Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Meeting Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson One of the great personal memories during my short time in the ring was meeting Sugar Ray Robinson. It went beyond just meeting him. For a short time during the 1970's, he was my friend and I never forgot him.

I trained at the Main Street Gym in Downtown Los Angeles, usually in the afternoon. Sugar Ray trained there daily. No sparring, just the rope, shadowboxing, hitting the bags, etc. He was in his 50's at the time. He was a daily figure at the gym. He always wore a red sweat suit.

One afternoon, I was shadowboxing in front of one the mirrors. I glanced behind me and I could see Sugar Ray, skipping rope, I could also see that he was looking at me. A minute or two later, I saw that he stopped skipping rope and was studying me.

He walked up to me and said “Excuse me son, do you mind if I give you a little advice?” My first instinct was to look at my trainer, Mel Epstein, for permission. Mel usually went ballistic when anyone approached any of his fighters. He nodded at me and smiled. I mean, what was he going to say? Don't listen to him, he doesn't know anything about boxing!!

He says, “I noticed that every time you throw the jab you bring your right hand back.” Don't do that. That's a good way to get knocked out! I want you to think of your right hand as a catcher's mitt and the other guy's fist as the baseball. Just relax and catch it.' He moved around a bit so I could see what he meant.

Over the course of time he had more advice, much of it reinforced what Mel had already shared with me. I was mindful of every minute with him. I soaked it all up. You can take it to the bank that I was well aware of how lucky I was.

What sealed it for me were the times I was at the gym, and I saw Sugar Ray walk through the doors and look around, then he saw me, smiled and went to the locker room. He was looking for me.

This went on for several months and then one day he was gone. I never saw him again. I remember hearing in the news, back in 1989, that he passed away. I'm grateful for the memories and I'm grateful that this great man took some time out of his own life to spend with me. R.I.P.

Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson, passed away on this date in 1989. He is universally considered "Pound for pound" the greatest fighter that ever lived.

I was lucky and blessed to have called him my friend many years ago. Rest in peace Sugar Ray Robinson and thank you for your advice and your friendship!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Mighty Mick's Gym (The Main Street Gym)

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Sylvester Stallone as Rocky standing in the remnants of Mickey's Gym. In the original Rocky all the gym scenes were filmed at the Main Street Gym in Downtown Los Angeles. The Main Street Gym was razed in the mid 80's.

The gym in this photo is obviously a replica of the original Main Street Gym. They did a good job capturing it. Bittersweet for those of us that trained there but nice to know the memory lives on thanks to Rocky!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Personal Memory

Forty years ago today, October 30, 1976, I fought my second and last fight. My opponent was Eduardo Barba of Mexico. I didn't plan for it to be my last fight but as the saying goes “Life happens”. I never had the boxing career that I wanted but I have no real regrets. God had other plans for me. I have my family and I had thirty six years with McDonnell Douglas and Boeing. I'm content. Still, I sometimes wonder. This is my memory of that fight.

My trainer Mel Epstein called me two weeks before the fight which was scheduled for October 30, 1976. "Randy, I got a fight for you if you want it. It's on the undercard of Mike Quarry and Tom Bethea. It'll be at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. It's going to be televised on "The Wide World of Sports". "Yeah, I want it!" I said. "The problem" Mel said to me "is he's a ten round fighter. His opponent pulled out and Howie (Steindler) mentioned your name. It'll be a six round fight. You don't have to take it if you don't want to".

I began sparring with Felipe Torres for the next two weeks, I sparred with other boxers but I spent more time with Felipe than anyone else. It was a grueling two weeks. I was in shape but I only had two weeks to prepare for the fight and I wanted to be ready. I ran five miles everyday. I felt good by the time the fight neared.

We flew to Las Vegas via TWA. It was a short trip. We took a shuttle or a cab to the hotel, I can't remember which. As soon as we entered the hotel it was a hub of activity. This was still the old Las Vegas. It was a different type of excitement. It seemed as if everyone from the fight game at that time was there. Eddie Futch, Ken Norton, Duane Bobick, Joey Giambra and of course Mike Quarry and Tom Bethea. There were many other fighters there but a lot of that day is a blur now. Mel knew everyone and introduced me to everyone. He introduced me to Joey Giambra and mentioned that he was going to be the referee for my fight. We had an early dinner and went up to our room for the night.

Early the next morning we went down for the weighin. Back in the day the weighins were done on the day of the fight. It was crowded and there was a lot of activity. I weighed in at 152. I was supposed to weigh 147. The guy that weighed me, whoever he was, said " Don't worry about it, Barba came in heavy too. I never did know what Barba weighed.

Later in the day I was sent to a dressing room and it just happened to be the same room as Joey Giambra, the referee for the fight. He was a very nice guy. I liked him immediately. He felt the same way. Before he went out the door he said "I like you kid, good luck tonight".

Mel brought in some guy to help him with the corner. I can't remember who he was for the life of me. He was a tall, somewhat heavy black guy that Mel knew. I wish I knew his name. I never saw him before or after. Whoever he was he was another nice guy that I met along the way. He wrapped my hands while Mel went over a few things. Mel could wrap hands well enough but he was generally too nervous and shaky.

Before I knew it I was making the walk to the ring. As I climbed onto the ring and went to my corner I saw Barba. he was staring directly at me. I wasn't sure what else to do so I stared back at him. What I remember most was his flat nose. His hair was long and Mel mentioned something about it to me.

This is how I remember the fight. The bell for the first round sounded and I had made up my mind I was going to box. I came forward and kept pumping my jab in his face. I knew he was more experienced but I wasn't worried. I felt confident. I was landing my right hand fairly easy. I was moving my head and kept moving forward. I felt like I was beating him to the punch. We exchanged several times and I felt like I got the best of him. I could hear Ken Norton in the background as he was announcing.

At about the end of the third round I started to tire but I sucked it up. In the fourth round things began to change. Not in a huge way but he seemed to be coming on. Still, I kept coming forward. My pride wouldn't let me do anything else. I wanted to win. I don't remember what round it was but it was during the last half of the fight when Barba landed a right hand to my solar plexus. It was like an explosion going off in my body. Suddenly it was like a bad nightmare. My body was racked in pain and everything in me said to lie down. I had no breath. I had nothing in me. I was desperate. For a moment I thought it was over. Honest to God, I willed myself to keep standing. I was not going to be knocked out.

I looked at Barba and It dawned on me he had no idea I was hurt. My plan was to move my nostrils slowly as if I was still breathing. I did my best to keep him from knowing. My face revealed nothing. Whenever he came forward I stuck my jab out. It was the jab that saved me. It bought me time to recover. It took the rest of the round to get my breath and clarity back. I was still trying to win in the next round but there was moment when I was against the ropes when my arms were so tired that they hurt more than the punches. I thought "What the hell" and I dropped my hands for about two seconds rest. he got a couple of shots in but they didn't really bother me. What did bother me was hearing Ken Norton say "It looks like Randy De La O (he pronounced it Deelayo) is getting tired. I remember thinking "Shit, it shows.

Things were pretty much going his way going into the sixth and last round. I remember several exchanges and I still kept pressing him. I was still doing my damnedest to win. Now the last round might not have looked pretty but I decided I was going to knock him out. I went after him. My arms were tired but I threw everything I had. I landed some and so did he. I might be wrong and maybe someday I'll see some footage of the fight but I remember him against the ropes as I was doing everything I could to knock that SOB out. I couldn't and didn't.

When the fight was over and before the announcer announced the winner, Mel said, "go over and shake his hand. He won the fight". The guy that was working the corner with Mel came up to me and with some emotion in his voice said to me "You gotta lot of heart kid, a lot of heart." He shook his head as he said it. Later Howie Steindler, almost verbatim and in the same, way said the same thing to me. I always wondered if it was because I got my ass kicked really bad or if i really did put up a great fight.

Now years later I wonder if I was just an opponent that was meant to fail. Maybe I surprised everyone by giving Barba a good fight.

On the flight back from Las Vegas, Mel and I were sitting quietly. I was disappointed that I didn't get the win. A man walked up to me and introduced himself to me as Alex Calderon, he was some exec with TWA, whose flight we were on. He said "Excuse me but weren't you one of the fighters that fought at the Aladdin?" I looked up, more embarrassed than anything else and said "Yes". He grabbed my hand and started to shake it with excitement. I was still confused because I had lost the fight. Suddenly he was no longer an executive for TWA but a fight fan. He told me what a great fight it was and that I had really fought a good fight. I didn't know what to say.

I was wearing sunglasses to hide my swollen left eye and just didn't want any attention but then he asked me for my autograph! I was shocked and to tell the truth I felt undeserving, I felt he was mistaking me for someone else. I looked at Mel and he said "Just sign it" he was smiling. So I signed it. Then Calderon says "Excuse me for one minute". Mel was laughing at my discomfort. The guy comes back with a wine bottle, along with all the stewardess' and stands next to me. I was completely unprepared for what he did next.

He said to everyone on board, "Excuse me, Ladies and gentleman, can I have your attention please? I want to introduce you to Randy De La O, he just fought a great fight at the Aladdin Hotel this weekend" He went on for a while, I can't remember everything he said because it was pretty much a blur. He then presented me with a wine bottle with a notation on it that read: "To Randy De La O, Good luck in the fight game". from Alex Calderon. I just remember everyone clapping and Mel saying to me, still laughing "Stand up and thank the people". So I did. I thanked everyone. I can tell you after that the flight home was a lot easier to bear.

Sometimes in life we have to take our victories as they come. I learned that day that win, lose or draw that I had the right stuff. I learned that I was capable of doing something that most men wouldn't do. It was just one ingredient in my life's learning process, there would be many, but it was a vital one and one that I am proud of. Sometimes a loss is a victory in disguise.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Slight Detour

After leaving the Sportsmen's Lodge and Studio City yesterday Jeri and I decided to stop off on Hollywood Blvd and stretch our legs a bit. We had a goal and it was to visit Muhammad Ali's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was only fitting considering Ali was also inducted (Posthumously) at CBHOF. We also saw Elvis Presley's 1959 Cadillac.

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Paying my respects to the "Greatest".

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Jeri and Elvis' 1959 Cadillac

2016 California Boxing Hall of Fame

By Randy De La O

Congratulation to all the 2016 California Boxing Hall of Fame honorees on their inductions at the Sportsmen's Lodge Saturday in Studio City, California. As it is every year, it was a classy and classic event. Our thanks to Don Fraser, Frank Baltazar, Rene Ramirez and the entire California Boxing Hall of Fame Committee. A special thanks to emcee Jim FitzGerald for an amazing job.

My good friend Rene Ramirez, former fighter and an “Ambassador of Good Will” for boxing received his induction for all his hard work on behalf of the greatest sport in the world. A well deserved honor for him and a source of pride for his family. It was an honor to share the day with him!

My wife Jeri and I had a great time. It was a bit of a walk back through time for me. One of the inductees, Zefferino “Speedy” Gonzalez, was a classmate of mine from El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, California (actually one grade below me). On top of all his other accomplishments in boxing, Zeffie is best remembered by boxing fans for his 1979 fight with the legendary Roberto Duran, giving Duran all he could handle, before losing a hard fought decision.

Renato Garcia, a junior middleweight and middle weight contender of the 1970's was also inducted Saturday. More than he can ever know, Renato was a huge part of my young boxing life and a large part of my memories of the long gone Main Street Gym. He was a humble, stoic and quiet fighter when I knew him 40 plus years ago and he remains so today. I had the honor of sparring many, many times with Renato. It was an honor to be there with him as he received this honor.

Another fighter from the old Main Street Gym days, featherweight, Francisco Flores received his induction as well.

All the speeches were great and heartfelt but the speech of the night, if not the year, belonged to Carlos Famoso Hernandez who gave an emotionally charged tribute to his wife and family, as well as one of his school teachers, and to all those that helped him along the way. I hope someone recorded it.

I have to fall back on that old and often over used cliche “This is what it's all about!” I say that because it's true. For a fighter, or any athlete to receive accolades for something that is so dear to him, especially when it comes decades later when it is all a long ago memory and perhaps just stories being told to grandchildren with that far away look in his (or her) eyes. To be able to reach back one more time and share it with the people that you love, and those that love you, well, “This is what it's all about!”

Boxing, like all sports has its ups and downs, it has its fair share of controversy and sometimes it even shows its dark side but everything that is good about boxing, everything that defines fair play, sportsmanship, heart, justifiable pride, determination and hard work, family, success and sometimes, failure and heart break, could be found within the confines of the Empire Room at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City. It was my honor to be there with you!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Thoughts on Pryor vs Arguello I (And the Decade That Was)

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By Randy De La O

When Alexis Arguello moved up in weight to challenge Aaron Pryor for the WBA Junior Welterweight title on November 12, 1982. I was rooting for Arguello. I didn't think it was shoo in but I thought he would win. As it was, it turned out to be one of the great fights of the 1980's.

I was rooting for Arguello, even up to that final millisecond when Pryor stopped Arguello with a barrage of punches that left him helpless against the ropes. It was a heart breaking knockout. Arguello really looked hurt. It broke my heart and the heart of everyone at my house that night. Arguello was a beloved fighter. .Still, Pryor had proven that he was the real deal. I had to give him respect as a man and as a fighter.

The fight itself was named the “Fight of the Decade” by Ring Magazine and the eighth greatest title fight of all time. That's saying a lot when you consider all the great fights that took place in the 1980's.

The following year, September 9, 1983, Pryor gave Arguello a shot at redemption but it was not to be. Arguello never beat Pryor but they did become friends. Both men were champions not only in the ring but in life.

I consider myself lucky to have come of age at a time when even the contenders were great and the great Champions faced the very best, consequences be damned. It will be a quite a while before we see their like again.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor Has Passed

By Randy De La O

Sad news today One of the fighters that made the 1980's one of the greatest era in boxing, Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor, has passed away. He was one half of one of the greatest fights from that era. The other half was Alexis Arguello. Pryor twice beat Arguello in the early 1980's, defending his Jr.Welterweight title in the process. Their first fight, in particular, has become part of boxing's historical, almost mythical lore.

Pryor was a non stop, forward moving, quick thinking force of nature. How we could use a fighter like him today!

Our condolences to his family , friends and his many fans across the country and the world.
Rest in Peace Aaron Pryor! And thank you!

Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor

For a younger generation, who may or may not truly understand why us old guys cling to the past. This was boxing! This was fighting!

Aaron Pryor vs Alexis Arguello I. A fight for the ages! Rest in Peace Champs!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Bobby Chacon Has Died

Bobby Chacon vs Danny "Little Red" Lopez
Bobby Chacon and Danny "Little Red" Lopez 

By Randy De La O

California Boxing Legend and former WBC Featherweight and Super Featherweight Champion Bobby Chacon has died. There was no more exciting fighter in the ring than Bobby nor was there ever a bigger heart.
My condolences to his family, friends and fans. He will be missed. On a personal note I was privileged to meet him years ago while training at the Main Street Gym and again later in life. God Bless you and Rest in Peace Bobby.

Bobby Chacon and Randy De La O
With Bobby Chacon at the Mando Ramos memorial Service 2008