Jordan Burroughs played the Forum on Saturday.
“I’ve seen a lot of pictures in the entry ways of all the people who’ve been here,” said the marquee man of the U.S. wrestling team, stripped down to expose his ridiculous upper-body structure while standing in the hallway out of the bright spotlight.
“It seems like it’s a breeding ground for celebrities. They’ve let us hang out in one of the artists’ dressing rooms, that’s where they put us, so to be in the same place as the Eagles, Prince, Eric Clapton . . . .we’re feeling like celebrities this week in such a prestigious venue. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Yup, the Forum still has some fabulousness left in it.
Spiffed up and reopened as a music venue a couple of months ago after years of somewhat neglect after the Lakers and Kings moved out in the summer of 1999 to go to the downtown Staples Center, this place in Inglewood hadn’t been revived for any kind of sporting-type event until this weekend’s FILA Freestyle Wrestling World Cup.
A 10-nation dual-meet tournament continues to try to emphasize a rebirth of an Olympic sport that, for some time last year, was on the verge of getting pinned to the mat for archaic methods of operation.
It has the added intrigue of the U.S. team paired up in pool play against Iran – which didn’t happen a year ago when the country left early before a similar multi-country event at the L.A. Sports Arena – and Russia’s powerhouse taking on a group from the Ukraine at a time when the two nations are discussing the pros and cons of redrawing their boundaries amidst public protests and United Nations interventions. There’s also a vote Sunday in Crimea over whether to break away from the Ukraine and join Russia.
Politics aside, this also sets the stage as kind of a test run for other sports-related activity that could find its way into this iconic building again. Bob Arum, for example, has been talking about bringing championship boxing back – he’s friends with new Forum part-owner Irving Azoff.
Step back inside the rusty-red place Jack Kent Cooke originally built for his NHL expansion team in the late 1960s – between the spacious Inglewood Cemetery and now-abandoned Hollywood Park Race Track on Prairie and Manchester, a building that Jack Nicholson used to call “the giant ashtray” – and the senses are fooled a bit.
The scoreboard that used to dangle from the ceiling has vanished. That just doesn’t seem right, although it’s probably just as well. It surely could not have aged well, considering it used actual light bulbs to show the numbers for the scores and time remaining, long before video replay screens were even considered to be a standard part of what people in the stands looked up to.
The dingy yellow and orange Naugahyde seats have been replaced by fabric reupholstered versions, all the same brick-red colored. The concrete walkways are painted and polished up as well. The walls are lined with material that looks as if they’d improve the acoustics.
Combing around the catacombs underneath, there are no more locker rooms to locate amidst all the fresh gray paint. They’ve been reconstituted into the artists dressing rooms that Burroughs referred to – at least a half dozen of them, the new staging areas for headliners, backups and their crews. That’s what it takes to put on high-end, show biz-y acts these days.
The two large wrestling mats side-by-side on the Forum floor on Saturday commanded about the same sized real estate as would be necessary for a basketball floor.
Or a tennis court.
Maybe even an Arena Football League field. You know, for that game aging rock bands now attach themselves to, thinking they’re just as big a part of the attraction for over-paying fans.
Burroughs, the 25-year-old gold medalist from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London in the 74 kg weight class, made the cover of the program they’re handing out for the 42nd annual event that continues through to the championship matches tonight.
He’s easily the most recognizable athlete in the building – especially to those who recognize wrestlers in general and Olympic champions in particular.
His Saturday matinee was brief, but worth thumping his chest about. He had two of the four recorded falls of the afternoon session, one against Armenia’s Varuzhan Kajoyan (in the American team’s 7-1 victory) and another later against India’s Parveen Rana (in a 6-2 team win). His match later Saturday night against Iran would likely draw more crowd noise.
Burroughs outlasted Iran’s Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi to win Olympic gold two years ago. He outpointed Ezzatollah Akbari 7-1 on Saturday night, but the U.S. team still lost five of eight matches to Iran and finished second to Iran in pool competition.
The photo op took place before hand when the U.S. team shook hands with the Iranians on the mat prior to competition.
Whether or not the new Forum designers have figured out a way to filter the audience volume, there was a very tempered and subdued response to the Russia-Ukraine head-to-head matchup in Pool B.
Russia not only led but dominated almost every individual matchup in the eight weight classes, except the last. Ukrainian heavyweight (125 kg/275 pounds) Alen Zasieiev out-lumbered his opponent, Russia’s Arslanbek Aliev, 7-0, in what looked more like a couple of dancing bears trying to leverage each other for a picnic basket.
They shook hands when it was over, and it was the Ukrainian team’s only cause for feeling good about themselves after a 7-1 team loss (or 48-19 in total points). A polite applause came down from the crowd of several thousand who at least knew about what was going in the world outside the Forum walls and had a sense of decency.
“First of all, my family lives in Russia,” Zasieiev said in Ukrainian afterward. “There’s a lot going on but it’s not between regular citizens. So hopefully it will get resolved peacefully.”
At a pre-meet press conference held Friday near LAX, Russian coach Christakis Alexandridris told reporters through a translator: “We live in a world where we can not do about politics, nothing. From our side, all the country, our politics is wrestling. That is the main goal — to be here.”
The Russia-Ukraine matchup was one of those moments when you wanted to look up to the far north end of the building, where Dr. Jerry Buss would have been sitting in his glass-partitioned owners section of seats, just to see if he was paying enough attention to give what had just happened the thumbs up or down sign.
Saturday, the present grappled with the past. The future wondered if there would be any more sports it could wrap its arms around.
More results from the touranment at FILA-official.com