Sunday, April 12, 2009

Remembering the Teamsters Gym . . .

By Rick Farris

The 1965 Western Region Golden Gloves Championships were televised on KTLA Channel-5 in Los Angeles.

The Championship round of the tournament was held at the Valley Gardens Arena,
an old venue that would hold it's very last boxing match that night.
The following year, the old brick arena located on Vineland Ave. in North Hollywood, at the end of a Burbank Airport runway, would become a warehouse.
Today it's long gone.

I watched the Golden Gloves on TV from the Valley Gardens Arena.
I was anxious to see a hot young heavyweight I was reading about, a guy from Bellflower named Jerry Quarry.

This was the first time I watched amateur boxing.
I didn't know anything about the boxers, managers, trainers, gyms, promoters who operated out of my hometown.
All I knew about boxing or boxers was the product of the old Friday Night Fights, which generally focused on guys from back east.

I had grown up hearing stories of Art Aragon, Lauro Salas and Keeny Teran from my Uncle Jess.
My uncle was a regular at both the Hollywood Legion and Olympic back in the day, however, the guys he'd tell me about were long gone.

What I would watch on TV this night, would prove to be the start of a new era.
The old one took it's last breath long before Kennedy was shot. The Legion was gone, The Olympic was gasping for air.

However, something new was on the way. Weekly televised boxing from the Olympic, would suddenly pump life into L.A. boxing.
At the same time, a brash young heavyweight champ would pump life into the sport internationally.

On this night, a TV screen would give me a peek into my future.
I would see a man named Johnnie Flores for the first time, working the corner of his heavyweight, Quarry, and few others.

Channel-5 televised the entire show, including the novice division title fights.
From this I would get my first look at guys like Louie Jaureque, Jake Horn, Norm Lockwood, Phil Silvers, Jake Shagrue, Howie Steindler, Gordon Shaw, Jerry Moore & Henry Blouin, and other L.A. handlers.

The tournament featured names like Armando Muniz, Jimmy Robertson, Henry Walker, Quarry, Dub Huntley, Thurman Durden.
They were introduced fighting out of clubs such as the Main Street Gym, Teamsters Gym, the Jake Shagrue Gym, the Johnnie Flores Gym, Stanton A.C., the Seaside Gym in Long Beach, etc.
Ringside announcer Dick Enberg reported that amateur boxing was going strong in Los Angeles.
Gyms were packed and the competition strong. How right he was.

Jimmy Lennon was the ring announcer that night.

In a bantamweight fight, I watch a guy win the title.
His name was Victor "Butch" Contreras and he fought out of the Teamsters Gym.
I had no idea that in a few years, I'd be scheduled to fight this man in a professional bout.
The fight never materialized, he did not show for a morning weigh-in at the Olympic.
However, this was my first introduction to the Teamsters Gym. A Teamsters fighter took the bantam title.
In the next bout, his brother, Davey Contreras would take the featherweight championship.

When I finally started my boxing journey, a few weeks later, I'd soon step thru the doors of the Teamsters Gym for the first time.
This is where I would have my first boxing match.
3-1 minute rounds in a junior amateur bout. My opponent, Armando Cordova. I weighed 75 pounds.

I'd only been training at the Johnnie Flores Gym about three weeks when I stepped into the ring for my first junior amateur fight.
I hadn't been boxing long, but I was ready to fight when Flores asked me if I'd like to box on a junior card at the Teamsters Gym.
I'd meet my trainer, Manny Diaz, and another boxer from our gym at Johnnie's house.
We'd leave from there and meet Johnnie at Teamsters.

I remember the ride downtown that evening.
I was about to have my first fight, but all I could do was try to imagine what the Teamsters Gym would be like.
I remember we traveled down 6th Street in downtown L.A., heading east.
We then jump over to 7th St. and continue on until we come to Stanford Street and turn right.
Looking down the block I could see a crowd filling the sidewalk outside a brightly lit building that looked like some kind of castle.
"That's it", Diaz said. "Now I gotta find a place to park".

We parked on the street around the corner from the gym and walked to the front of the building.
There were a lot of fighters around, old pros with faces laced with scartissue and flattened noses.
They were out front, laughing, talking about the previous nights TV main-event from the Olympic.
There were lots of kids, some wearing gold & blue satin jackets with "Junior Golden gloves Champion" embroidered on the back.

This was the first time I'd laid eyes on the jackets presented to Jr. Golden Gloves Champions.
I wanted one. I was going to have one, some day.

We walked up the steps leading to the corner door of the Teamsters Gym. When I stepped inside, I saw something very familiar.
Have I been here before, is this deja vu?

I looked toward the ring sitting in the middle of an open floor area, surrounded by fold up chairs and benches.
People were claiming their seats, quickly filling those ringside.
There was a balcony walk-way that circled the floor from above.

Where had I seen this? It suddenly hit me!
This was the gym I saw in an old black & white movie, one filmed about the time I was born.
The movie was one of my favorite boxing movies, "The Ring", starring Gerald Mohr and a teenage Rita Moreno.

I wasn't at all nervous, no butterflies, none of what I would later experience before every fight I would have in the future.
I was too green to know that confidence is often ignorance in disguise. I would soon learn the difference between the two.

I hear Johnnie Flores' voice, and turn to see him at the bottom of a stairway leading down to the basement.
Flores was waving to Manny, telling him to bring his two boxers down to weigh-in.
This would be the moment I would see Frank Baltazar for the first time.
Frank was sitting with a few other coaches at a table, they were making matches for the evening.
I step up on the scale and the three matchmakers all looked at my weight. "75 pounds," Louie announces to the others.

Coaches were trying to negotiate their boxer's matches.
"No, he's too heavy for my kid." or "No, he's got too much experience, but he can fight my open class guy, they're about the same size."
Sound familia, Frank?

Frank Baltazar was a young man, not yet thirty. He had jet black hair combed back. His boys were already matched.
I think his oldest son, Frankie Jr. was matched with a kid from Pomona, Armando Davila (?), Albert's younger brother.
Flores is at the table, looking over names, talking with Louie, Frank and Jake.

A moment later he returns to where I am sitting in the seat of an old wooden rowing machine.
"I got you a fight."
"Yeah . . . who am I fighting?"
"That kid in the corner, his name is Armando Cordova.

I look over and see a kid with his trainer. He's pulling on his trunks
Cordova was a Teamsters fighter, about my age, size. He had been boxing for awhile, had some experience.
I didn't care. I was ready to fight, or so I thought.

After the matches were made, and the crowd had settled into their seats, the show began.
As always, the amateurs begin with the lightest boxers and then move up to the heavier boys.
At 75 pounds, I was a good thirty pounds heavier than the Pee-Wees. So my bout would go on somewhere in the middle of the show.
In L.A. by the time you see a 17-year-old in his first official amateur bout, he's likely been fighting in the ring for a decade.

When I finally stepped into the ring for my first fight, my attitude was right. However, three weeks of training wasn't enough to make my conditioning right.
On this night, I would fight the guy hard for two rounds. Holding my own in round one, fighting him in round two but starting to get winded.
Fighting in front of a crowd is different than in the gym. You get more tired in front of people.
In round three, I got my ass kicked. I was out of gas, but hung in and kept punching until the bell.
I took a lot of punches in the last round, didn't land many of my own.
I lost a unanimous decision. I was disappointed, but not discouraged.
I knew exactly what I needed for next time, lots of roadwork.

A month later, I would fight another Teamsters boxer, a black kid who had only one fight, like me.
The bout was held at the Main Street Gym. This time I was very nervous, but I was also in good shape.

I went right to the guy at the bell, caught him with a hard right early, and he went down.
He got up, I went right to him and started landing punches. The fight was stopped and I was awarded a 1st round TKO.

I was now 1-1 against Teamsters boxers.

Over the next five years of my amateur career, I'd fight a lot of boxers representing the Teamsters Gym.
The guys who coached the boxers at Teamsters were all good, guys who created world class boxers in both amateur and pro rings.
They turned out a lot of great boxers over the years, long before and long after my boxing career.

However, the one thing I think of today when I picture the Teamsters Gym, is a scene from the movie, "The Ring".

Filmed in 1952, a young flyweight sensation made a cameo appearance, hitting the heavy bag.
His name was Keeny Teran.

Thanks to my Uncle Jess, I knew who Keeny Teran was.
Today, thanks to Frank Baltazar and Hap Navarro, I really know who Keeny Teran is . . .

A "Classic American West Coast Boxing" legend.


-Rick Farris

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