Outside the arena, palm trees swayed in the breeze instead of pines. Inside, voices carried the varied accents of Southern California instead of the more familiar Mainah-speak.
Russell Lamour was nervous as he eyed his opponent. Then the bell rang, signalling the start of his fight and the beginning of something new and different.
“That’s when it felt like home,” said Lamour. “I was OK.”
He was better than that. The former Deering High receiver who worked to become the Portland Boxing Club’s very successful and popular middleweight opened a door last weekend at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
Fighting for the L.A. Matadors of the new World Series of Boxing, Lamour won his semipro debut by winning each of the five rounds in a bloody unanimous decision.
“It was my first fight without headgear. I wondered if I’d get cut.” Instead, he opened a cut behind Armando Espinosa’s left ear. Blood streamed from the gash, but not into Espinosa’s eyes. The fight continued.
“He was very, very strong,” said Lamour. “He kept coming and coming. So I boxed him. I took the fight to him. I peppered him.”
After the decision was announced, trainer Manny Robles picked up Lamour and carried him around the ring to the cheers of the fans. “It was a crazy amount of people,” said Lamour, who couldn’t give a crowd estimate. “I’ve never had a crowd that big watch me fight.”
“We celebrated,” said Robles, the trainer and coach whose job is to polish successful amateur fighters, not remake their styles. “I celebrate with all my fighters, although the light-heavy and heavyweight lift me.”
Lamour’s performance exceeded his trainer’s expectations. “Sometimes fighters show you more in the ring than in the gym,” said Robles from the Matadors’ training facility in L.A. “Russell lived up to the moment. He fought with a lot of class, a lot of composure.”
Lamour turns 28 in a few weeks. His apprenticeship with Bob Russo at the Portland Boxing Club lasted some 10 years. That’s a lifetime in amateur sports where the payoffs are trophies and recognition. Lamour always seemed one national title away from turning pro.
Now he’s a semipro, paid a modest salary supplemented by performance bonuses while still maintaining Olympic eligibility. Fighting for the Matadors, part of a 12-team intercontinental boxing league, sometimes seems like a dream.
Lamour misses his son, his parents and siblings, but he has no worries. Six days a week are spent training or fighting. Sundays are his off day.
Last Saturday’s match with the Mexico City Guerreros was a shutout. All five Matadors won.
The fighters share furnished condos and common goals of fighting their way onto the U.S. Olympic team for the 2012 games in London or getting that last bit of refinement that will lead to a successful pro careers.
No one knows if the World Series of Boxing will find audiences around the globe and survive. Team and individual titles await the fighters in the spring. Founder Wu Ching-kuo, an architect from Taiwan, has said he is building a new culture.
But this is boxing, a sport where the fighting many times spills outside the ring and into back rooms.
Lamour doesn’t care. He won his semipro debut. Fighters must wait a minimum of 13 days before facing their next opponent and Lamour is impatient with the taste of victory still in his mouth.
The Matadors fight the Memphis Force on Dec. 12 back at the Nokia Theatre, which is across Chick Hearn Court from the Staples Center. The “Haitian Sensation” as he’s called now, could take the place of the team’s other middleweight on the card.
“(Lamour) has good fundamentals,” said Robles. “He’s very coachable. I’m very pleased.”
Lamour didn’t try to hide the excitement in his voice when he talked Tuesday. This is his time, his opportunity to do something big with his own two hands.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]