Friday, May 21, 2010

Two Fights I Won’t Soon Forget

I've seen plenty of good fights in my life, inside the ring and outside the ring. Here are two that have stayed with me.

Two Fights I Won’t Soon Forget

Kerry Riley

When I was in the seventh grade at Mary Meller Junior High School in Pico Rivera I had a friend by the name of Kerry Riley. In appearance, mannerism and almost every other way, he was the living incarnation of Opie Taylor of Mayberry. There wasn’t a friendlier or more innocent guy to be found. He was from either Kentucky or Tennessee , I don’t remember which. He was a red haired, freckled face kid. He couldn’t fight worth a lick but he a had a champions heart and I will never forget him.

Kerry moved away at the end of the seventh grade. He was gone and I never really expected to see him again. Time moved on and so did I. Sometime after ninth grade began Kerry came back to California and to Meller Jr High. I had other friends by this time and he no longer fit in with the crowd that I hung with. We remained friends but we no longer hung out together. We were both okay with it and we would talk from time to time.

One day at lunch time one of my friends came up to me and said “Hey Randy, your friend Kerry is fighting Ribachi after school!”. Ribachi was Richard Ribachi. Now Ribachi was almost twice Kerry’s size, both in height and in width. He was a known fighter and Kerry was no match for him. I had to find him. There was just no way that I could let Kerry fight Ribachi. Ribachi had that high pompadour that was popular in the fifties and sixties and a walk to match, sort of like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was an acquired walk and one he perfected. You had to be a good fighter to walk the way he did and get away with it.

I caught up with Kerry after school was out. They were going to fight in the alley behind the old McDonald’s on Rosemead and Mines. I saw him walking by himself and walked with him. He didn’t really have any friends at school. I said to him “Kerry. Don’t do it man, Ribachi is a good fighter, he’ll kick your ass. Just go home and forget about it” I figured he would listen to me, but no, he was determined not to back down. All he said to me was “I have to”. I never saw a braver or more determined guy than Kerry. I was suddenly filled with admiration for him, and a little ashamed of myself for not being a better friend to him when he came back to school. I just followed him and said nothing. I thought to myself, the least I can do is be there in case anyone jumps in.

When we got to the alley it was jam packed. Every kid in school came out to see Kerry get his ass kicked. You just knew it wouldn’t end any other way. To Ribachi’s credit, he kept it clean. As Kerry walked into the alley he took off his shirt. He had a white tee shirt on underneath. He didn’t have anything remotely resembling a muscle. I was beginning to panic for him. With courage that I never knew he had, and with out so much as the slightest hesitation, he walked straight up to Ribachi and put his hands up in the best boxing form that he was capable of mustering up.

Ribachi threw a right hand that immediately bloodied Riley’s mouth and sent him straight to the ground. He got back up, tried to throw a punch but missed. Ribachi just moved in a threw several punches. Every one of them landed. Again Riley was on the ground. He got up again. This time he had a bloody nose and his face was scuffed up from all the punches. There was no quit in Kerry Riley, not an ounce. All I could do was stare in disbelief. He got up over and over. It wouldn’t end. By this time, it was quiet. No one wanted to see this guy get hurt. They were screaming at him to stop but he just kept getting up. He braced himself for what was coming but he never took a backward step. It never occurred to him to duck.

Finally and to everyone’s relief, Ribachi had a look of compassion on his face. He didn’t want to hit him anymore. He walked up to him, took his hand and helped him up, smiled at him and left. Riley was a mess. His face was bloodied and bruised, his clothes filled with dirt and oil from the alley. but he had the respect of everyone there that day. He moved again before ninth grade was out. I never saw him again. It’s been forty years, and I have never forgotten him, or that fight.

The Last Hurrah

It was the night Javier Muniz and Rudy Hernandez fought their first fight at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles on June 10, 1976. It wasn’t exactly on the undercard but it literally stole the show that night. It was one of those unexpected events that just make a life long impression on you.

I had a fight scheduled that night with an opponent whose name I can no longer recall, if I ever knew it at all. Just minutes before I was scheduled to fight it was called off. I don’t remember the reason. I got dressed and Mel Epstein and I went upstairs to get a seat and watch the fight. There was a section set up for managers, trainers and boxers and those that were involved closely with boxing. Not to far from that was a gambler’s area. This is where the unplanned co-main event took place.

Mel and I found a seat. To be perfectly honest I can’t remember if it was during the main event or if it was on the undercard. I’m thinking the undercard because if I remember correctly we hung around for a bit. At any rate while watching the fight, we couldn’t help but notice some commotion breaking out where all the gambler’s were seated. There were two men arguing over money. One man was older and he appeared to be in his sixties. He was wearing a hat and one of those cheap suits that seemed prevalent with the downtown crowd back in those days. It was dark and made from cheap fabric. The suit appeared to be old and worn. The man was either Mexican or Filipino, I couldn’t tell and neither could Mel. Mel said he recognized the man but could not place him.

The other man was much younger, probably in his late twenties and he was about to learn a valuable lesson that night, much to the delight of the crowd. The younger man was seated directly behind the older man. He was also seated a little higher due to the amphitheater style seating at the Olympic. They were making enough of a fuss so that the lighting man put the spot light on them. The whole arena was watching the argument unfold.

The older man wanted the money he had won, and the younger guy either felt like teasing him or had no intention of paying off the bet. In the end it didn’t really matter. The young guy was standing up and holding the money with his right hand, just out of reach of the old timer. When he jumped up to get the money the younger man would pull it back and laugh. So did his friends. This happened several times when without any warning or provocation, the younger man threw a sloppy left hand. Instantly and so unexpectedly the old timer countered with a quick, hard right hand to the jaw followed by a left hook. He knocked the guy out. He reached down, took the money, counted it and put it in his coat pocket. With the spotlight still on both of them the whole arena was going crazy. Not knowing what was going on in the crowd I’m sure the fighters in the ring thought the crowd was cheering their fight.

The old man looked out at the crowd and let out a big grin, then, probably figuring he better get the hell out of there, he walked over to the tunnel. Just before he walked down the stairs he looked at the crowd and let go of a few punches in the air, enjoying the moment. The crowd roared as if he had just won a title. He disappeared down the stairs. Whoever he was, he was the talk of the night. He was the main event of the evening.

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