Sunday, March 20, 2016

TBG Book Review: Mexican American Boxing in Los Angeles

The Boxing Glove Sunday Book Review by Peter Silkov

 “Mexican-American Boxing In Los Angeles” by Gene Aguilera

“Mexican-American Boxing In Los Angeles” is one of those books, that once you pick up, and start reading it, you don’t want to put it down again, until you have devoured it, from cover, to cover.  Once finished, the chances are that you will want to go back and read portions of it again. Author Gene Aguilera has created a little gem here, which records the colourful and exciting history of boxing in Los Angeles, with a passion and depth that, belies the books compact frame. Like many of the fighters, whose stories are mentioned within its pages, this book is a great example of how great things can often come in small packages.  Whilst it weighs in at 128 pages, “Mexican-American Boxing In Los Angeles” has a wealth of content and detail that makes it feel far more substantial than other books many pages larger.  

Aguilera has interspersed mini career biographies of the numerous Mexican-American fighters who have fought in Los Angeles, with a stunning collection of rare photos of the fights and fighters, who have made the Los Angeles area such a legendary boxing hot bed over the years.

The Mexican pugilist has long held a special place within the sport. Few other nationalities in boxing have had such a colourful and exciting history as the Mexican boxer, except that is, his American counterpart, and so taking this into account; it is not hard to understand the appeal of the Mexican-American fighter to the fight fan.  Mexican-American boxers have, for many years, been stars for both Mexican and American fans.  Mexican fans will always support their own fighters with a fervour that few other nationalities can match. On the other hand, the American fight fan, though naturally more guarded and picky about the boxers whom they give their affections too, is normally a soft touch for a fighter with a big punch and big character.  It should therefore be no surprise then, that for many American boxing followers, the Mexican-American fighter represents the best of both worlds.

The Olympic Auditorium in the 1970s
Gene Aguilera takes us on an historical ride through the swashbuckling exploits of the fighting men who put Los Angeles onto the boxing map.  We visit the famous arenas and stadiums, where so many unforgettable fistic wars were witnessed by thousands of screaming fight fans, places such as The Olympic Auditorium, The Inglewood Forum, The Legion Stadium, and Wrigley Field.

We also get to meet many of the fighters whose exploits inside the ropes would make them stars who were worshipped by their fans. They were treated like Rock stars, long before the birth of rock and roll.  Mexican-American boxer had a certain style, a certain code of fighting. They were brave and aggressive inside the ring, with a big punch, and a willingness to give the fans what they want, which was excitement and action in every round of every fight. These fighters were not unskilled in the finer points of boxing, but they understood that their fans wanted them to fight, win or lose, in a certain way. They understood that they were entertainers, as well as fighters.  Usually these men led as eventful and often controversial lives outside of the ring, as they did inside it.

One more prerequisite of the Mexican-American boxer is that he always fought the very best, resulting in the countless legendary ring wars that are scattered through the last 100 years of boxing’s history. While many world champions have come from the Mexican-American community, there are also many more that never reached the final heights, especially during boxing golden days, when one world champion ruled each division. You had to be something special just to get a shot at a world title.  Yet, even those who did not win world titles often won legendary status.

Aurelio Herrera
The first true Mexican-American boxing star was Aurelio Herrera, a lightweight, whose punching prowess was likened to the heavyweight champion James Jeffries.  Herrera fought the top featherweights and lightweights of early 1900s, in a career that spanned 1895 to 1909, and he beat many of them. He probably would have won a world title had his hard-hitting fighting style inside the ring, not been matched by his penchant for hard living outside of the ring. As with the many Mexican-American fighters who followed him,

Herrera earned a fortune with his fists, due to the explosive mix of his ability, and the excitement and charisma that he brought to the ring. The Mexican-American pugilist seldom performs to anything less than a full house. Like so many of those who would come after him, money flowed through Herrera’s hands with the speed of his punches in the ring, and by the time he had retired there was little left.  Yet if anything, Herrera was adored by his fans as much for his flaws and his foibles, as for his ability to knock a man out with one punch. Herrera inspired generations of Mexican-American fighters to believe that they too could find fame and fortune with their fists. This included countless young Mexican boxers who would make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles, in the search of fistic glory.  Over the years, Los Angeles became the Promised Land, for all such fighters looking to change their lives with their fists.

Herrera was followed closely by Mexican Joe Rivers, another sensational lightweight, who twice challenged, unsuccessfully, for the World lightweight championship in 1912, and 1913. Rivers world title fight with Ad Wolgast in 1912 has gone down in boxing history as one of the most savage and controversial world title fights ever seen.

The first Mexican-American to win a world championship was Baby Arizmendi, who won the World featherweight championship in 1932.  Arizmendi was Mexican born, but a long time resident of Los Angeles by the time he won his world championship.

Manuel Ortiz
Perhaps the greatest Mexican-American boxer was Manuel Ortiz, who was World bantamweight champion from 1942 to 1950, with just a two-month hiatus in 1947, when he lost, then regained his title against Harold Dade.  Ortiz defended his world title 21 times during the 1940s, a feat only surpassed by the World heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

One of the most refreshing things about the Mexican-American fighters is that they seldom weigh in above the middleweight division, and offer great examples as to why there is far more to boxing than just the divisions above welterweights. Indeed, these are the fighters who have convinced many experienced boxing followers that the best action to be found in a ring is between lighter weight fighters.

The 40s were the beginning of a golden era for Los Angeles, a golden era, which would last on into the 1980s. Aguilera gives us portraits of the Mexican-American fighters who filled these decades with legendary ring wars. Some won world titles, and others were just contenders, but all had that certain something that marks the Mexican-American fighter out as special.

Welterweight, Art Aragon, was the original ‘Golden Boy’ and a top contender from the late 40s to the late 50s, while lightweight Enrique Bolanos was one of the most feared lightweights in the world through the mid, to late 1940s.  Although both men failed gallantly in their attempts to win world titles (Bolanos being beaten in 3 classic duels for the world championship by Ike Williams), each broke box office records when they fought in Los Angeles, and earned fortunes during their careers.

In many ways, Los Angeles reached its peak as a boxing hotbed during decades of the 60s to 80s.  The stars of this time were fighters like Mando Ramos, Bobby Chacon, Danny ’Little Red’ Lopez, Armando Muniz, and Carlos Palomino. 
Little Danny Lopez

Mando Ramos, was a young sensation who won the world championship by the time he was 20. Bobby Chacon is another boxer who won a world title while in his early 20s, and lived life as fast outside of the ring, as he fought inside of it. Then there is Carlos Palomino, a World welterweight champion of the mid 70s. Also, Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez, World featherweight champion of the late 70s to early 80s,and one of the most exciting world champions of modern times.

Aside from those who won world titles, there is a long list of Mexican-American fighters who were top contenders during the 60s to 80s era, fighters like Jesus Pimental, Ruben Navarro, Armando Muniz, Frankie Durate, Earnie Lopez, and Frankie & Tony Baltazar. 

When boxing was having its most successful era of modern times, Los Angeles was at the forefront of many of the most important matches of this era.

Carlos Palomino
With this book, Gene Aguilera has created a time capsule for the boxing aficionado.  You can smell the sweat and smoke of the arenas, hear the shouts of the crowd, and the thumping of the gloves against flesh. This is a book that you will feel the need to dip back into again and again, whether it be to read up on one of the outstanding fighters mentioned within its pages, or to look at some of the multitude of rare photos that can found on every page.

This book is a little gold mine for anyone with an interest in the Los Angeles boxing scene, and the golden era of boxing itself; when champions were real champions, and the contenders fought each other almost every week in order to try and get a shot at becoming champions themselves.

For any boxing fan, this book is the real thing.   

*Note: On February 19, 2016, Gene Aguilera was inducted into The National Boxing Hall of Fame. 

Where to find the book:

You can find "Mexican American Boxing in Los Angeles" at many retail book shops, online, and independent dealers.

Here are a few:

Copyright © 2016 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

1 comment:

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