The "Maravilla Kid"
Painting by Roger Esty
The "Maravilla Kid" . . .
by Rick Farris
If somebody were to ask me to describe in one word, the boxing style of Ruben Navarro, it would be difficult to do, just as Ruben's style was difficult for opponents to deal with.
Elusive, unorthodox, agrressive, defensive, explosive . . . take your pick?
Ruben was kind of like Houdini when backed into a corner by a power puncher, he was a natural escape artist.
I've seen Ruben Navarro bend, twist and contort his body in so many ways avoiding punishment. One time he dipped so low to the ground while trapped in a corner, I thought he was going to crawl thru his opponents legs. He almost did, but was able to slip around to the outside and turn the tables on his attacker.
I'll say this, his style reaked havoc among some of the greatest lightweights in the world during the late 60's to mid-70's.
I'd meet Ruben Navarro in 1967, a few fights into his pro career, when his longtime coach, Marty Denkin, turned over the Maravilla Kid's contract to Johnny Flores.
I was just a Junior Golden Glover at the time, but when Ruben joined our stable, he joined top professionals such as up and coming heavyweight, Jerry Quarry, and featherweight terror, Dwight "The Hawk" Hawkins.
Ruben Navarro was 100% East L.A.
Navarro grew up in Maravilla, a tough Eastside barrio that spawned many a prizefighter during the past century.
Maravilla was home to former world bantamweight title challeneger Jesus Pimentel, and featherweight title challengers Danny Valdez and Jose Pimentel, Jesus' twin brother.
Of all the great fighters that would come out of East L.A. during the era, none had the charisma of the "Maravilla Kid".
Ruben started his boxing career at the Eastside Boy's Club, under the coaching of Marty Denkin.
Marty, a future Hall of Fame referee, would put young Ruben into the Junior Golden Gloves and eventually take him to the 1964 U.S. Olympic Trials, which took place at the Singer Bowl of the New York World's Fair.
I remember Ruben Navarro back in 1967, when he joined the Johnny Flores stable. Ruben had been a hot shot amateur in Los Angeles from the late 50's thru the 1964 Olympic Trials.
The Olympics that produced Joe Frazier.
Ruben wouldn't make the team that rep'd the USA in Tokyo, but he made it to the trials, and that in itself was an accomplishment.
After the Olympics, Ruben competed in the 1965 Golden Gloves and the went into the Army.
After his hitch in the service was up, Navarro returned to L.A. and turned professional.
Ruben quickly began to dominate the 130 pounders of Los Angeles. Under Denkin, the only blemish on Ruben's career was a draw with future featherweight contender, Tony Alvarado.
He whipped local favorites such Baby Cassius and Leonard Lopez, the older brother of Danny and Ernie "Indian Red" Lopez.
After that, Denkin turned Navarro over to Johnny Flores in late 1967.
With weekly boxing cards broadcast live on TV from the Olympic Auditorium, Ruben Navarro would quickly become one of L.A.'s most popular attractions.
The ELA kid whose friends called him "Jemima", because of his dark skin, was on the edge of boxing stardom.
In 1968, Flores would help turn Ruben Navarro into a world class junior lightweight.
I remember the first time I saw Ruben boxing at the Main Street Gym. He and his old pal, Jose Pimentel, would put on a helluva exhibition.
The next day, I would warm Ruben up, sparring with him before he boxed with both Pimentel and Rod Contreras, another Flores stablemate of ours.
In 1968, Flores would match his newest hot shot with one of the hardest punching top ten rated lightweights in the world, Nigeria's Ray Adigun.
The bout was held at the Olympic Auditorium and Navarro out-boxed and out-punched the African, dropping him twice before the bout was stopped in the ninth round.
A month later he travels to Tokyo with Johnny and Julio Flores, his trainer, and upsets one of the greatest Japanese world champs ever, Hiroshi Kobayashi.
You know that Ruben must have laced him pretty good, the Japanese make it difficult to win in their country.
Less than two months later, it's back to L.A. to make his Forum boxing debut on the undercard of the Dwight Hawkins-Frankie Crawford featherweight showdown.
This time Ruben would be facing the Mexican Lightweight Champ, Arturo Lomeli, in a 12-rounder for the North American Lightweight title.
Lomeli was tough, and he floored Ruben twice in the twelve rounder. Ruben showed his heart, but it wasn't his night.
The Maravilla kid would lose for the first time, but he proved he could come off the deck and fight his way back.
Flores kept Ruben busy, despite the loss to Lomeli, Navarro was on a roll.
He was a hot item in Japan after whipping Kobayashi, and the Japanese would appreciate some revenge.
To get that revenge another world champ, Yoshiaki Numata, would get the call.
Just a few weeks after his first loss, Ruben Navarro , Flores and company were on a jet back to Tokyo.
Again, Ruben had his way with a Japanese champion, but this time he wouldn't have his way with the judges.
After the final bell, Flores said they were confident of another win. They had to settle for a draw.
That's all the Japanses were going to let Navarro leave with this time.
No sooner had Johnny Flores returned to L.A. following Navarro's draw with Numata, he recieved a phone call from Manila.
The phone call would net Ruben Navarro his first world title fight.
Two months after the Numata match, Ruben and team Navarro would be returning to the Orient, this time to the Philipines.
The opponent would be Manila's Rene Barrientos, and the match would be for the Vacant WBC Super-featherweight title.
The title fight would be held in a large outdoor stadium and I recall Flores describing the venue.
Flores said that all of the public rest rooms were closed to the fans, the facilities were used to house cages of fighting game cocks, for cock fights held at the arena on sundays.
The fans would just pee on the corridor walls.
Navarro didn't have much problem out hustling Barrientos, but a hometown decision sent the Maravilla Kid back to L.A. without a title.
During the next year Ruben Navarro would put together a half dozen more victories before being matched with cross-town rival, "Irish" Jimmy Robertson.
This would be a tough match for Navarro, who had been down and behind on points before stopping Robertson on a cut in the fifth.
A rematch would be in order, but first Ruben had other business to deal with in Los Angeles.
A month after Navarro's match with Jimmy Robertson, I would make my pro debut at the Olympic. A month later, I'd have my second pro fight on the undercard of a big L.A. grudge match.
In this bout, my stablemate Ruben Navarro, would take on former two-time world champ, Raul Rojas in the main event.
Rojas had been talking tough in the papers and called the Maravilla Kid, "A dog."
The bout was held in July, 1970 and Navarro had his way with Rojas, sending him to the deck in the ninth round, before capturing a unanimous ten-round decision.
After the beating Ruben laid on Rojas, it was obvious that the only dog in the ring was Raul, a dog with a lot of fleas.
After the bout, Ruben was introduced to my girlfriend's family, which included her sister, a local TV celebrity and her husband, Olympic pole-vault gold medalist and world record holder, Bob Seagren.
The following week, Ruben would join Bob Seagren and myself on our distance runs. Roadwork suddenly became a lot more than a run thru the hills.
In the gym, in the ring, Ruben Navarro would have the better of it when we boxed together. On the trail, things weren't so easy.
Ruben Navarro was a great distance runner. He'd competed on his high school cross country team and would hang in with Seagren on our runs, at least until the end when Bob would kick it up and leave Ruben and I in the dust.
We'd run thru the hills in Monterey Park and occasionally hit the L.A. Coliseum where we'd run stadium stairs with Seagren.
The extensive road work Ruben and I did with Bob Seagren paid off for both us condition wise.
Ruben was hitting his prime and worked hard in the gym, but he played equally hard during the night, when he'd go out drinking and drugging.
When not in training for a specific fight, Ruben's life became one big party.
A couple months after the Rojas victory, Ruben Navarro had to settle some old business.
Aileen Eaton matched Ruben with the only man to defeat him, Mexico's Arturo Lomeli. Again, I would open the show in a four rounder.
During the two years that had passed since his loss to Lomeli, Navarro had defeated two world champs, not to mention rugged Jimmy Robertson.
This bout would be the the first ever to determine an NABF Lightweight Champion, and once again it would be close.
Ruben staggered Lomeli in the third round, but the tough Mexican came back strong. Navarro put on a late rally to pull out a split decision victory.
Ruben closed out 1970 with a two round knockout over Filippino Mar Yuzon at the Olympic, and then would take a few weeks off.
Ruben partied hard during his time off with no idea what awaited him in the new year.
Mando Ramos had lost his lightweight title to Ismael Laguna in early 1970. In his first title defense, Laguna lost the title to Scotland's Ken Buchanan.
Aileen Eaton was anxious for Ramos to win back the championship, and set up a WBA lightweight title match with Buchanan.
The date for the Buchanan-Ramos title fight was set for February 12, 1971 at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
After the bout was signed, Johnny Flores informed me that I would be opening the show in a six-rounder.
I was excited to be fighting on a World Championship undercard and was in great shape for the opportunity.
About the same time, Flores signs for Ruben to face Jimmy Robertson in a rematch, roughly six weeks after the Buchanan-Ramos fight.
About a week before the lightweight title fight, I see Ruben at the Olympic Auditorium, attending a thursday night fight card.
It was obvious that Navarro was loaded, stumbling up and down the aisles, shaking hands with fans, taking bows.
I knew that he would be leaving for camp a few days later, and that I'd be joining the camp for a few days of sparring prior to my six-rounder on the title card the following friday.
The day we arrived at the Massacre Canyon Inn in Hemet for training camp, Johnny Flores joins us later in the restaurant.
Flores had been in L.A. all day negotiating with Aileen Eaton over a deal for Navarro, however, it wasn't for his match with Robertson.
As it turns out, Mando Ramos had pulled out of the title fight with Buchanan, just four days prior to the match.
The excuse was that Mando was injured, but we all knew it had something to do with his drug abuse.
The L.A. Sports Arena was nearly sold out for the title fight, and suddenly Eaton had no opponent for Buchanan.
Flores offered up Ruben Navarro as a replacment, and Aileen quickly agreed to the match.
As we are sitting in the restaurant, Flores breaks the news to Ruben, that on friday evening he'd be fighting Ken Buchanan for the World Lightweight Championship.
We were all happy for Ruben, but I was privatley concerned for my stablemate. He was in no conditon to fight anybody, let alone the lightweight champion of the world.
I kept picturing him staggering around the Olympic just a few days earlier, totally drunk and high.
On Friday night, the Maravilla Kid, totally out of condition, stepped into the ring with Ken Buchanan at the L.A. Sports Arena.
I had scored my first pro knockout on the undercard, and was praying that Ruben Navarro could pull off the same thing against Buchanan.
For a moment, I thought my prayer had been answered.
At the opening bell, Ruben darted across the ring and went right to work on Buchanan. Less than halfway thru the round, Navarro lands an overhand right that lands solid on Buchanan's chin.
The tough Scot hits the deck for a flash knockdown and the Los Angeles Sports Arena exploded in excitment.
Buchanan rose quickly and was able to survive Navarro's attempt to put him away.
Navarro's conditioning could not sustain a steady attack and as the bout progressed, Buchanan took control and defeated Navarro by way of a fifteen-round decision.
Navarro had little chance of winning, but considering his conditoning and last minute notice, he impressed most in atttendence.
The following month, Navarro still had another fight to prepare himself for, the rematch with Robertson.
With his bank account getting an unexpected boost with the purse from his title fight, Ruben and Carol Navarro purchased a beautiful Spanish style home in Monterey Park.
Ruben and Carol's new home was just a few blocks from the home of my girlfriend's family.
We would all attend a housewarming party at the Navarro home just a week before the rematch with Jimmy Robertson.
In March of 1971, just over a month after losing to Buchanan, I would open the show the night Ruben would face Jimmy Robertson for the second time at the Olympic.
The bout was scheduled for twelve rounds for the vacant NABF Lightweight title.
Ruben scored well in the third round, but the bout was boring. Both fighters grabbed and held, and following a late rally, Robertson took a close majority decision.
During the next six months Navarro would fight just one time, winning an easy decision over Tony Jumao-As, before signing for another big L.A. showdown.
This time, Ruben would take on one the most popular prizefighters to ever come out of Los Angeles, Armando Ramos.
Ramos was only 22, but had become the youngest boxer in history to win the world lightweight championship.
As a result of his wild life style, he'd also become the youngest lightweight champ to lose the title.
Despite Los Angeles having several world class lightweight contenders, the career of Mando Ramos overshadowed the rest.
Like Navarro, Ramos lived a wild lifestyle and had lost his title only a year after winning it.
This bout wouldn't have a championship tied to it, at least not officially, however, at stake was something more important to both Navarro and Ramos.
Both sought bragging rights as the best lightweight in L.A. and the two were far from strangers.
More than once, Mando Ramos and Ruben Navarro had spent time together partying. There was a friendly respect, but also a pair of big egos backed by big talent.
There was no shortage of animosity going into this bout, but Navarro had another obstacle to consider.
Mando Ramos was the "house fighter" at the Olympic.
Mando's ring talent won the world title, but it was promoter Aileen Eaton's close alliance with Ramos' manager, Jackie McCoy, that made such a match possible.
It was only a matter of time before Ramos and Navarro would meet in the ring, and when they did the fireworks flew.
Ruben trained hard for the match and fought beyond himself. He literally took control of the match and kept Ramos off-balance.
In the end, it had been a very close fight, one that had lived up to all expectations. When the final bell rang, I was certain Navarro had won.
The judges saw it differently, all giving Mando the fight by a slight margin.
Years later, Mando and I would discuss this fight. Like most fighters, Mando believed he was a clear winner.
I told Mando I saw him clearly win many fights, but not the Navarro fight. I didn't keep score, but after ten rounds I thought Ruben had edged him.
Mando smiled and acknowledged that Navarro gave him a difficult evening, then we changed the subject.
Ruben was in great shape for Ramos. and Flores didn't want to give him time to fall out of shape.
Just four weeks after the disappointing loss to Mando Ramos, Navarro would have a chance to face another hot L.A. lightweight, "Irish" Frankie Crawford.
Crawford had engaged in two tough wars with Mando Ramos early in their careers, and had upset Ramos in their first bout.
In the time since, he twice faced featherweight champ, Shozo Saijyo of Japan in Tokyo.
Both bouts with Saijyo were for the title, and it was reported that Crawford had been robbed of the decision in each.
In the first round of Ruben Navarro's bout with Frankie Crawford, the Maravilla Kid scored early, rattling Crawford with a jolting over-hand right to the jaw.
Crawford staggered back and fought to stay on his feet. That was the beginning of the end for Frankie Crawford.
After ten rounds, Navarro scored a near shutout on the scorecards.
In 1972, Navarro would start the year with three wins before being matched with another exceptional L.A. lightweight contender, Rodolfo "El Gato" Gonzalez.
Having fared well in cross-town showdowns with Rojas, Robertson, Ramos and Crawford, Ruben would this time face the last of the local 135 pound contenders.
He would also be facing the deadliest of the lot. A strong, elusive, power puncher with a clever, cunning style that destroyed opposition with devistating body blows.
Rodolfo Gonzalez' career had been stifled thru bad management and health challenges. He had scored thirty five consecutive KO's, a record among world champions of any size or era, but he was avoided for years.
Now under the management of Jackie McCoy, Gonzalez was a stablemate of Mando Ramos, and was starting to get important fights.
Although late in his career, Gonzalez was grateful. Better late than never.
At the Anaheim Convention Center, Ruben and El Gato would go toe-to-toe, but Navarro would spend a lot of time on the ropes, absorbing punishment.
Both men were cut, and at the end of ten rounds, Rodolfo Gonzalez was awarded a close, majority decision.
By this time, I had left the Johnny Flores stable, and after the Gonzalez match, Ruben would also part with Flores.
During the remaining two years of Ruben Navarro's ring career, he would be guided by Harry Kabakoff.
I remember Ruben complaining to myself and another boxer, "Harry takes 50% of my purse!"
The other boxer laughed, "Is that all he's taking? He didn't treat me that well."
During the next nine months, the WBC lightweight title would change hands three times.
Mando Ramos had won the title from Pedro Carrasco. Mando was then KOed by Chango Carmona and lost the title to the Mexican Lightweight champ.
Ramos stablemate, Rodolfo Gonzalez then was given a long awaited title shot, taking on Carmona in his first title defense.
Rodolfo "El Gato" Gonzalez knew he'd only have one chance to become a champion and took full advantage of the opportunity.
El Gato destroyed Chango Carmona, the bout being stopped after twelve rounds. Rodolfo Gonzalez was now the WBC Lightweight Champion of the world.
El Gatos' first title defense would be against the Maravilla Kid. The match would be held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the same place where Navarro had fought Ken Buchanan, two years earlier.
It was an all-star card that also featured WBA Lightweight Champ, Roberto Duran, in a non-title fight.
After seeing how easily Rodolfo Gonzalez had handled Chango Carmona, I was concerned for my former stablemate.
Navarro attempted to box El Gato but Gonzalez just kept the pressure on, slamming Ruben with brutal hooks and upper cuts, closing one eye and bloodying his face.
Ruben fought back gamely but in the ninth round, referee George Latka stopped the bout.
After the loss to Gonzalez, Ruben would only fight two more times.
His last bout took place in 1974, at the legendary San Diego Coliseum. The Coliseum was a far cry from the big venues that Navarro had packed during his heyday.
The Coliseum was nothing more than a glorified cock pit, a place that held several hundred fans. I used to consider it a "Graveyard" for L.A. fighters.
I would have my last fight at the San Diego Coliseum, and so would Ruben Navarro a few months later.
In his last ring appearance, the "Maravilla Kid" Ruben Navarro would take on another comebacking former contender, former Mexican featherweight champ, Aurileo Muniz.
Muniz stopped Ruben in the seventh round. Navarro called it quits, never to return to boxing.
A few months later, I see Ruben at the Atlantic Square shopping center in Monterey Park. He was with his wife Carol and three children, Todd, Julie and Lance.
Ruben said he had been working carrying steel for a freeway construction company, and his wife Carol had become involved with the Jehova's Witness religon.
The next time I would see or talk with Ruben Navarro would be more than twenty years later. He was a different man.
Ruben Navarro had many years of sobriety and himself had become a Jehovahs Witmess.
He looked good, a lot heavier, but a lot happier inside. His dark black hair had turned white, his features had softened.
However, when I looked deep into his coal black eyes I could see the warrior of days past. And when he spoke, the voice was the same deep gravely tone I'd come to know very well.
Today I see a lot of sad cases when I visit with boxers from the past. Not so with Ruben Navarro.
After boxing, Ruben would own several businesses and all have done well. He had transformed himself from a wild Hell raiser to a dedicated family man.
East L.A.'s Ruben Navarro, the "Maravilla Kid" made it big in boxing, and even bigger in life.
A true success story!