West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame Honors Champ
Paul Banke is warrior.
The Southern California boxer has certainly battled his demons–both in and out of the ring. From foraging for food on the streets of Las Vegas to drowning his demons in drugs and booze, he has lifted himself up and away from this dark period in his life.
Like many athletes before him, he fell prey to substance abuse early in his youth and also battled HIV and AIDS (since 1995). I’ve known the fighter for many years now and I’ve witnessed the ups and downs in his life. But for a long time now, the champ known as “The Real” Paul Banke has shifted gears and has stayed strong, clean and sober. He continues to train both amateur and pro fighters at the Against the Ropes (ATR) Boxing Club in Rialto and his effusive personality has garnered him many friends along the way.
And he is now a Hall of Famer. The former WBC Super Bantamweight World Champ is also a newly-minted member of the Class of 2017 at this year’s West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame (WCBHOF) Induction Ceremony. The October 15 awards show was held at the plush Garland Hotel Event Center in North Hollywood.
Paul had a huge group of supporters with family and friends traveling from near and far (including Texas, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Northern California) to watch their favorite slugger shine in the spotlight. The pugilist had 21 victories and 11 knockouts during his time in the ring.
The WCBHOF President Rick Farris and Co-Founder Dan Hanley inducted Banke alongside his peers in the sport. The 2017 honorees were Oscar Albarado, Paul Banke, Frankie Crawford, Albert Davila, Frankie Duarte, Loreto Garza, Andy Kid Heilman, Ernie Lopez, Randy Shields, Paul Vaden, Pancho Villa, Bill Caplan, Mickey Davies, Bobby DePhilippis, Dick Enberg, and Blanca Gutierrez. Special awards also went to Ryan O’Neal (“Tom Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award”) for his contribution to boxing and “Book of the Year” to John Raspanti (“Intimate Warfare” by Raspanti and Dennis Taylor).
Emcee Jim FitzGerald introduced the newest inductee and also boxing’s Dave Wilcox, who presented the award to Banke. Banke thanked many in his speech for the loyalty through the years, especially when he was down and out. Everyone loves a winner but when the phone stops ringing and the paychecks dry up, many champions find out who their real friends are. Paul gave a funny–and at times–emotional speech with the sold-out audience hanging on every word. And at the conclusion of his thank yous, the champion received not one but two standing ovations from the crowd! The applause was heartfelt as Paul took a bow.
After the gala, he was surrounded by tons of friends, fans, family and fellow fighters. His mother Yolanda, sister Rebecca, aunt Kris, girlfriend Angel, stepdaughter Raquel and many other relatives were there to celebrate with the prizefighter. Former amateur star and pro boxer Michael Chavez came from Vegas to be there for Paul; and Texas’ trainer Jaime Cantu and his son, former NABF Super Flyweight Champion Lil Oscar Cantu, traveled from Kingsville, Texas to take part in the festivities. And WBC/NABF’s Deborah Hawkins also showed support in flying out from Dallas, Texas to be there in person.
One touching moment I observed was when Paul first laid eyes on his official Hall of Fame portrait by portrait noted painter Jun Aquino. His reaction was priceless. First a look of disbelief, then a wave of pure joy, and finally a look of pride in knowing all that he worked for, all that he sacrificed has led to this moment. Being a pro fighter is not for everyone and rising to the ranks of world champion is only for the few.
During his professional career, Paul fought the likes of Daniel Zaragoza, Kennedy McKinney, Robert Shannon and more. His passion for the sweet science remains strong. He trains at the ATR Boxing Club with his pal JC (mentoring Darnell Boone, Edgar Berrun, Jesikah Guerra, and more) and also is the host of a new radio show called SoCal Boxing Report with John Maresca.
Banke reconnected with many he first met decades ago. After the official ceremony ended, Team Banke held court at the outdoor patio to continue the fiesta. He had so many relatives and friends there who all wanted to share in his special day. I chatted with them and heard many anecdotes about Paul. Banke and fellow inductee Paul Vaden shared laughs; the two met when Vaden was just nine years old.
Paul is definitely a survivor. The fight game can eat you up and his addictions could’ve ended his life prematurely. Back on track, he knows how lucky he’s been through the years. He continues to give back to the sweet science, always donating his time to charity events. He dotes on his three dogs and pet birds. And he loves social media. And most importantly, he attends regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. His only “addiction” now is to Facebook! He loves “Facebook Live” and his posts are frequent and fun. His joyous spirt is hard to resist; everyone loves Paul Banke.
He opens his heart to everyone he meets; he calls everybody “his brother” or “his sister.” If you meet him once, you are part of his boxing family.
After the awards, Paul told me he tried to thank everyone but he admits he got a little nervous as the emotions rose. I asked him what one of his favorite highlights was in a day that featured so many moments.
“I was so honored that the Cantus came all the way from Texas,” Paul tells me. “I was so very, very impressed that Jaime, Lil Oscar and about seven others from Texas came all that way just to see me. I loved it!”
The world champ has proven his heart and strength both inside and outside the ropes. He is a true warrior. And now a 2017 West Coast Boxing Hall of Famer.
On winning his world title:
Photos by Michele Chong
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