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Remembering Enrique Bolanos, An L.A. Boxing Icon of 1940s

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Johnny Ortiz (left) poses with Enrique Bolanos.

Enrique Bolanos packed stadiums and arenas in Los Angeles with raucous and loyal fans during his fighting days in the 1940s and 50s. He was a boxing icon in an era when other sports could not compete with prizefighting.

Those days have passed and last week the gentleman Bolanos also passed at age 87 in Pasadena.

Bolanos fought numerous boxing legends, including perhaps the greatest lightweight of all time, Ike Williams, a total of three times. Many say he beat Williams once, but that’s a debate that the “greatest generation” has taken with them. All total he engaged in more than 100 prizefights, winning 79.

Born in Durango, Mexico, the light skinned Mexican boxer was one of the first to migrate north of the border and successfully grab the attention of fervent boxing fans at the Olympic Auditorium and Wrigley Field. Sell outs became a trademark of Bolanos and fans flocked wherever he fought.

“My father used to drop me off in the morning to buy tickets to Enrique Bolanos fights,” said Amado Avila, who has since passed away. “People would try to cut in front of me and I wouldn’t let them. I would wait for hours in line to buy tickets at the Olympic.”

World War 2

Known as the “Durango Dropper,” Bolanos arrived during World War II when it was difficult to find boxers not enlisted in the military. Mexico was neutral during the war and aside from sending workers to the United States it also sent prizefighters with Bolanos leading the group in 1943. He stayed in the United States and raised a family in the Los Angeles area.

The amiable boxer quickly became a fan favorite with his blend of stylish boxing mixed with potent punching power. Mexican fans living in California loved Bolanos who fought all of the best fighters from the “Swing era” such as Manuel Ortiz, who many experts consider the greatest bantamweight world champion of all time. They met in the prize ring in Aug. 29, 1944. Ortiz was the bantamweight world champion at the time and both met in a non-title fight set at the featherweight limit. Bolanos was floored twice in the sixth round and his corner wisely stopped the fight.

“He could hit very hard,” Bolanos told me when we met in 1994. “Manuel Ortiz was a great fighter.”

Of course the fight was a sell out.

Luis Magana

Bolanos was a big ticket seller at the old Hollywood Legion Stadium, which is now a fitness center on Gower Street. Soon he would be lured to the Olympic Auditorium again and fought another Hall of Fame fighter Chalky Wright. He lost the first encounter by split decision in August 1945 but avenged that defeat in two later encounters.

“He surprised me when he spoke Spanish to me,” said Bolanos of his first encounter with Wright, who was an African American fluent in Spanish. “The first time we fought he used his experience to beat me. He was never easy to fight.”

Other fighters he beat were Jackie Wilson, Joey Barnum, and John Thomas.

“Enrique Bolanos was a magnificent boxer,” said Luis Magana, a former publicist for the Olympic Auditorium.

Magana died several years ago and had introduced me to Bolanos in 1994. We met for lunch at a small diner on Melrose Avenue and discussed the world of boxing during the 40s and 50s. The three of us spent three hours comparing boxing from that era to the 1990s before Oscar De La Hoya would burst on the scene and obliterate box office records.

“Best I ever faced”

Bolanos spoke graciously about his two greatest foes, Ike Williams and the original “Golden Boy” Art Aragon. He said Williams was “a magnificent boxer with tremendous power” and a killer in the ring. I tried to set up another lunch meeting with Bolanos and include his old nemesis Williams, who was living in Los Angeles. Both agreed but before the meeting could take place Williams died on September 5, 1994. He was 71.

Bolanos was very saddened that he would never see Williams again.

Bolanos and I met again at Senor Magana’s house in the Fairfax district and looked over photos and other boxing memorabilia stored in a backroom. That day we saw an 8-millimeter tape of the third and final prizefight between Bolanos and Williams that took place at Wrigley Field on July 21, 1949 for the lightweight world championship. On the scratchy looking film Bolanos can be seen using his jab like a spear to keep Williams from setting up his power shots. The referee that night was the former great heavyweight world champion Jack Dempsey. Bolanos only used his left hook and left jab for three rounds as Williams seemed ready to counter the right. The Mexican fighter used that “educated left” as Magana described it to keep the dangerous Williams from unloading.

In round four Williams unloaded and knocked out Bolanos. It was their last encounter.

“Many people say that Enrique won the second fight,” said Magana, adding that he did not have a tape of that encounter that ended in a split decision. “Ike Willliams was a tremendous boxer.”

Bolanos agreed and called Williams the “best I ever faced.”

Golden Boy

One other boxer who rivaled Bolanos for fan frenzy was Art Aragon, the boxer from Boyle Heights. The colorful Aragon had a cockiness that many fans abhorred and whenever he fought the aisles of the Olympic Auditorium were packed with fans eager to see him lose or win.

When Aragon signed to fight the immensely popular Bolanos it was a fight fans delight. Their first clash occurred on Valentine’s Day in 1950. People lined up for blocks to buy tickets for the event.

“Enrique Bolanos was a real nice guy,” Aragon told me in an interview in 1995. “I really liked Enrique. When we fought I was too strong for him.”

The first fight ended in a 12th round technical knockout win for Aragon.

Johnny Ortiz, a boxing journalist and former owner of the famous Main Street Gym, recalls the fight that saw his idol Bolanos lose.

“Enrique Bolanos was far and away the most popular fighter Los Angeles ever knew, no one has ever come close, Oscar De La Hoya included. I may have been young, but I remember it all like it were yesterday. He had a ‘look’ like no other, you would have had to see it to know what I mean. It was the ‘look’ his fans saw and loved. There will never be another like him,” said Ortiz, whose book Life Among the Icons describes Los Angeles from the 50s to the present. “Enrique never had an amateur fight. Promoter George Parnassus turned him pro when he brought him from México. Enrique Bolanos was known as “The Durango Kid.”

Ortiz’s brother Phil Ortiz trained in the Main Street Gym alongside Bolanos and introduced them. He witnessed the Mexican fighter train numerous times.

“He had the greatest footwork I have ever seen or will ever see, he and Sugar Ray Robinson. After watching him workout, I would go home, go into my garage and try to emulate everything I saw him do during his workouts, especially his footwork. I used all of it in all of my amateur fights,” says Ortiz, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. “Los Angeles fight fans were crazy about him, there was something about him that was kind of mesmerizing, he always fought before sold out crowds. After he lost the second of his three fights with the great Ike Williams, he kind of lost interest, he was just never the same. His days as a serious contender were over for the most part. He began drinking, putting an end to a once brilliant career.”

Aragon fought Bolanos again five months after the first loss and quickly dispatched of the popular Mexican prizefighter in three rounds.

“He really was a nice guy,” said Aragon, who died in 2008. “People thought we hated each other but I really liked the guy.”

Everyone liked Bolanos.

The last time I saw Bolanos was during a Bernard Hopkins media day training session in downtown Los Angeles. He was introduced to the “Executioner” who was very gracious to the old master.

Many of the “greatest generation” have passed on and Bolanos was one of its super novas. He passed away on June 4.

Remembering Enrique Bolanos, An L.A. Boxing Icon of 1940s / Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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