Exclusive Report & Photos from the Class of 2011!
From a boxer in the ’20s with over pro 200 bouts to an ex-WBA heavyweight champ, from a veteran trainer to a heralded PR wizard, from a friendly timekeeper part of the local pro circuit to a former gangbanger/U.S. State champion, Saturday’s California Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was an exciting one for the crowd of over 500.
Each of this year’s inductees have contributed in one form or another to the sport we call the sweet science. During the weekend’s festivities it was time to honor over two dozen awardees for their hard work, discipline, dedication, passion and sacrifice, whether it was in or out of the ring. And many of the newest Hall of Famers are still working and thriving in the sport–either behind the scenes or at the front ranks.
Here is my special report and snapshots capturing the gala held at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City.
With the founder and President of the California organization Don Fraser welcoming the new class of honorees, the day was filled with many heartfelt speeches and moving tributes. Joining the roster of California’s “Best in the West” are Tony Tubbs, Dwight Hawkins, Gene Fullmer, Loreto Garza, Richard “Trino” Savala, Ray Lovato, Zack Padilla, Rich Marotta, Steve Brener, Lance Pugmire, Louie Burke, Ray “Windmill” White, Willy Silva, John Montes Sr., John Montes Jr., Herman Montes, John Liechty, Wes Wambold, Ramon Tiscareno, and (posthumously) Bob Fitzsimmons, Bert Colima, Willie Pep, “Baby Face” Gutierrez, Bob Voigt, Jim Moriarty, Noe Cruz and Fritzie Zivic.
This West Coast affair was also a great opportunity for a little R&R for many of the out-of-town guests. With the Sportmen’s Lodge located in the San Fernando Valley, several of the inductees who traveled to Southern California also got a chance to take in some of the sights. Making the most of their Hall of Fame weekends, there were trips to Disneyland, tours of our sunny beaches, and strolls through the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. And the boxers even had a “movie-star sighting.”
At the beginning of the awards show, canine actor “Bear” offered a furry paw to all the champions coming through. You’ll see the pooch, a miniature Queensland Heeler, in “First Dog” being released this summer. In the foyer of the ballroom, as former WBC champ Paul Banke, ex-NABF titlist Randy Shields, and former WBC champion Carlos Palomino and others made their way into the banquet hall this surprise greeter with four legs offered all a friendly welcome. I found a fellow animal lover in Valley boxer Randy Shields, who spent a few minutes greeting the four-legged film star.
Later in the day, with their family and friends cheering them on, the inductees took their place at the podium. This year’s recipients also brought along family members who were all looking forward to the ceremony. Tony “TNT” Tubbs had a large group of relatives who all came in from Cincinnati, as did Riverside boxing trainer Willy Silva, who had four spirited tables cheering him on. I also enjoyed meeting PR guru Steve Brener’s family as well as the Trino Savala team who came down from Sacramento.
During the inductions, the honorees shared many memories from the past, funny anecdotes or poignant words of appreciation. In the posthumous category, the descendants of those who have passed on proudly accepted their awards.
Soaking in all the support and acclaim received, the former fighters and icons in the sport were presented their proclamations from the California Boxing Hall of Fame and the City of Los Angeles. While the individuals were called up on stage, there was the lively Denise Fraser Band serenading them. And yes, no boxing banquet would be complete without the classic “Rocky” theme in the background.
While hundreds of SoCal fans had a chance to get autographs and pose for pictures, the large Empire Room also offered the boxing community a chance to reconnect in a fun and social setting. I had many of the guests tell me how they ran into friends they hadn’t seen in ages. Many boxers also said they caught up with guys they had sparred or trained with or fought before–in both the amateur world and the pro ranks. Boxing in the Golden State has a rich history–especially in the Southland–and these awards pay tribute to the deserving individuals whose played a part in the sport.
In attendance were former title holders, top contenders and past inductees including fighters Carlos Palomino, Randy Shields, Frankie Baltazar Jr., Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Allen Syers, Paul Banke, Andy Nance, Bobby Chacon, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Billy Moore, Rick Farris, Armando Muniz, Oscar Muniz, trainer Bennie Georgino, boxing historian J.J. Johnston, WBC’s Dr. Joe Noriega and many more.
Also showing support was a knockout contingent of familiar faces who are currently part of the fight game including promoter Ken Thompson (Thompson Boxing Promotions), California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) Executive Officer George Dodd, officials Jack Reiss, Gwen Adair, Dr. James Jen Kin, PR master John Beyrooty, and the team from Cleto Reyes Gloves, Elizabeth Reyes and Mike Serrano (with white and red collectible Cleto Reyes gloves ready for signatures).
President Don Fraser thanked his Vice President Frank Baltazar Sr., Vice President Rick Resnick, Ken Green, Bill and Linda Dempsey Young, Larry and Elsa Montalvo, Norma Silvani, Gwen Adair and his whole committee who made the dream a reality for the 27 new inductees. Each year I know Fraser and his Hall of Fame committee work tirelessly (almost year round) to ensure that the annual event is a success. It is a labor of love for this group who has a longtime bond with so many in the boxing circles.
The CBHOF Vice President Frank Baltazar Sr. says they spend several months putting the banquet together, including all the finishing touches that make it a memorable event. Frank tells me they plan the gala “for about nine months out of the year trying to make it the best SoCal event of its kind, hard work but rewarding.”
The humble and always-classy Baltazar and his wife Connie have their own Hall of Fame dynasty within his own prizefighting family; sons (and very popular Olympic Auditorium sluggers) Frankie Jr., Tony and Bobby, who all followed their father’s footsteps in stepping into the ring.
And that was the ultimate theme throughout the ceremony with many of those honored paying tribute to their dads, trainers and father figures of generations past–the gentlemen who first instilled their passion for pugilism. There was a wealth of memories flowing through the decades in all the acceptance speeches. The wives (the true heroes) and families of the Hall of Famers were also given the credit that they deserve for being there through thick and thin.
Don Fraser and the CBHOF committee have made sure that these inductees get all the credit they’ve earned.
A toast to the new Class of 2011 who can now add three new words to their resumés: Hall of Famer.
Photos by Michele Chong
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