Mexican American Boxing In Los Angeles

Long Beach State graduate Carlos Palomino was a 10-1 underdog when he knocked out the English champ in London in 1976 to win the world welterweight title.

The outcome was so unexpected that the loser’s manager later pored over tapes of previous Palomino fights to see if the rival camp had slipped in a ringer.

That such a wild scenario could even be imagined says lot about the wild nature of the sport.

It’s just one of many colorful stories that historian Gene Aguilera has included in the book, “Mexican American Boxing in Los Angeles." Boxing was huge among Mexican Americans in the second half of the 1900s, with their countrymen making up an estimated 60% of the boxers at the Olympic Auditorium and other local venues.

Palomino was one of the standouts. In 1977, when he fought Cal State L.A. alum Armando Muniz, it was the first time two college grads ever met in a championship bout.

Cracked the Times’ Jim Murray, “If the fight is close, maybe they can decide it by debate.”

Palomino won it with his fists.

Art Aragon

Another local boxer who was in fact famous for his oratory was 1950s bad-boy Art Aragon, despite the efforts of his associates to muzzle him. Aragon loved to tell the story of how his conviction for offering an opponent a bribe was thrown out of court.

”My attorney was out of town,” Aragon recalled.” I wired him, ‘Justice has triumphed.’ He wired back, ‘Appeal at once.'”

Aragon, who would die in 2008 at 80, became a bail bondsman after his ring career, adopting the slogan:

”I’ll get you out if it takes 10 years.”

A third star of that era was Mando Ramos, late of Long Beach Poly High, who worked out at Long Beach's now-vanished Seaside Gym and became world lightweight champ at 20.

Aguilera points out that Ramos is immortalized in the movie "American Me" in a scene in which East L.A. gang members talk boxing and one says: “The greatest fighter pound-for-pound — Mando Ramos.”

However, Ramos's career was shortened by alcohol and drugs.

“I sold out the Olympic Auditorium in my ninth fight,” he later told the Times. "Money was everywhere. I was 19, 20. What did I know? By 1974, I was sleeping in cars."

Ramos later achieved sobriety and was running a nonprofit organization for inner-city youths in 2008 when he died of a heart attack at the age of 59.

The Olympic Auditorium, at 18th and Grand in downtown L.A., is now a Korean church, its serene look at odds with the frenetic atmosphere of fight nights.

Sometimes, in the old days, the boxing fans supplied the action.

My late colleague Allan Malamud told me about one chair-throwing, bottle-breaking outburst at the Olympic in the 1970s.

Outside the arena, a sportswriter spotted a man nursing a cut over his eye and asked him how it had happened. “I think it was a left hook,” said the victim, who had fought on that night’s card.

Steve Harvey can be reached slugging away at steveharvey9@gmail.com. His Twitter handle is @sharvey9.

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