By Jake Donovan
Juan Manuel Marquez has readily insisted throughout the promotion for his May 17 showdown with Mike Alvarado that the only thing on his mind is the fight in front of him. The legendary former four-division champ may not want to think too far into the future, but returning to The Forum in Inglewood, California for this weekend’s affair can’t help but invoke stirring memories from his storied past.
“I remember all of my fights at the Forum,” Marquez fondly recalls of his time previously spent at the historic venue. The 40-year old was a fixture in the long-running Forum Boxing series at the Great Western Forum back in the 1990’s, when he was still rising through the ranks.
Saturday marks his first fight back at The Forum in 15 years, boasting a 12-0 record overall in the home to many of California’s most memorable fights through the years.
“I remember when I fought Cedric Mingo (knocking him out in 10 rounds in 1997),” Marquez rattled off, as if the fights just happened. “I remember when I fought with the Puerto Rican guy (Wilfredo Vargas, whom he stopped in two rounds in May ’99, his last appearance at the venue) and the Panamanian guy (Luis Samudio, stopping him in nine rounds in March ’98).
“All of the fights (at The Forum) were most important to me. The fights that were in my past were the most important to me right now.”
The win over Vargas also doubled as his final fight before receiving a long overdue title shot, after years of being avoided by then-unbeaten lineal featherweight king Naseem Hamed. Marquez instead had to settle for a title shot versus Freddie Norwood, dropping a debatable unanimous decision, though doing himself no favors by getting dropped early and fighting tentatively in their HBO-televised title fight.
A storied career has of course followed, with Marquez going on to win titles at featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and most recently at super lightweight. The belt collection has spanned nine years, as he remains in the game in hopes of becoming Mexico’s first ever five-division world champion.
His time spent at The Forum helped shape Marquez into the legendary fighter has become. Securing the venue was important to Top Rank, who promotes this weekend’s events. Chief among those drenched in nostalgia is Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum.
“I have promoted a number of fights at the Forum, during the John Jackson era and it was a great place to put on an event,” Arum said. “I really missed it when they closed the Forum as an entertainment and sports venue; they used it as a church for awhile, and nothing pleases me more that it is back as a sports venue and hosting a boxing event.”
Boxing was just one of many activities to have taken place at The Forum, which was home to the Los Angeles Lakers for more than 30 years before moving to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. That same period also saw the Los Angeles Kings take center ice at the location, which also played host to a number of local soccer teams and was also used for the 1984 Summer Olympics.
For boxing fans on the West Coast, however, The Forum was known for its memorable fights long before the StubHub Center (formerly the Home Depot Center) began regularly hosting Fight of the Year candidates.
“Dr. Jerry Buss (the late former owner of the Los Angeles Lakers) was a great fight fan and he would come to fights in Las Vegas and he instituted a great boxing program at the Forum and even before him, Jack Kent Cooke was a big fight fan,” Arum explained in the success behind boxing at the venue. “I did the second Ali-Norton fight at the Forum with Jack and that was a great experience.
“It’s sort of funny, I see that a lot of the fighters are staying at the Marriott at the airport and when we did the Ali-Norton II fight that was the fight headquarters as well. Ali and myself and Marty Spade stayed at that hotel as well. That was what, 41 years ago - I was a thin, young handsome guy. Now I’m an old fat guy.
“It was a great night, a good fight – Norton gave Ali trouble. The fight at the Forum was very close and Ali pulled it out. And the third Ali-Norton fight at Yankee Stadium, which I also did, was very close and Ali won by a whisker. Norton could really give Ali trouble. Norton couldn’t face a guy like Joe Frazier who just bombed him out but against Ali he always gave him trouble.
Another of Arum’s most notable fighters through six decades as a promoter – Oscar de la Hoya – appeared at the Forum, making his pro debut there in 1992, shortly after winning a Gold Medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The boxing hotspot remained active in the sport until 2004 before eventually closing its doors. The last fight to take place at the Forum came in February ’04, right around the time of the pro debut for Alvarado (34-2, 23KO), a former 140 lb. titlist who fights for the first time at the historic arena in hopes of recovering from last October’s knockout loss to Ruslan Provodnikov.
A sizeable purchase was made by The Madison Square Garden Group in 2012, hoping to transform the venue into a world-class entertainment attraction.
“They did a great job – Jim Dolan (Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden) and (music mogul) Irving Azoff did – in refurbishing,” Arum states. “They put about $35M in doing it. Its really great and the thing I love about it is that every seat is a great seat. It has no balconies or unobstructed views. There are no suites in the middle that would put the cheaper seats far away. There is just one bowl and that type of format is the same as it always was under the old Forum, but now very spruced up and I can’t wait for the event on Saturday night.”
Neither can the combatants, namely the guy who cut his boxing teeth here.
“Right now I feel very happy because I get to fight in a great place,” Marquez states of his return to Inglewood. “It is a beautiful, historical place.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox