No matter what happens Saturday night when Juan Manuel Marquez squares off against Mike Alvarado in a welterweight title-elimination bout on HBO, their fight is already a remarkable comeback story.
Not necessarily a comeback for them, mind you, but for the Forum.
The last fight card at that legendary venue in Inglewood took place in 2001, two years after the Lakers and Kings relocated to Staples Center. But now, more than a decade later, the Madison Square Garden Co. has completed a $35-million refurbishment of the Forum, in part to reestablish it as a home for world-class boxing.
After the spotlights had flickered and dimmed, the Forum was briefly used as a church. In the boxing world, however, it has always been regarded as hallowed ground.
"This became a temple for Hispanic fighters," said Top Rank's Bob Arum, co-promoter of the Marquez-Alvarado bout. "So many memorable fights took place here. This is where [Julio Cesar] Chavez beat Roger Mayweather. [Frankie] Duarte, Michael Carbajal, Chiquita Gonzalez, [Marco Antonio] Barrera, Marquez, they were all developed here."
The first fight Arum promoted at the Forum was the second bout between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton in 1973. Oscar De La Hoya made his pro debut at the Forum in 1992.
The Forum was also the site of the first main event of HBO's "Boxing After Dark" series, when Barrera stopped Kennedy McKinney in the 12th round — a 1996 fight widely considered to be among the best of that decade.
Jack Kent Cooke, who built the Forum in 1967, was a huge fight fan. He passed the baton to Jerry Buss, who bought the Lakers, the Kings and the Forum from Cooke in 1979.
It was Buss who founded Forum Boxing, which began as local Monday night tournaments with $40,000 purses, and grew into regular world title fights.
"Jerry loved the fights," said John Beyrooty, director of public relations at Forum Boxing from 1989-97. "He hardly ever missed a show. He was always in the first row with his buddies there. Without Forum Boxing, big-time boxing would have been dead in Los Angeles. We were the only ones putting on shows regularly."
Beyrooty nicknamed the Forum the "House of Upsets," explaining: "The wrong guy would win sometimes, but it made for great story lines."
The tradition of big-time fights continues Saturday night, as Marquez and Alvarado face each other for the opportunity to face world titleholder Manny Pacquiao, probably in the fall.
Marquez, 40, went 12-0 at the Forum between 1995 and '99, with his last there being a knockout of Wilfredo Vargas. "It's a beautiful, historical place," said Marquez, of Mexico City.
Alvarado, 33, has never fought at the Forum, and in fact didn't begin his pro career until three years after it was mothballed as a boxing venue.
Both fighters are coming off losses. Marquez (55-7-1, 40 knockouts), who knocked out Pacquiao in 2012, followed that with a split-decision defeat to Timothy Bradley last October.
Alvarado (34-2, 23 knockouts) was fighting in front of his hometown Denver crowd in October when he was knocked down twice in the eighth round by Russia's Ruslan Provodnikov then didn't come out of his corner after the 10th round, losing his junior welterweight world title.
"I took a couple months to put that fight behind me," Alvarado said. "Knowing that it was in my hometown, in front of all my people and family. It was tougher mentally, but physically I am fine. I got past it."
Marquez, looking to become the first Mexican fighter to win world titles in five different weight classes, would need to beat Alvarado and then Pacquiao to make that happen. Pacquiao has already agreed to fight the winner of Marquez-Alvarado.
"That's what I want to do," Marquez said. "I want to make history by winning another world title."
Along the way, he said, he can be an inspiration for fighters in their 40s.
"I may be an example for another fighter," he said. "Maybe they could fight until they were 45 . . ."
After all, there's beauty in age and experience. The Forum is proof of that.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun