LOS ANGELES -- Aileen Eaton, deemed 'Mrs. Boxing' and one of the sport's most astute promoters, has died following a long illness. She was 78.
One of the few women to break into boxing promotions, Eaton helped keep boxing sport alive in Los Angeles until the 1980s by introducing sound business practices.
'She was Mrs. Boxing,' said Don Chargin, who helped her sign such boxing greats as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sonny Liston and Archie Moore to fight at the Olympic Auditorium between 1941 and 1981.
Eaton died 11:35 p.m. PST Saturday at Century City Hospital following a long illness, a nursing supervisor said. Chargin, her matchmaker at the arena for 18 years, said she died of pneumonia and heart failure.
Eaton was a secretary for the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which owned the Olympic Auditorium, when officials asked her to help revive the failing fight palace in 1941.
'She had never been to a professional fight,' Chargin said. 'They sent her down there because the place was losing money and told her to take it over. She went in there without being a fight fan and completely dominated boxing and wrestling (in Los Angeles).'
Known as a tough negotiator, she quickly turned a profit for the auditorium's owners, who enthusiastically leased the arena to her in a partnership that would last 40 years.
'It took me two years to learn this business and I had to fight all of that time for acceptance,' she said in a 1976 interview. 'But I didn't fight as a woman ... I fought as a person with capabilities.'
She married Alvah 'Cal' Eaton, a state Boxing Commission inspector in the early 1940s, who helped her rejuvenate the auditorium with a full schedule of events. Alvah Eaton died in 1966.
Eaton brought a sharp mind and a strong will to her dealings with some of boxing's greatest fighters.
'She used to handle him (Muhammed Ali) like a baby,' Chargin said. 'Even Sonny Liston, who glared at people, she used to laugh at him. Liston once told me, 'Every time I sit down with her, I come out second best.''
Chargin said Eaton would like to be remembered as a 'good businesswoman who treated everybody fair.'
'She really cared about the fighters,' he said. 'She was the best businesswoman that there ever was and I think ever will be in boxing. I've never seen anyone run as tight a ship as Mrs. Eaton.'
Eaton promoted several world championships, including Ali vs. Moore and Robinson vs. Gene Fullmer. She was also dedicated to the less profitable amateur boxing. She left boxing when the Olympic Auditorium was sold to local businessmen in 1981.
She is survived by two sons, Mike and Gene LeBell, both of Los Angeles, and a number of grandchildren.
Memorial services are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. PST Wednesday at Pierce Brothers Mortuary in Hollywood.