Sept. 10 card appeals to L.A.'s diversity

Los Angeles is often called a "melting pot" because of its diverse population. On Sept. 10 at the Staples Center (HBO), the boxing card highlights the city's ethnic diversity.

The co-main events feature Mexican superstar Erik Morales and Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao taking on separate opponents. It is a prelude to a highly anticipated rematch of their March thriller. The undercard features Armenian Vanes Martirosyan and Filipino-American Brian Viloria, each of whom is a former U.S. Olympian.

One of the reasons Top Rank put this card in Southern California was because the mix of cultures and ethnicities within the card fit this local area.

"It's like building a building," said Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank, "you start at the bottom and we know Vanes has a family over in Glendale, which will be good. We have the Filipino population which will be very robust, very strong in California. And then I think with the Mexicans and Filipinos, they have great synergies together and we felt it was important to add the Eric Oritz-Viloria fight. We think that's a terrific fight."

Martirosyan, whose record now stands at 3-0, will be in action long before the bright lights of HBO focus in on Morales and Pacquiao. But unlike most untelevised undercard bouts, he will bring with him a strong contingent of fans. Back on May 28, during the Los Angeles "Adios" of Julio Cesar Chavez, there was a healthy dose of his people in attendance in the late afternoon that saw him perform.

"Actually," Martirosyan says, "we're selling tickets at Armenian stores in Glendale. Top Rank has sent tickets over and they're going to sell them there. The last time it was probably 2,000 (Armenians)."

The 19-year-old Martirosyan, who takes on Gerardo Prieto next weekend, has a chance to perhaps become the first Armenian fighter to become a legitimate ticket seller. Unlike other Armenian fighters, Martirosyan has been blessed with genetics which allow him to fight at the junior middleweight division. Most of his countrymen often are relegated to boxing in the game's smaller, less lucrative weight classes. Also, Martirosyan has an all-action, crowd-pleasing style.

"I don't think anyone's going to just look at somebody on their ethnicity [and say] 'He's Armenian,' therefore he's going to be categorized as something," said duBoef.

"But he's a good-looking kid, he represented America in the Olympics, he's a prospect and he's got to be developed correctly. And he's in a good market where there's a strong base."

According to www.Adherents.com, "the largest community of Armenians in the United States today is located in Southern California. Over 45,000 of Armenian descent populate Glendale, alone."

"It's really exciting. I've got a lot of fans right here in Glendale," Martirosyan said. "And I like the support. I fight differently when they're supporting me."

And the soft-spoken banger can feel the groundswell of support forming for him.

"Oh, yeah, every time someone comes to congratulate me I feel like I'm getting stronger and stronger," he said. "It really helps me to see that people are supporting me."

Several weeks ago at a press conference held at a Filipino eatery, Max's of Manila in Glendale, Viloria -- who will be challenging for the WBC junior flyweight title on the card -- wanted to clear up something about his heritage in front of the Filipino press that had come to see Pacquiao.

"There was a lot of confusion about me whether I was Hawaiian or Filipino," he said. "Everyone was saying 'Well, if he's Filipino, then why is he called 'the Hawaiian Punch?' So the last press conference I really needed to clear that up. A lot of people were telling me 'Why aren't you representing the Filipinos a little bit more?' Because I am 100 percent Filipino and I was just out of Hawaii and that's what everyone stuck me towards."

Viloria was well-received by the Filipino contingent.

"It felt great having them come out like that and having them come up to you and say, 'Wow, we have so much more of a connection because you came out telling us that you're a Filipino,'" he said. "They want to embrace me more."

There's no doubt there will be a huge Filipino turnout with the presence of Pacquiao, who could probably pack 'em in anywhere with his people. For Viloria, this will be his first opportunity to perform in front of such a large contingent of his people. It is something that excites him.

"Just fighting in front of a Filipino crowd, especially with this type of fan base, it's awesome and I think it's just going to hype me up and make me feel at home," he said. "It's really going to be incredible fighting in front of those people."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, there was an estimated 370,000 Filipinos in the five-county region that consists of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Los Angeles is said to have the largest Filipino population outside of Manila, according to www.laalmanac.com.

Also on the card is "El Terrible," who in recent years has become one of the few ticket sellers in the sport. And now he headlines his biggest show in a region that has more than 6.5 million people of Latin and Hispanic roots (according to the 2000 census), making up around 40 percent of the five-county population.

As always, interest is high in a Morales fight.

"We have an amazing turnout of press," said Top Rank's lead publicist, Lee Samuels. "Erik's press has risen every show. Right now we're in about the 200 range and we still have plenty of time to go for credentials."

And he mentions that a multitude of Filipino and Asian press will be coming in, and that both major Hawaiian papers, "The Honolulu Advertiser" and "The Honolulu Star-Bulletin" have e-mailed him regarding credentials for Viloria's bout.

There's no doubt that this event should do well. The "Adios" card had an attendance of more than 17,000. Top Rank expects to do around 12,000 or 13,000 for this event, with tickets priced at $300, $200, $100, $50 and $25.

And who knows, while this is just a warm-up to Morales-Pacquiao II; perhaps the actual rematch could end up back at the Staples Center.

"Who would have ever thought that an Oscar De La Hoya-Shane Mosley fight could take place there?" duBoef said.

"And it happens. These buildings like Staples and other big buildings like [Madison Square Garden] and Conseco Fieldhouse are all corporations. They're huge companies and they want to bring in big events, so I think they can bring in anything."

Of course, one of the drawbacks in having such mixed and passionate fans in the same building is that those emotions can spill over into conflicts (i.e. brawls). But in March at the MGM Grand, where Morales and Pacquiao first met, the only sign of Mexican-Filipino tension was in the ring. It was as emotional and well-behaved a crowd as you'll ever see.

During Chavez's May farewell fight in Los Angeles, there were plenty of unscheduled undercard bouts which took place in the crowd. It seemed every half-hour or so you'd see a group of "redcoats" (the Staples Center ushers) rush to quell a rumble.

But there's nothing quite like an arena full of real boxing fans who aren't just casino comps or there to be seen. Only college football can match the intensity and atmosphere of an arena brimming with loyal boxing fans.

"There's a saying 'You fish where the fish are,' and obviously we feel the pond will be pretty full in the California area," said duBoef. "Therefore, we're going to throw our line in. We're not going to go to a pond that is frozen in Alaska, right now, because we don't think the fish are there."