INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Juan Manuel Marquez fought 12 times at the Forum in the early days of his record-setting career, and the Mexican champion fondly remembers almost every round.
Even as an unknown featherweight prospect, Marquez loved the crackling atmosphere of the 1990s fight cards at the once-Fabulous Forum, where Lakers owner Jerry Buss indulged his passion for boxing by putting on hundreds of shows. Hollywood glitterati and hard-core fight fans mingled in Buss' famed arena, which fell into decline after the Lakers and the NHL's Kings moved downtown to Staples Center in 1999.
The Forum still holds a beloved place in the minds of California sports fans -- and after 13 years of inactivity, the building is back in the boxing business. Marquez (55-7-1, 40 KOs) gets the privilege of re-christening a building where he has never lost.
"I feel very happy, because I get to fight in a great place," said Marquez, who made his Forum debut in 1995. "It is a beautiful, historical place."
Marquez is hoping to revive the excitement when he takes on Mike Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs) on Saturday night at the Forum, which has been rehabilitated by The Madison Square Garden Co. with everything from a fresh coat of red exterior paint to a thoroughly refurbished interior.
Marquez's welterweight showdown with the hard-punching Alvarado live on HBO is the first fight card since 2001 at the Forum, where dozens of Mexican and American boxers got their first big fights. It's also the place where Top Rank's Bob Arum promoted Muhammad Ali's second fight with Ken Norton in 1973, back when Jack Kent Cooke owned the building.
"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 than that it is back as a sports venue and hosting a boxing event."
Arum put together a compelling main event for the Forum's return. Although both fighters are coming off a loss, Marquez and Alvarado are among two of the world's most entertaining fighters at their weights, with Alvarado's boldness and brawling instincts contrasting nicely with Marquez's skill and counterpunching.
Marquez has won world championships in four weight classes, and a victory over Alvarado would set him up for a shot at a fifth title at 147 pounds.
The winner of this bout is likely to fight Manny Pacquiao in the fall, which means Marquez would get a fifth bout with the Filipino congressman after winning their fourth meeting by spectacular knockout.
"I concentrate only on this fight," Marquez said. "Maybe in the future I'll think about that fight, but right now, the most important fight of my career is against Alvarado, because he is a strong fighter and a tough fighter."
Alvarado is eager to bounce back from a difficult loss to Ruslan Provodnikov, who stopped Alvarado and took his 140-pound title last fall. While Alvarado would love the career-changing opportunity of a fight with Pacquiao, he's grateful for the chance to fight Marquez, who ranks right alongside Pacquiao among their generation's best boxers.
"I'm here to put on a better show and perform at a higher level," Alvarado said. "This is where I belong, and I'm going to show that this weekend."
Although the main event is compelling, the return of boxing to the Forum will evoke fond memories for veterans of the fight game. Arum is hoping the card creates new excitement in Inglewood for future visits in an area already featuring several excellent boxing venues, including the outdoor StubHub Center in Carson.
"I see that a lot of the fighters (for this weekend) are staying at the Marriott at the airport," Arum said. "When we did the Ali-Norton II fight, that was the fight headquarters 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."