Big-time boxing returns to The Forum

Long before Staples Center and StubHub Center became the go-to arenas for big-time boxing in Southern California, there was The "Fabulous" Forum in Inglewood, which opened in 1967 and hosted numerous significant fights in addition to regular club shows put on by Forum Boxing, the now-defunct promotional company owned by the late Dr. Jerry Buss.

Top Rank's Bob Arum promoted many fights there, including the second battle between heavyweight greats Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton in 1973.

In 1996, the first main event of HBO's "Boxing After Dark" series was held there, when a young Marco Antonio Barrera retained his junior featherweight title with a 12th-round stoppage of Kennedy McKinney in an absolutely epic battle that ranks among the greatest fights of the 1990s.

One of the many fighters who made his bones at the Forum before anyone knew him was a young Mexican named Juan Manuel Marquez, who was barely two years into his professional career when he fought the first of 12 fights there in 1995. It was those fights that turned Marquez from unknown into a featherweight contender. Marquez, of course, would go on to have a brilliant Hall of Fame-caliber career, winning world titles in four weight classes from featherweight to junior welterweight, engaging in a historic four-fight series with Manny Pacquiao and earning recognition as one of the pound-for-pound best in boxing.

Marquez, now 40, who has not fought at the Forum since 1999, is returning to an arena so special to him, as the building gets back into the fight game when Marquez faces Mike Alvarado in a welterweight title elimination fight -- at a catch weight of 143 pounds -- on Saturday night (HBO, 10:15 ET/PT). The winner becomes the mandatory challenger for world titleholder Pacquiao and likely will face him in the fall.

"Right now I feel very happy because I get to fight in a great place," Marquez said. "It is a beautiful, historical place."

Alvarado, 33, has no history in the building but is looking forward to perhaps making some on Saturday.

"They haven't had a fight there in a long time. That's cool that we are the first main event now that they're doing boxing again," Alvarado said. "I'm all about entertainment and that's what me and Marquez are going to give the fans. We're in the entertainment business."

In the televised opener, Viktor Postol (25-0, 10 KOs), 30, of Ukraine, will square off with Selcuk Aydin (26-2, 19 KOs), 30, of Turkey, in a title elimination bout for the right to become the mandatory challenger for 140-pound world champion Danny Garcia.

The Forum has a rich boxing history, but its regular boxing program ended in 1999 and it has not hosted a fight card since 2001. But after being purchased by The Madison Square Garden Co. and undergoing a multimillion-dollar facelift, the Forum re-opened earlier this year, and boxing is part of its plans.

"I really missed it when they closed the Forum as an entertainment and sports venue," Arum said. "They used it as a church for a while, and nothing pleases me more that it is back as a sports venue and hosting a boxing event. They did a great job in refurbishing it. They put about $35 million in doing it. It's really great and the thing I love about it is that every seat is a great seat. It has no balconies or obstructed 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."

Arum has fond memories of his most famous fight there, Ali-Norton II, which Ali won by split decision.

"It's sort of funny. I see that a lot of the fighters are staying at the Marriott at the airport [this week] and when we did the Ali-Norton II fight that was the fight headquarters as well," Arum said. "Ali and myself stayed at that hotel as well. That was what, 41 years ago? Oh my, 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.

"I subsequently had Rafael Ruelas fight in the Forum and Michael Carbajal and, indeed, when I wasn't promoting fights in the Forum, when John Jackson was promoting fights, I attended fights in the Forum. It was a great place to watch a boxing match."

Marquez's fights there included a 10th-round knockout of Julian Wheeler, a tough opponent, in a 1995 step-up fight, and a 12-round decision in 1997 against the late Agapito Sanchez, who would go on to win a junior featherweight world title.

"I remember all of my fights at the Forum," Marquez said. "All of the fights were most important to me."

Said Nacho Beristain, Marquez's Hall of Fame trainer: "I do remember some of the early fights and I remember Julian Wheeler, which was a very difficult fight. There was a lot of movement from him and a tough fight to win. And also Catalino Becerra [in 1997], because he was left-handed."

Marquez (55-7-1, 40 KOs), who brutally knocked out Pacquiao in the sixth round in their fourth fight in December 2012, challenged Timothy Bradley Jr. for a welterweight title in his next fight in October and lost a split decision. Now he will face Alvarado, looking to rebound from the defeat and earn another title shot against Pacquiao, who regained the belt from Bradley on April 12.

Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs), of Denver, is also looking to rebound from a loss. In his previous fight, in his hometown, Alvarado was knocked down twice in the eighth round by Ruslan Provodnikov and then retired on his stool after the 10th round after absorbing tremendous punishment. The loss cost Alvarado his junior welterweight world title.

"This fight is important for the two fighters because Mike Alvarado lost his last fight and I lost my last fight and he wants to win and I want to win, and this fight is a great fight for the two fighters," Marquez said.

Alvarado also knows he's in a bit of a must-win situation coming off a defeat.

"This fight is very important for both of us and a win here will lead to bigger fights," he said.

"There is a lot involved in this fight, both mentally and for our careers. I am focusing on getting this win. It makes me train that much more, to know that I am in the category with the best in the world and I am happy for this opportunity that I am blessed with. I take it day-by-day and train as hard as I can. I am happy about it and I am excited and I can't wait for the show to start this weekend."