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The Boxing World Mourns the Death of Promoter Don Chargin

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  • The Boxing World Mourns the Death of Promoter Don Chargin

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    By Arne K. Lang

    In June of 1959, Don Chargin received a phone call from an anonymous person with a gruff voice warning him to stay out of southern California or else he would meet the same fate as his friend, fight manager Jackie Leonard, who was then in the hospital recovering from a vicious beating inflicted by thugs reportedly employed by boxing underworld czar Frankie Carbo. Chargin, who had been offered the job of promoter/matchmaker at Hollywood Legion Stadium, wasn’t intimidated and, as history would show, his dauntlessness was the best thing that ever happened to Los Angeles fight fans. He died on Friday, Sept. 28, at age 90, inspiring a raft of tributes.

    Born in 1928, Chargin (pictured with boxer Beibut Shumenov) excelled in basketball and was the captain of the boxing team at his Jesuit high school in San Jose. At age 22, he promoted his first bout, enticing former world bantamweight champion Manuel Ortiz to San Jose for a fight with Eddie Chavez. He was soon promoting successful shows in Oakland with an occasional detour into more exotic forms of sports promotions, e.g. ostrich races, indoor car racing, and midget wrestling.

    Chargin’s tenure at Hollywood Legion Stadium didn’t last long. The arena staged its last boxing show on Sept. 12, 1959, and then morphed into a bowling alley. So Chargin moved down the street, hooking up with the Olympic Auditorium. He was the matchmaker there from 1964 to 1984 while continuing to promote an occasional show in the northern and central regions of the state.

    The Olympic Auditorium had two things going for it. Built to house the boxing competition at the 1924 LA Olympics, it had a steeply graded floor affording everyone a good seat in the main pavilion and a balcony that seemingly hovered right over the ring. Second, there was no shortage of good fighters who cultivated loyal followings. In the elegant words of Lee Groves, the Olympic Auditorium “occupied the epicenter of what was arguably the greatest fusion of geography and fistic talent that boxing has ever seen.”

    Despite these advantages, it was still possible to screw this up by staging too many mismatches. But Aileen Eaton, who then ran the Olympic with an iron fist, was somewhat unique among boxing promoters in that she had no hidden financial arrangements with the boxers that appeared there. Don Chargin had one rule – “I make matches that I want to see as a fan” – and Eaton gave him that leeway.

    During Chargin’s tenure at the Olympic, the shows acquired a TV partner, local powerhouse KTLA, Channel 5. The first TV fight was held in May of 1965 with future broadcasting legend Dick Enberg behind the mike. Eventually, the fights were beamed into 22 markets including Mexico City.

    Being a boxing matchmaker can grow a man old in a hurry. Something always goes wrong. Chargin’s hair turned gray when he was in his early 40s. However, observed LA Times sportswriter John Hall, he always maintained an outward calm, “seldom raising his voice in a business where a shout is a whisper.” He was unfailingly cordial in the company of sportswriters.

    Chargin, who had three children by his first marriage, credited his wife Lorraine for keeping him grounded. Married in 1960, they were inseparable until her death in 2010 at age 79. Lorraine was the better businessperson of the two and handled many of the nuts and bolts of her husband’s promotions. Fluent in Spanish, she was also a key employee of Aileen Eaton at the Olympic, holding the title of building manager. Don never identified her as his wife, but as his sweetheart.

    In 2002, Don and Lorraine were jointly honored with the James J. Walker Award “for long and meritorious service to boxing” by the Boxing Writers Association of America. The previous year, Don Chargin was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and this past year Lorraine was inducted posthumously. She was the second woman to enter the Hall following the aforementioned Eaton.

    Chargin was listed as the co-promoter for Oscar De La Hoya’s match with Floyd Mayweather. He later joined Golden Boy Promotions, De La Hoya’s company, in the role of “senior consultant.” Upon learning of Chargin’s death, Golden Boy released this statement: “His events at the Olympic were not to be missed, and along with his wife Lorraine, he was the linchpin of boxing in California and beyond. But to those of us at Golden Boy Promotions, he was so much more. He was a partner. He was a mentor. And he was a friend. To say Don will be missed doesn’t come close to explaining the sadness we all feel today.”

    Don Chargin is survived by his three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. We at The Sweet Science send our condolences.

    Odds and Ends

    Chargin said the two best fighters he ever saw were Sugar Ray Robinson and Charley Burley. Chargin was there when Burley fought Paulie Peters in 1946 at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. “He caved him in with one shot to the body,” reminisced Chargin. “He broke five ribs with one punch.”

    Asked to name the heavyweight fantasy fight he would most like to see, he named Jack Dempsey vs. Rocky Marciano.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel