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Olympic Memories and More from Armando “The Man” Muniz

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Olympic Memories – Sitting in his living room Armando Muniz watches the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and vividly remembers that day he stepped into the boxing ring to represent the USA.

“My very first fight was against Marian Kasprzyk from Poland. He had won gold in the 64 Olympic Games in Tokyo. I came to win. We went at it.”

Muniz (pictured with Sugar Ray Leonard) won his first Olympic fight.

But getting to the Olympics was no easy task for Muniz. It was 1968 and the Viet Nam War was in full swing. The Southern Californian was drafted by the US military while attending Cal State Los Angeles University. No matter, he was going to be inducted.

Luckily, he told an old boxing coach that a stint in Viet Nam was facing him dead in the face. Muniz had been busy in the amateur boxing world while attending college. That coach made a phone call and the next thing that happened was Muniz was headed to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to join the Army boxing team.

It was a relief, but Muniz was not out of danger.

“I represented the Army at regionals. I represented the west coast and I had to win or I was going to Viet Nam,” said Muniz, adding that he ran mile after mile in preparation as others wondered if he were a madman for running so much. “I won the regional.”

Muniz would eventually make the U.S. Olympic squad that also featured two others from the military and a big youngster from Houston, Texas named George Foreman. The host of the Olympics in 1968 was Mexico City. It was a turbulent time in both Mexico and the rest of the world.

During the Olympic Games in Mexico City large protests were taking place. After a short time, the military was sent in to quell the demonstration. Hundreds were killed and allegedly buried in a large ditch. To this day no one knows the exact count of the dead who were shot by the Mexican military.

“It was in the thousands not the hundreds,” said Ignacio Miramontes who took part in the demonstrations but escaped unharmed. “It was horrible. I hid for weeks.”

While the mass demonstrations and killings were going on a few miles from the Olympic Games, those involved in the tournament were unaware.

“I didn’t see anything actually happen while I was there. I heard of some hassles of people being shot and killed but it wasn’t near Olympic village. It was about three miles from us,” said Muniz, who was born in Mexico but became an American citizen before going to the Olympic Games. “The students were beginning to do a protest. The Mexican government said you’re the poor the hell with you guys.”

A few in Mexico and in the USA took offense that Muniz participated on behalf of the USA.

“First of all I had just become an American citizen in March. I was in the US since I was 6. I was more Americanized than I was Mexican,” Muniz said. “Being a Mexican born in Mexico I didn’t feel odd.”

Protests were everywhere including on track and field events. American runners John Carlos and Tommy Smith had approached boxer Foreman about participating in their Black power salute.

“We were going to the gym and I look over to George Foreman and see these guys ask him what did he decide? He said I came here to win a gold medal and nothing else. They wanted him to raise his hand in a Black salute,” Muniz recalls.

Later, Smith and Carlos would be vilified by the media for their silent protest after winning medals and standing on the podium with their black gloved fists in the air. These were controversial times in America and the world. It was a changing world.

Foreman would go on to win gold and inside the boxing ring he would carry a small American flag. Muniz would win a total of three fights but lose to the eventual bronze medal winner.

“I fought Mario Guilloti from Argentina. We were built the same way and fought the same way. I guess that day the judges saw it differently. Mine was a close fight but I thought I won,” said Muniz. “But I was the only welterweight for this country. I felt proud of myself.”

After serving his time in the US Military, the Southern Californian was not finished with boxing by a long shot.

Olympic Memories

 

Olympic Memories – From Olympic Games to Olympic Auditorium

Muniz made his pro debut at the historic Olympic Auditorium on July 16, 1970. In one month span he fought four different opponents and won by knockout in each fight. It wasn’t until he encountered Philadelphia’s Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts that someone went the distance with the hard-charging Muniz. Six years later Watts would give Marvin Hagler his first loss as a pro. Muniz never fought less than six rounds as a pro.

Promoter Aileen Eaton knew how to build a fighter and had matchmakers who could arrange the perfect showdowns to draw a large crowd. On many a night Muniz fought in front of boxing hungry fans who were eager to see his crowd-pleasing aggressive style.

In his first year as a pro he fought a 10-rounder against Crispen Benitez in a super welterweight clash at the Olympic in November. He won by knockout in 1:22 of the second round. Less than four weeks later he fought in another 10-round bout and won by knockout against Jose Carreon in 2:36 of the first round. Muniz would engage in 14 pro fights in less than a year.

A new boxing star was born.

Olympic Memories – Old Master

Aside from being a box office star Muniz was winning inside the prize ring too. He won 17 consecutive fights in less than two years and then was matched with the great old master Emile Griffith who had 83 fights under his belt including welterweight and middleweight world titles.

Muniz lost that day to Griffith in the Anaheim Convention Center. He had just defeated Clyde Gray for the NABF welterweight title when he met the 33-year-old Griffith who passed away three years ago at age 75.

All was not lost. Muniz continued to draw crowds and an eventual showdown with fellow welterweight contender Hedgemon Lewis was held at the Inglewood Forum on December 3, 1974. A large crowd saw Muniz defeat the talented Lewis by unanimous decision after 10 furious rounds. The win set up a match against welterweight world champion Jose “Mantequilla” Napoles.

Cuba’s Napoles had been adopted by Mexico and the slick fighting champion had taken a stranglehold on the welterweight world title since 1969 when he stopped Curtis Cokes in the 10th round. From there on he cleaned out the 147-pound division and had already defeated Hedgeman Lewis twice. Now it was Muniz’s turn.

The native born Mexican Muniz was returning to his roots but was not the fan favorite when he met Napoles in Acapulco in March 1975. That night, the Californian was in a zone and battered Napoles around the ring until the fight was stopped in the 12 round with the Cuban bleeding profusely. Instead of a knockout win for Muniz, it was decided that the cuts were inflicted by head butts and a technical decision was rendered. It was somehow ruled a draw. Many thought Muniz defeated Napoles handily.

Uncrowned but unbowed Muniz and Napoles fought again but this time Napoles won by decision after 15 rounds. The title fight was held in Mexico City where Muniz fought in the Olympics.

Muniz would only get two more title bids but would fall just short against Carlos Palomino. Both welterweight clashes were incredible displays of grit and courage that took place in the Olympic Auditorium in 1977 and 1978. The former Olympian would enter the boxing ring one last time. That would come against another Olympian Sugar Ray Leonard just two years removed from the Montreal Olympics. An injury to Muniz shortened the fight that ended in the sixth round.

After boxing Muniz, who had graduated from Cal State L.A., eventually turned to teaching and spent 23 years at Rubidoux High School in Riverside. He still lives in Riverside, California.

Watching the Olympics has rekindled those memories of 48 years ago.

“I’ll never forget the opening ceremonies,” said Muniz. “It really inspired me and made me feel more American. It was really something.”

Olympic Memories

Argentina

The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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