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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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Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

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With his black beard dyed gold, junior lightweight Abraham Nova is one of boxing’s most recognizable practitioners. Sometimes there’s two of him which makes him stand out even more. His twin is an inflatable mascot painted to look just like him. On fight nights they are inseparable. The mascot shadows Nova on his ringwalk, bouncing up and down and dancing to animate the crowd.

Some gimmicks are just plain hokey. Some are annoying. But there’s something whimsical about Nova’s invention that brings a smile to boxing fans of all ages. “Abraham Nova having his own mascot is one of the coolest things in boxing,” says fight writer Ryan Songalia.

“I played all sports in high school, football, baseball, track, and got the idea of it from other sports,” says Nova of his twin who he unveiled in January of 2020 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, New York, where he upped his record to 18-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of Mexican journeyman Pedro Navarrete.

He’s 5-2 since then, the smudges coming against future world featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez (KO by 5) and defending super featherweight world champion O’Shaquie Foster where he came out on the short end of a split decision. This coming Friday, in his first assignment since failing to de-throne Foster, he opposes 21-0 Andres Cortes at the Fontainebleu in Las Vegas on a Top Rank card airing on ESPN+.

“I was the one who asked for this fight,” says Nova. “Top Rank offered me a match on their June 8th Puerto Rican Parade Weekend show at Madison Square Garden against an opponent who was 17-2, but I turned it down and asked for a better opponent and they accommodated me.” Las Vegas native Andres Cortes, who has been profiled in these pages, is ranked #2 at 130 pounds by the WBO.

In common with boxing’s historical pattern, Abraham Nova had a hardscrabble upbringing.

Born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic, the second-youngest of 10 children, he came to the U.S. at the age of 1 where the entire family was initially shoe-horned into a two-bedroom apartment in Albany, New York.

His father, Aquiles, had a friend here who was the pastor of a church and in need of an assistant pastor to help with his growing congregation. Aquiles eventually founded his own church in Albany, The Pentecostal Church of Unity & Prayer where services are held in both Spanish and English.

As a toddler, Nova lived briefly in Guatemala and Mexico where his parents were called to “spread the word” and to assist in redevelopment projects. The family traveled 5,500 miles in a rickety old school bus from Albany to Guatemala during the end days of the Guatemalan Civil War.

Each of Nova’s four brothers boxed, but he was the only one to turn pro. As an amateur, he won the 2015 Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in Memphis, defeating Frank Martin and Richardson Hitchins in back-to-back fights, but failed to make the U.S. team for the Rio Games when he lost a split decision to Gary Antuanne Russell at the Olympic Trials in Reno. Those bouts were contested at 141 pounds.

A 30-year-old bachelor, Nova had his final amateur fights in Lowell, Massachusetts, a pillar of amateur boxing in New England, and has remained in the Boston area without losing his Albany identity. He is trained by ex-U.S. Marine Mark DeLuca, a boxer of some renown who sports a 30-4 record and may not be done with fighting quite yet at age 36.

Nova’s opponent, Andres Cortes, has won five of his last seven inside the distance beginning with a smashing first-round knockout of 34-2 Genesis Servania. On paper, it’s a 50-50 match-up. (The pricemakers are flummoxed; as of this writing, they have yet to establish a betting line.)

Abraham Nova’s mascot may never become as well-known as some of the costumed human mascots in college sports (e.g., West Virginia’s Mountaineer or Michigan State’s Sparty), let alone as beloved as the University of Georgia’s flesh-and-blood bulldog mascot Uga, but give the boxer credit for originality and for bringing a little levity to a sport too often besotted with incivility.

Note: Abraham Nova vs. Andres Cortes is the co-feature. In the main go, new Top Rank signee Rafael Espinoza makes the first defense of his WBO world featherweight title against Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino. Espinoza forged the 2023 TSS Upset of the Year when he got off the deck to defeat Robeisy Ramirez on Dec. 9 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, winning legions of fans with his unrelenting buzzsaw attack. Action from the Fontaineblue begins at 4:00 pm PST on ESPN+.

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

BY TSS Special Correspondent David Harazduk — A hundred years ago, ducking a worthy challenger wouldn’t simply stoke the ire of the fans, it came with the prospect of jail time.

On Thursday, November 3, 1927, 16,000 fans packed Wrigley Field in Los Angeles hoping to witness their local favorite challenge for the welterweight world championship. Nicknamed the “Nebraska Wildcat,” Ace Hudkins had relocated to the Pacific Coast where his devil-may-care style in the ring made him instantly popular among Angelino fight fans. He was set to battle Joe Dundee, the champion, an Italian immigrant who had settled in Baltimore at a young age. But there was one problem.

The champion refused to fight.

Members of the California boxing commission, along with promoter Dick Donald, raced to the Biltmore Hotel to plead with Dundee (pictured) and his manager Max Waxman to come to Wrigley Field and fight. Waxman steadfastly refused. Donald, a quick-witted cigar-chomping Irishman known as the “Boy Promoter,” had promised Max’s man the ungodly sum of $60,000, and Dundee wouldn’t enter the ring for a penny less.

Under the rules of the California commission, a fighter could only receive a guarantee of $500. The rest of the purse came from a percentage of the gate: 37.5% for the champion and 12.5% for the challenger. Waxman insisted that Donald had offered $60,000, but the commission couldn’t enforce this side deal.

Tickets in the bleachers were sold at $2.20 a pop while those closer to the ring went for $11. The most the gate could possibly produce would be $90,000. Add in Wrigley Field’s 15% usage fee and payments to the preliminary fighters, officials, and even to rent the chairs situated around the ring, and Dundee’s dreams of $60,000- $75,000 if he lost the title- never had a prayer of being realized. After all, 37.5% of $90,000, plus $500, is only $34,250.

Meanwhile, Eddie Mahoney, a preliminary fighter, entered the ring at 8:30pm. Mahoney was scheduled to fight Joe Dundee’s brother Vince, a future middleweight world champion. When Vince didn’t follow Mahoney into the ring, Mahoney soon left, much to the bewilderment of the crowd.

Donald scrambled to find a plan B. He searched for welterweight contender Sergeant Sammy Baker to replace Dundee and fight Hudkins. When Baker couldn’t be located, Donald asked a preliminary fighter, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Fields, to take on Hudkins instead. Hudkins and Fields had been sparring partners when the featherweight champion of the 1924 Games in Paris was a nascent pro back in 1925. Fields’s manager, Gig Rooney, felt Hudkins was too big for the Olympic champ at this stage of his career and preferred to remain on the undercard against San Francisco’s Joey Silver.

With no plan B, Donald and the commissioners went back to Waxman in a last desperate plea to coax Dundee to defend his title. One commissioner, Charles Traung, offered Waxman an additional $10,000 check for Dundee to fight. Waxman stubbornly held out for more.

At 9:20pm, back at Wrigley, Donald signaled Jackie Fields and Joey Silver to enter the ring. Though Fields was wobbled twice, he opened up a cut over Silver’s left eye and split the San Franciscan’s lip on route to a convincing points victory in a ten-rounder. A few minutes after 10pm, Mahoney and Vince Dundee finally entered the ring for their clash. Dundee starched Mahoney inside of two rounds. When Waxman, who also managed Vince, heard of the second-round stoppage, he said “Vince knocked that guy out, eh? I told him to carry him along.” Waxman had hoped to stall for time.

Soon after the end of the Dundee-Mahoney fight, Ace Hudkins waltzed to the ring. He spent fifteen minutes seated in his corner, covered in a bathrobe and towels to keep him warm. Dundee never showed.

At 11:25pm, ring announcer Frank Kerwin slid into the ring and bellowed, “Owing to the fact that Joe Dundee did not receive his guarantee, he refused to go on with his match against Ace Hudkins.” The crowd was advised to “hold their seat checks and watch the newspapers for other announcements.”

The fans didn’t take too kindly to the announcement and hurled those rented chairs in disgust. Fights broke out all over the stadium, spilling into the ring. All available police officers in the area rushed to Wrigley Field, wielding their nightsticks in a bid to subdue the violent mob. Dozens of fans were injured in the fracas. To add insult to injury, those who had paid $2.20 for their seats in the bleachers were out of luck; they had never received a ticket in the first place.

The next day, Waxman and Joe Dundee checked out of the Biltmore Hotel at noon and made their way to the train station. Later that night, they were pulled off an eastbound train at Pasadena and arrested for false advertising.  Waxman posted a $1,000 bond for each of them.

A warrant was issued for Donald on the same false advertising grounds. He phoned into the police station promising to turn himself in once his feelings of humiliation subsided. The police agreed to wait.

Ultimately, all accused would be acquitted. Waxman would return the $22,249.43 that had been placed in his account and an $11,000 check.

Fans didn’t receive refunds as it was deemed unfair to give them only to those who had bought $11 tickets since the gallery patrons had no ticket stub and thus, couldn’t get a refund anyhow. After the preliminary fighters, Wrigley Field, officials, ushers, and the chair rental company were compensated, the rest of the money was placed into a community fund.

Because he had entered the ring for his title challenge, Ace Hudkins declared himself the new champion, but no commission accepted his claim. Dick Donald’s promotional career, once so promising, abruptly ended. In 1935, he took one last gasp in boxing, serving as matchmaker at the famed Olympic Auditorium for a brief spell.

Joe Dundee would never fight in California again. His championship reign ended dishonorably a year and half later when several commissions agreed to strip him of the title for refusing to fight any top contenders. When Jackie Fields won the vacant title, he and Dundee were matched for the undisputed crown on July 25, 1929. With Dundee a two-to-one underdog, Waxman and Dundee bet $50,000 on Joe to win, with fouls canceling the bet. Fields shellacked Dundee, knocking him down twice. In the second round, after the second knockdown, Dundee knew he was licked. He got up and hit Fields low as hard as he could. Dundee was instantly disqualified, losing any claim to the title as disgracefully as his hold-out against Hudkins.

If only some of the alphabet champions of today had to post bail under the threat of jail for ducking contenders, maybe boxing would be in a better state.

EDITOR’S: Author David Harazduk has run The Jewish Boxing Blog since 2010. You can find him at  Twitter/X @JewishBoxing and Instagram @JewishBoxing

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Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

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After an absence of 421 days, Gervonta “Tank” Davis returned to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the opposite corner was Detroit-born Frank “The Ghost” Martin who has been training in Dallas under Derrick James. In previous fights, Gervonta, who holds the WBA world lightweight title, has shown a tendency to start slow before closing the show with a highlight-reel knockout. Tonight was no exception.

Martin, 18-0 heading in, fought off his back foot from the get-go, but had good moments and was arguably ahead after five frames. But as the fight moved into the middle rounds, Martin became more stationary and one could sense that the ever-stalking Davis was wearing him down. In Round 8, Davis trapped Martin against a corner post, discombobulated him with a left uppercut and then turned out his lights with a chopping left hand. There was no chance that Martin could rise before referee Harvey Dock completed the “10” count.

Davis (30-0, 28 KOs) celebrated by standing on the top strand of rope and doing a black flip. He has many lucrative options going forward and will be favored to defeat whoever his next opponent will be.

The Davis-Martin fight was the capstone of a four-fight pay-per-view, the second collaboration between Premier Boxing Champions and Amazon Prime Video.

Benavidez-Gvozdyk

In his first fight as a light heavyweight, David Benavidez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over former lineal light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, who improved to 20-0 (24), worked the body well and kept up the pressure in the early-going, building a substantial lead. His work output declined over the last third of the fight, but his punches still carried more steam than those of Gvozdyk, 37, who suffered his second loss in 22 pro fights, the other inflicted by the indomitable Artur Beterbiev, prompting the SoCal-based Ukrainian to take a long hiatus from the ring. The judges had it 119-109, 117-111, and 116-112.

Puello-Russell

In a major upset, Alberto Puello of the Dominican Republic saddled Gary Antuanne Russell with his first pro loss, winning a split decision. Puello appeared to have the edge in a furious final round, without which the bout would have ended in a draw. Puello, who improved to 23-0 (10), had to overcome a dubious call by referee Allan Huggins who took a point away from the Dominican in Round 7 for too much holding.

Russell, who was making his first start against a southpaw, is now trained by his brother Gary Russell Jr., the former featherweight champion, who replaced their late father. Russell Jr last fought in January of 2022.

Heading in, Gary Antuanne Russell had won all 17 of his pro fights by knockout. One of the judges thought he won handily. But his tally, 118-109 for Russell, was overruled by the115-112 and 114-113 scores awarded the underdog. Puello, who briefly held the WBA diadem at 140 but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs, won an interim belt in that weight class with his upset tonight.

Adames-Gausha

In the PPV opener, Alberto Puello’s countryman Carlos Adames successfully defended his WBC middleweight title in his first world title fight with a one-sided decision over former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha. Adames, whose late father reportedly sired 35 children, was the aggressor and landed many more punches. He advanced his record to 24-1 (19). It was the fourth loss in 29 pro starts for the 36-year-old Gausha. The judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 twice.

Adames’ triumph made it 2-0 for the Dominicans and their trainer Ismael Salas.

Other Bouts of Note

In a huge upset, Delaware’s Kyrone Davis overcame Arizona’s previously undefeated and highly-touted Elijah Garcia, winning a split decision. A 21-year-old father of two, Garcia, 16-0 heading in, was rated #1 by the WBA and seemingly one step removed from challenging Erislandy Lara for the WBA middleweight title. But Davis, trained by Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, had a solid game plan and although Elijah came on strong in the homestretch, it was too little, too late.

One of the judges favored Garcia 98-92, but his cohorts each gave seven rounds to Davis (19-3-1, 6 KOs) and the decision was fair.

Filipino junior lightweight Mark Magsayo, in his second fight back since losing back-to-back fights with featherweight belt-holders Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa, advanced to 26-2 (17) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Eduardo Ramirez (28-4-3). Magsayo scored a knockdown in the third round with a straight right hand and won by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 twice.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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