I watched the waitress take the boxer's orders, and then saw her smile as the fighter's joked with her. When she walked away, the smiles left their faces, you could see they were tired, and rightfully so. As Gonzalez spoke to Valdez, the state champ pressed his soggy boxing glove up to his swollen face, as if it were an ice bag.

I remember I was surprised that the boxers were friendly, I learned that boxers don't need to hate one another in order to take care of business in the ring. They were professionals. Less than an hour earlier, they were trading knockout blows, now they were good buddies talking over hamburgers.

I never forgot what I saw that night, both in the ring and at the restaurant. I learned something.
Last year, Frank Baltazar introduced me to Danny Valdez. I told him what I remembered about that night.
Danny smiled, and we had a nice conversation. He had challeneged Davey Moore for the featherweight title.
After boxing, he worked for our local ABC network as a lighting tech.
Ironically, I followed my boxing days by working as a lighting tech.

This coming saturday I'll have a chance to see Danny Valdez again. Danny is an East L.A. guy, from Maravilla.
He had a great career in the ring, and a great one with ABC. A true Classic American West Coast boxer.


-Rick Farris

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