Los Angeles Four title bouts featuring Latino champions showcased the best part of the sport today: the lower weight classes. The largely Latino crowd of 12,292 at Staples Center pulsed with energy, cheering loudest for action and competition rather than any particular fighter. Fighters’ names were chanted; red, white and green flags waved; breaks in the action drew whistles and pretty women walking up the aisles drew louder whistles.
The action began as I waited for a beer in the luxurious concourse at Staples. I heard a noise from the crowd, and the murmur soon spread all around me. I looked around and everyone was saying one word: “Marquez, Marquez.”
IBF bantamweight champion Rafael Marquez of Mexico was the crowd favorite at first and clearly the more talented fighter in his bout with Colombian Mauricio Pastrana. Marquez peppered Pastrana’s face with quick left jabs, but the challenger never stopped advancing. Pastrana won the crowd with his willingness to eat leather and swing hard, but the champ won the eventual decision.
IBF superfeatherweight champion Carlos Hernandez successfully defended his title against former champion Steve Forbes in another hard-fought match. The two stood toe-to-toe for most of the bout’s ten rounds before it was stopped when an accidental head butt opened a bloody cut over Hernandez’ right eye. The fight was close fought, but in order to be the champion, one must beat the champion, not just hang with him. Hernandez won unanimously on the judges’ scorecards.
The night’s marquee fighter had 100 percent of the crowd on his side. Fans roared when Tijuana’s Eric Morales, the WBC featherweight champion, was shown on the big screen in his dressing room, and roared even louder when the mariachis jammed as he entered the ring.
And Morales is loved for a reason. This is a fighter who has never backed down from anyone in his career. He is also supremely talented, and able to do strange things like bring a man to his knees after a full two seconds without throwing a punch. He thumped Guty Espadas, former featherweight champion, on the side of the head with an overhand right with two seconds left in the third round. Espadas stood up and appeared ready to fight until the delayed effect of the temple-shot brought him crumpling to the canvas.