By Rick Farris
By the time Dwight Hawkins turned twenty-three, he'd been a professional boxer nearly eight years. Hawkins had engaged in over 40 pro fights, many in the hometowns of some of the greatest boxers of the era. In order to get fights the Hawk had become a globe trotter and had traveled to Scotland, Venezuela and, of course, Mexico.
Mexico has always produced the finest of lower weight boxers and this was especially true during the years Dwight was active. The tough part about fighting in Mexico is that it was hard to win there. Even if you were good enough to beat the exceptional Mexican talent, the officials would find a way for the Mexican boxer to win. Boxing is serious business in Mexico and it's more important to Mexican boxers to be the champion of Mexico than it is to hold a world title.
Dwight Hawkins couldn't get important fights in his hometown because nobody wanted to risk suffering the effects of a match with the Hawk. So, Hawkins would face the best fighters that Mexico had to offer in places such as Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Juarez, Tampico, Mexicali and Tijuana.
Less than three weeks after the death of Davey Moore, the Hawk traveled to Monterrey, Mexico to take on one of the greatest featherweights in history. Vicente Saldivar was, without question, one of the best 126 pound champions to ever lace on a glove. He retired unbeaten in 1967 after defending the featherweight title eight times and then came back to recapture the crown three years later.
If facing a great fighter such as Saldivar in Mexico was not enough, Hawkins would do so just days after the death of his closest friend. The cards were not stacked in Dwight's favor. Of course, they never were.
After losing to Saldivar on April 19th, the Hawk would remain inactive thru the rest of 1963. The following year I would enter the world of boxing and as luck would have it, I would meet Dwight Hawkins. Not only would it mark the beginning of my boxing career, it would also be the start of a winning streak for Hawkins.
I'll never forget the way Johnny Flores would speak of Dwight Hawkins. Flores had a number of top fighters such as heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry and lightweight Ruben Navarro, however, when he spoke of Dwight Hawkins it was with the greatest of respect and I would soon learn why.
I'd train at the Johnny Flores Gym during the week, but would take the bus into downtown Los Angeles on the weekends to workout at the legendary Main Street Gym. Amateurs were allowed to work out until 11 am. on weekends but then would have to clear the floor for the pros.
I'd always hang around the gym for a couple of hours to watch some of the greatest professional boxers of the era workout. One of them was Dwight Hawkins. To this day I have never seen a more devistating body puncher than the Hawk. Dwight's body punches were so brutal his sparring partners had to wear a padded water ski vest to protect their ribs from the impact. I'm not talking about amateurs, but highly regarded main eventers who knew better than to risk their health for the sake of a workout with Hawkins.
I'll never forget the Saturday I saw Hawkins batter a rough featherweight contender named David Sotelo in the gym. Sotelo had hung in with Dwight for four rounds, however, as the fighter stepped out of the ring he was literally talking to himself. Sotelo was obviously incoherent after the beating he had taken.
A few weeks later, something happened that hit Hawkins almost as hard as the loss of Davey Moore: The Watts Riots.
If you had any idea how much Dwight Hawkins had put into the youth of Watts, the kids who struggled daily living in the projects of Imperial Courts and Jordan Downs, you'd understand.
Upon hearing the news of the trouble in Watts, Hawkins immediatly jumped into his car and headed for Imperial Courts, hoping he could diffuse some of the tension. However, the police had that part of the city barracaded and would not let Dwight enter the war zone. As he turned to leave he saw a group of young men take a trash can and toss it thru the window of a men's store. Hawkins parked his car and confronted the youth's as they attempted to loot the building.
As a couple of the young men came out of the building with a stack of clothes, Hawkins asked them, "Hey man, why are you doing this? Don't you think this is dumb"? One of the bigger young men dropped the clothes he was carrying and took a step toward Hawkins, as if to start a fight. However, one look into the serious eyes of Dwight Hawkins told the youth that he best not take another step closer. Instead, he picked up the clothes and ran off with the other boys laughing.
A year later, after the riots were long over, Hawkins continued his work at Imperial Courts. He organized another boxing program and would spend his own money to provide boxing equipment for the kids at the project.
By 1966, Hawkins had remained unbeaten since the loss to Saldivar two years previous. During that time, Saldivar kayoed Sugar Ramos to win the World Featherweight title. In his first defense of the crown, Saldivar scored a 15th round knockout over a tough Los Angeles contender named Raul Rojas.
Rojas was a talented West Coast featherweight and was managed by Jackie McCoy. McCoy had been a top bantamweight back in the 40's and was one of the most respected manager-trainers in boxing. Jackie was not only a great teacher, but a well connected handler, whose boxers automatically became "house fighters" at the Olympic Auditorium. Promoter Aileen Eaton and Jackie McCoy had an unofficial alliance. McCoy's job was to provide the talent and Eaton would use her power to promote the talent into a world championship.
In 1966, Rojas was 24-years-old and after losing to Saldivar, had run up a string of victories that kept him at the top of the world ratings. Dwight Hawkins wanted nothing more than a chance to fight Rojas and was not afraid to make his desire known in public. After one of Hawkins' spectacular KO's at the Olympic, Dwight openly challenged Rojas in a televised post-fight interview. "Hey Raul, I know you're not chicken, so why don't you fight me right here at the Olympic to prove who is the best featherweight in Los Angeles". Hawkins' plea fell on deaf ears. Jackie McCoy was not a fool and neither was Aileen Eaton. The following year Rojas would defeat Enrique Higgens of Columbia to win the WBA Featherweight Title. Once again, Dwight Hawkins was left out in the cold.
Johnny Flores and Hal Benson took Dwight back down to Mexico where he would take on Mexican Featherweight Champ Aurileo Muniz in Tampico. At this point, Dwight Hawkins was at his absolute best, in his "prime" as boxing people say.
Muniz was rated in the top ten by The Ring Magazine and was second only to Saldivar among Mexican featherweights. In the seventh round, Hawkins knocked out the Mexican Champ. After the referee counted ten over Muniz, Flores grabbed Hawkins' robe and climbed up the steps into the ring. The local fans were upset that their fighter had been flattened and began to throw debris. As Hawkins and Flores awaited the decision they could see that there was some sort of commotion going on across the ring and Flores went to investigate.
The ring announcer grabbed the microphone and declared the fallen Muniz the winner on a technicality. The Mexican officials at ringside told Flores that he had violated the rules by entering the ring before the decision was announced. Now how's that for stretching it?
Flores was irate and filed a grievence with the Mexican Boxing Commission. About a week later the Commision changed the final verdict to a "draw." Today, the record reads that Hawkins and Muniz fought to a ten round draw on Arpril 7, 1967. However, the truth is Muniz never made it out of the seventh round.
Three weeks later, Hawkins scored a tenth round knockout over Jose Garcia in Las Vegas. This took place exactly a month before The Hawk would engage in one of the greatest fights in the history of Los Angeles boxing.
On June 1, 1967, Hawkins would fight top rated featherweight Bobby Valdez before a near capacity crowd at the Olympic Auditorium. It was promised that the winner of this bout would get a shot at Vicente Saldivar's world title before the end of summer. I'll never forget this fight. I was sitting with my dad and grandfather, about three rows from the ringside.
Both Valdez and Hawkins were hungry for a shot at the crown and went toe-to-toe in the most brutal prize fight I've ever seen. In the end, both fighters were bloody and had tasted the canvas. Valdez got off to a quick start and had the edge in the early rounds but Hawkins' vicious body attack started to take it's toll in the second half. Dwight had Valdez reeling in the final round but the courageous former Navy champ, from San Diego, hung on to the final bell. The bout was rightfully declared a draw and would be voted as Los Angeles' Fight of the Year for 1967.
Although the scorecards showed an even fight, the greater damage was done by Hawkins. The fight took everything out of Bobby Valdez and he was never the same again. Dwight just seemed to get better. Aileen Eaton sought an immediate rematch but Valdez's manager, Wes Wombold, said "no way". Since Hawkins was ready to fight and Valdez could'nt, he believed that he might finally get a shot at the title. However, Aileen Eaton told Flores, "no winner, no title shot". A few months later, Bobby Valdez retired.
Hawkins won his next four fights, two by KO, before leaving the country one more time to take on another unbeaten future world champ. This time, The Hawk would be headed for Tokyo, Japan.
Kiniaki Shibata is perhaps the best Japanese featherweight of all-time. On March 27, 1968, just two days before his twenty-first birthday, Shibata climbed into the ring with number three rated Dwight Hawkins at Tokyo's Kurokuen Hall. The unbeaten young Japanese contender had a record of 21-0 (15 KO's) and was looking past Hawkins to a match with his countryman, the great Fighting Harada. Harada had just lost the bantamweight title to Lionel Rose and was moving up to the featherweight division.
Unfortunatly for Shibata, he would have to get past The Hawk first. It was'nt going to happen. Hawkins beat the Japanese boxer to a pulp before putting him to sleep midway thru the seventh round. Shibata was unconcious so long that he had to be carried out of the ring on a stretcher. A couple of years later, Kiniaki Shibata would knock out Vicente Saldivar and win the World Featherweight championship.
I'll never forget the night Johnny Flores walked into his backyard gym after returning from Japan with Hawkins. He was carrying the front page of a Japanese newspaper and there was a huge picture of Shibata being carried out of the ring on a stretcher. Flores was very happy because the Japanese loved Hawkins and were offering big money for him to fight there.
A few weeks later Hawkins would return to Japan and take on another world rated Japanese featherweight, Rokuro Ishiyama. Hawkins flattened the Japanese featherweight champ in two rounds.
More popular than ever, Dwight Hawkins was once again invited back to Tokyo. In his next bout, Dwight Hawkins would be matched with the greatest Japanese boxer ever, former two-time World Champion, Mashiko Fighting Harada.
On June 5, 1968, Dwight Hawkins would step into a Tokyo boxing ring for the third time in just over two months. Fighting Harada was more than a former world champ, he was a Japanese legend. Hawkins and Harada went toe-to-toe in the center of the ring for ten rounds. Neither fighter would take a backward step and thruout the bout their heads crashed together opening cuts over the eyes of both boxers. At the end of the fight, Harada's white satin boxing trunks were red with blood. An American reporter in attendence told Flores that he'd counted more than eighty head butts during the fight.
The fight had been close but it appeared as if Dwight Hawkins had once again defeated a Japanese boxer. However, Harada was'nt just any Japanese boxer and the hometown officials were not going to allow their national hero to lose. Harada was awarded a split-decision win over Hawkins and was now in line for a shot at the new featherweight title holder, Johnny Famechon. Famechon had won the title following Vicente Saldivar's sudden retirement the previous year. However, ten rounds with Hawkins had taken a lot out of the Japanese great and Harada would lose twice to Famechon in two attempts to win the 126 pound title.
Despite the loss to Harada, Dwight Hawkins remains a celebrity in Japan to this day. It would be in Japan where Dwight would meet and marry his current wife of more than thirty years.
Back in Los Angeles, Jack Kent Cooke opened a beautiful new sports venue right next door to the Hollywood Park race track. Cooke named his state-of-the-art arena "The Fabulous Forum" and would use it to showcase the two professional teams he owned, The Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA and his hockey team, the Los Angeles Kings.
The Forum was one of the finest sports arenas on earth and could hold more than 18,000 fans for a boxing match. Legendary boxing promoter George Parnassus would take on the responsibility of promoting boxing matches at The Forum and Johnny Flores hoped this might offer his fighter Dwight Hawkins a chance to fight for a world title. There was no hope of Hawkins getting a title fight thru Aileen Eaton, who refused to allow any of her Olympic Auditorium "house boxers" to fight The Hawk.
After scoring a unanimous decision over a Filipino-Hawaiian named Jet Parker in Honolulu, Dwight Hawkins would face another tough Los Angeles based featherweight in his Forum Debut. On November 4, 1968, Dwight Hawkins and "Irish" Frankie Crawford would headline an all-start card that also featured the U.S. debut of future Welterweight Champ Jose Napoles and Dwight's stablemate, Ruben Navarro, the "Maravilla Kid" from East L.A.
This was a fight that had Hawkins concerned. I remember that all of the boxers fighting on the card would train daily in a boxing gym set-up in the ball room of the Alexandria Hotel in downtown L.A. George Parnassus' office was at the Alexandria and on weekends I'd finish my workouts at the Main Street Gym and then hurry over to the Alexandria to watch Hawkins, Crawford and the rest of the fighters on the upcoming Forum card workout.
I was sixteen at the time and remember sitting next to Hawkins as he wrapped his hands prior to one of the workouts. Hawkins was not worried about defeating Crawford but he was concerned about Frankie's dirty style. Crawford was one of the dirtiest fighters in the sport and I overheard Hawkins tell Navarro that if Frankie tried any of his garbage he would get it back worse. Dwight Hawkins did'nt need illegal tactics to win, but was well versed in the art of dirty fighting, if necessary. At the time Crawford was being managed by televison star Robert Conrad, whose TV series "The Wild, Wild West" was number one in the ratings. Conrad was a "wanna be" boxer who lived vicariously thru Crawford and took great pleasure in working his fighter's corner.
Crawford was a legitimatly tough world class contender whom had defeated lightweight champ Mando Ramos among others during his career. I remember attending the fight with my father and was a bit disappointed that our seats were not a little bit closer. However, thanks to a pair of binoculars, I had a very good view of what went on in the ring that night. In the first round Crawford hit Dwight with an uppercut below the belt and Hawkins landed on the seat of his pants. My binoculars were focused right in on the face of Hawkins and I knew that Crawford was about to pay dearly for this. Hawkins jumped to his feet and, from that moment on, handed Frankie Crawford the worst beating of his career. In the eighth round, Crawford was literally knocked thru the ropes and nearly fell out of the ring. If it were not for the ringside press who put there hands out to catch Frankie, he'd have rolled to the floor. Crawford struggled to get to his feet but could'nt beat the count of ten. Hawkins not only KO'ed Frankie Crawford, but did so in spectacular style. I would have to say that the funniest thing about this was the look on the face of Robert Conrad's -- the actor was in shock.
Hawkins would win several more times after defeating Crawford, however, was getting no closer to a title fight. Nearly thirty years old, time was running out on Dwight Hawkins. He'd been fighting professionally for nearly half his life and had more than eighty fights undr his belt.
The Ring magazine rated Hawkins number one in the world and an elimination match was set up to determine the next challenger for World Featherweight champ Johnny Famechon. Once again, Dwight Hawkins would be matched with yet another unbeaten future world champion. This time Hawkins would fight Venezuela's Antonio Gomez in a ten round title elimination bout on the undercard of the Lionel Rose-Ruben Olivares bantamweight title bout at The Forum.
While training for the Gomez fight, Hawkins sparred with bantamweight champ Lionel Rose one afternoon at the Alexandria Hotel. However, it would be a one time experience because The Hawk's devastating body shots bruised the Austrailian's ribs. As a result, Rose was forced to miss sparring for the next couple of days to allow his ribs to heal.
Before a packed house at the Fabulous Forum, Dwight Hawkins would fight his heart out for the very last time. At the end of nine rounds Hawkins had a slight edge on the scorecards of all three officials. It looked like Dwight Hawkins was just one round away from the title fight that had been alluding him for more than a dozen years. However, in the tenth and final round, Dwight Hawkins went down from a solid left hook to the chin. The Hawk struggled to his feet by the count of eight and told referee Dick Young he was "OK". However, Hawkins was not OK and Gomez battered Dwight against the ropes. Hawkins took a number of solid shots but refused to go down. The leg that Dwight had almost lost as a child was still supported by the elastic band he'd used so many years before when he began boxing as a child. The Hawk's legs were unsteady, but he was on his feet and trying to fight back.
With less than a minute remaining in the fight, Hawkins long time manager Johnny Flores, threw in the towel. Flores would later tell us that it was the hardest thing he ever had to do during the half century he had worked with boxers.
A few moments later I saw something that I had never seen before and will likely never see again. As I walked toward the dressing room area to see Hawkins, I saw tears in the eyes of some of the toughest boxing personalities in the sport. Many of them were in the house a dozen years earlier when Hawkins, only a teenager, had KO'ed Jose Becerra.
I've never felt so bad over a boxer losing a fight as I did that night in 1969. I felt empty inside and could'nt help but wonder, "What's next for Dwight Hawkins"? I would get the answer the following day at the Main Street Gym.
The next morning I was shadow boxing in front of a mirror next to the entrance to the gym floor and was surprised to see the Hawk walk in carrying his gym bag. I couldn't imagine why he would be in the gym the morning after a tough fight like he'd had the night before. Hawkins looked around and spotted Johnny Flores who was talking with Hal Benson and a couple of trainers. When Benson saw Hawkins he greeted the Hawk with a big smile on his face. Before Dwight could say a word Benson told him that he had some good news. Lionel Rose had also been knocked out the night before by Ruben Olivares, losing his banatmweight title. George Parnassus had told Benson after the fight that Rose would be moving up to the featherweight division and that he would like to match Hawkins with Rose, with the winner to get a shot at the featherweight title. Hawkins just smiled and told Benson "No thanks, I'm finished". He then handed Flores his gym bag and told Johnny to give the equipment to some young fighter who could us it. Benson put his hand on Dwight's shoulder and tried to convince him that he was one fight away from a title shot. The Hawk just smiled and then left the gym for the last time.
The following year I turned professional and after a half dozen fights I saw Dwight Hawkins in the gym one day. I immediatly went over to the Hawk to say hello and was happy to hear that he had returned to help Flores train heavyweight Mac Foster. Foster was a top heavyweight and had just signed a management contract with Flores. That day I got some great news from Johnny Flores. Flores told me that Hawkins would also be training me.
I was scheduled to fight on the undercard of a world lightweight title bout between champion Ken Buchanan and my stablemate Ruben Navarro. Ironically, the card would be held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, they same building where 17-year-old Dwight Hawkins had upset Jose Becerra more than fourteen years earlier. I was eighteen at the time and found myself being over powered by stronger, more mature opponents. My boxing skills and speed allowed me to compete with these men but I needed more power. With the help of Dwight Hawkins, I was able to gain the extra punching power I needed. With Flores and the Hawk in my corner, I knocked out a tough vet who had held me to a draw in my first pro fight.
I lost contact with Hawkins after I stopped boxing and it was more than twenty years later before I would see him again. In 1995, I was recovering from a work-related injury that had me on crutches for a few weeks. As I hobbled around on the crutches I couldn't help but think of Dwight Hawkins and how he had been on crutches as a child. I began to wonder how the Hawk was doing and decided to try and locate him. A call to information was all I needed to find Dwight Hawkins and when I called I was happy that he still remembered who I was. A couple of days later my friend John Brumshagen who, ironiclly, had been close with featherweight Frankie Crawford, drove me to Hawkins house for a visit.
It was great visiting with Dwight Hawkins. As we sat in Dwight's living room and talked, I kept bringing up great fights from the past I'd seen him in. Dwight would smile and politely acknowledge his boxing career but would then quickly change the subject to what he really considered important. Dwight's main concern today is the kids of South Central Los Angeles and the problem related to the gangs.
It's guys like Dwight Hawkins that represent the best of boxing. More accuratly, it's guys like Dwight Hawkins that represent the best of humanity.
How lucky for me to have been around a guy like the Hawk.