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Avila Perspective, Chap. 50: Chicano Heavyweight Champion

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  • Avila Perspective, Chap. 50: Chicano Heavyweight Champion

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    By David A. Avila

    Chicano Power!

    That was the 1960s rallying cry from those born of Mexican descent decades ago and it seems appropriate for Andy Ruiz Jr. after his knockout victory to claim the WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight titles in New York City this past weekend.

    Anything can happen in boxing.

    Ruiz, 29, was born and raised in Imperial, California near the Mexican border and in lieu of the long hyphenated tag given to descendants of Mexican parents, I’m using the political term used since before the 1960s when “Chicano” was a word used to describe those born to Mexican parents but living in the U.S.

    Whether Ruiz is called Chicano or Mexican-American he is indeed one of the heavyweight world titlists and has three of the four major jeweled belts to prove it.

    “I can't believe I just made my dreams come true," said Ruiz just after winning. "I just feel so good, man."

    Long after the doors had closed at Madison Square Garden, the new champion could be seen on social media outlets signing autographs and taking selfies with hundreds of fans at 2 a.m. in the morning. That’s what it means to be the first Chicano heavyweight world champion.

    Instead of Chicano riots in the streets of East L.A. or Denver, San Antonio or Albuquerque, as seen in the late 60s and 70s, we now have heavyweight prizefighters go out to battle for world titles. Who would have thought?

    Usually Chicanos were too small to fight as heavyweights back in the 1960s or 70s. Sure we had some big Chicanos like Mike Munoz the NFL All Pro lineman but he was a rarity.

    In the past, heavyweights of Mexican descent like Manuel Ramos tried to match blows with heavyweight champion Joe Frazier for the New York version when Muhammad Ali was suspended in the 60s. Ramos was knocked out by “Smokin Joe” at Madison Square Garden in June 1968.

    Ramos also fought heavyweight contenders like George Chuvalo, Joe Bugner, Oscar Bonavena and Ron Lyle but lost to them all.

    Another Chicano heavyweight was East L.A’s Eddie “The Animal” Lopez who fared better and fought former world champion Leon Spinks to a draw after 10 rounds in a Las Vegas fight in March 1980. He also fought and lost by decision to Gerry Cooney and John Tate.

    Lopez was as rough as they come and called out Muhammad Ali during a Beverly Hills press conference. The heavyweight from East L.A. fought professionally 30 times with only four losses but never got a world title shot. He was built much like Ruiz and was known for his numerous gang tattoos in a time when they were not common.

    The Chicano generation closed the 1980s without any title contender until Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola arrived in the 2000s.

    Born and raised in East L.A. he later moved to Riverside and became a heavyweight contender after riveting wins in the early 2000s and was signed by Al Haymon and the late great Dan Goossen. Arreola first fought for the heavyweight world title in the summer of 2009 against Vitali Klitschko at Staples Center in Los Angeles. He lost by stoppage and later made another two failed world title attempts against Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder.

    It was during preparation for Stiverne that I first saw the new champion Ruiz trade blows with someone of high caliber.

    Indian Willie

    The first time I ever got a glimpse of Ruiz was in his pro debut in Tijuana, Mexico. He was one of the openers for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at Plaza de Toros near the beach on March 2009. The fight didn’t last long, but Ruiz showed off those quick hands that surprised most of the fans who were not expecting much from the chubby youngster.

    Few Americans saw the fight card out of fear of crossing the border and getting caught in the crossfire between warring drug factions. Those that took the risk benefitted in watching Chavez and also getting a glimpse of Ruiz. I made a note of the heavyweight. I also received a personal note from the mayor of Tijuana for being the only American newspaper journalist to cover the boxing card despite the danger. I was even mentioned in their daily newspaper as proof that Tijuana was no longer dangerous.

    The next time I saw Ruiz was at his American debut at the Honda Center on the Top Rank undercard that saw Humberto Soto win the WBC lightweight world title against Southern California’s Urbano Antillon. Another on that December 2010 Top Rank card was Mikey Garcia. Both Ruiz and Garcia won by knockout that night. A few journalists commented on Ruiz’s showing.

    “He’s got fast hands,” said German Villasenor a journalist for Maxboxing.com

    Indeed.

    Arreola was the Chicano heavyweight contender ranked high on most lists. All of the attention was directed toward the Riverside fighter who used to train at Willie Schunke’s gym in the area known now as Jurupa Valley. Most boxing people called Schunke “Indian Willie” because of his Native American roots and because there was another Willie in Riverside: trainer Willie Silva who coached Carlos Bojorquez, Mauricio Herrera and Jose Reynoso.

    One day as I walked into Indian Willie’s gym I spotted Ruiz wrapping his hands. He was going to spar against Arreola so I got a good place to watch the action.

    Now Arreola has pretty good hand speed for a heavyweight and could always take a punch. But I also knew Ruiz had what seemed to be faster hands. I wanted to see how he would do against Arreola when trading blows. The two had some furious exchanges with Arreola gracious as always saying that “Andy was for real.”

    Later, I sat down with trainer Henry Ramirez, journalist Bill O’Neill and trainer Schunke. They all said the same thing. O’Neill and Schunke are no longer with us. Both passed away more than a year ago. Only Ramirez is still around.

    “I think this kid can do something,” said Ramirez after watching him crash punches on Arreola and receive some too. “He has those fast hands.”

    The big question as always with talented young fighters: Can he take a punch from a heavyweight champion?

    Last Saturday we finally got our answer when Ruiz got up after getting knocked down and dropped Anthony Joshua four times.

    “I remember when he first walked into our gym Lincoln with his dad. Andy was probably around 17. They asked if they could spar with Chris,” said Ramirez, adding that it was the first of many sparring sessions with Ruiz. “We knew he could do something if he could take a punch. We found out.”

    “I’m really glad for the kid. He did something that you can never take away no matter what he does in the future,” said Ramirez

    Yes, he did. Ruiz is the first Chicano to win the heavyweight world title.

    Saturday So Cal boxing

    All Star Boxing presents a fight card at the Commerce Casino on Saturday, June 8, featuring undefeated Damien Lopez facing Moris Rodriguez in a welterweight main event.

    Lopez, 23, fights out of the North Hollywood area and has slowly risen up the ranks with an aggressive but skilled style.

    Also on the boxing card will be undefeated super welterweight Martin Saldana and another welterweight prospect Arthur Saakyan. Several other bouts are scheduled on the boxing card that begins at 6 p.m. For more information call (323) 816- 6200.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    America has all the heavyweight title belts again, yay!

    USA! USA! 🇺🇸

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