By the end of WWII, a new era in Los Angeles boxing had taken life. In the eyes of California boxing historians, such as Gabriel “Hap” Navarro, former promoter and matchmaker at the legendary Hollywood Legion Stadium, the post war years thru the 1950’s, are considered the “Golden Era” of Los Angeles boxing.
At the time, L.A. headliners such as Enrique Bolanos, Manuel Ortiz, Art Aragon and dozens more, set box office records at the Olympic Auditorium, Hollywood Legion Stadium and Wrigley Field. In addition, the “City of Angeles” had a number of smaller clubs putting on regular shows, such as Ocean Park in Santa Monica, South Gate Arena and San Bernardino, to name a few.
A couple years after the war, a skinny 12-year-old would get his first taste of boxing from inside the ropes. This would be the birth of a life long journey for young Frank Baltazar, and it would take it’s first breath at the beginning of Los Angeles boxing’s toughest, most competitive era.
Today, six decades later, the skinny kid isn’t quite as skinny, and the thick black hair not quite as dark, as when we first met, however, Frank Baltazar Sr. looks pretty much the same. Frank’s handsome latino features contradict his seventy-plus years.
The first time I saw Frank was in the mid-1960’s, shortly after he’d hung up the gloves, after a sixteen year amateur career. Frank’s education in prizrfighting took place during the sports most glorious period in California, lessons learned in countless gyms, arenas and clubs thruout the Southland. His teachers were hardened “old school” veterans, and he practiced his skills in the ring, trading blows with some of the greats of the era
More than forty years after our first meeting, I’d have the honor of being present at a very special day for Frank Baltazar Sr., his family, and L.A. boxing in general. In 2007, Baltazar was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame. Friends and family from miles away packed the event, and I have to say, the faces I saw that day took me back to a very special time, a time made a little more special for kids like myself, thanks to guys like Frank Baltazar Sr.
When I first crossed paths with Frank, he was nearly thirty, and had just taken over as director of the annual Junior Golden Gloves program, an event that had long been a breeding ground for some of the world’s best boxing talent.
Superstars such as Mando Ramos, the Quarry brothers, Albert Davila, the Baltazar boys, the Sandoval’s, Frankie Duarte, Randy Shields, Paul Gonzalez and Oscar DeLaHoya came out of the Los Angeles Junior Golden Gloves tournaments. All became world class professionals, some World Champions.
What Frank Baltazar Sr. brought to the Junior Golden Gloves was years of experience, not to mention three young sons; Frankie Jr., Tony and Bobby. Frank wasn’t just a fighter, he was a father . . . and a master at both. Frank was a dad, a coach and a mentor.
In many ways, Frank Baltazar Sr. would prove to be a surragate father figure to many young boys over the years. Frank taught more than jabs and hooks, he taught young men about courage, charactor and common sense. These are the true hallmarks of a champion.
In retrospect, it seems as if Frank Baltazar Sr. was destined to be a part of boxing history. Frank was born in 1936, at Los Angeles County General Hospital, and grew up in the nearby city of Montebello. As a boy, Baltazar recalled listening to boxing on the radio.
“I would listen to the all the championship fights when they were broadcast”, Frank remembered. “Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep. We didn’t have television in those days”.
Frank recalls how much he loved boxing as a kid, and how much he desired becoming a fighter. “My dad was a baseball fan, and he’d talk to me about baseball, but I was more interested in boxing”. One day, 10-year-old Frankie Baltazar would get the surprise of his life.
“My father came home and told me that he had tickets for a championship fight”, Baltazar remembered. “The fight was the first meeting between lightweight champ Ike Williams and Enrique Bolanos, in 1946. My dad and I went with my two uncles and sat about twenty rows back from ringside. Bolanos was up-and-down like a yo-yo that night, he really took a beating.”
This would be the first of three classic bouts between the great Ike WIlliams and Mexican legend Enrique Bolanos. All three matches would be held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, between 1946-49, and Frank Baltazar would be ringside for all three.
“Only one of the three fights was close, and that was the second, with no knockdowns, Williams won on a split decision”, Baltazar recalled. “In the third match, Williams gave him a beating,
knocking him down twice before Bolanos corner stopped it after four rounds. His eye was closed, he was in bad shape.”
Like many young boxers, Frank Baltazar started his career right in the neighborhood, thru the training of a “backyard coach”, whom the kids called “Tiger”. “I never knew his real name”, Baltazar recalled, “But he had been a pro, and had a make-shift gym in his yard. We had a couple pairs of old boxing gloves, I remember they were from Sears.
After ” Tiger” showed the boys how to punch, the kids would don the gloves and box, practicing their new skills. After boxing, young Frank would pound the heavy bag, which was actually an old navy duffel bag hanging from a tree branch. “We didn’t have much equipment, but we learned how to fight.”
When the boys needed stronger opposition, Tiger would take them downtown to the CYO Gym, at 9th & Figureoa. “This is where I met Johnny Flores”, Baltazar smiled.
Johnny Flores was known as “Mr. Golden Gloves” in Los Angeles. A decorated WWII battle hero, Flores was the co-founder of L.A.’s Junior Golden Gloves program, along with Louie Jaurequi of the Teamsters Gym. Flores would manage dozens of top contenders during his career, including former heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry, Ruben Navarro, and Dwight Hawkins.
Baltazar continued to train with Tiger, his backyard coach, for a little over a year, before switching over to the Teamsters Gym, where he boxed under Hoyt Porter, and eventually Juarequi. At the teamsters gym, Frank would be training side-by-side with some of the best boxers in town, including a hot young flyweight named Keeny Teran.
Thinking back on Teran, Baltazar stills remembers the excitement he felt in 1951, when his two favorite fighters, Enrique Bolanos, and his friend Keeny Teran, were both featured on the same card at Hollywood Legion Stadium. “Bolanos fought Eddie Chavez in the twelve round main-event, and Teran fought Gil Cadilli in a six-round semi main.
Teran and Cadilli were both ten round fighters at the time, but the Bolanos-Chavez fight was more important, so they stepped down to fight in the six round semi. I’ll never forget that night, my two favorite boxers, both fighting on the same card. I was fifteen-years-old, what could be better?”
Baltazar would see thousands of matches during his life, but none better than the six round war that took place between Keeny Teran and Gil Cadilli. “I’ve never seen a better six round fight. If you remember the Bobby Chacon-Danny Lopez fight, well, that was what it was like. The crowd went crazy and the match declared a draw.” In the main event, Enrique Bolanos, would defeat Chavez by decision.
When Frank was eighteen, he met his wife Connie. “That was in April, 1954 and eight months later, in December, we were married”, Frank said. Less than two years after they married, Connie gave birth to their only daughter, Linda.
In 1958, Frank and Connie would become parents once again, when the first of their four sons was born. The boy was named Frank Jr., and only in the young father’s wildest dreams could he have imagined that his namesake would become one of Los Angeles’ all-time great prizefighters, a Hall of Famer
Nearly three years later, the second Baltazar son made his life debut, and like the first, Tony Baltazar would also become one of the greatest boxers to ever hail from L.A. The fans knew him as Tony “The Tiger”, but his opponents knew him for his devastating left hook, knockout power that would take him right into the Hall of Fame, with brother Frankie Jr.
It was only natural that Frank and Connie’s third son, Bobby, would follow his older brothers into the ring. Born in 1963, Bobby ‘s accomplishments in amateur boxing were typical of the Baltazar family. Bobby defeated several world champions during his amateur days, including future bantamweight champ Richie Sandoval. Bobby turned professional and was unbeaten after six fights, winnng five by knockout, before getting married and deciding against continuing his boxing career.
In 1974, well into the amateur careers of the Baltazar brothers, Connie would give birth to their fourth son, James. Like his older brothers, the Baltazar’s youngest son was an exceptional athlete, but boxing was not his first love. James first love was baseball, and later he was a standout football player. However, James received several concussions during his football years and this prevented him from pursuing a boxing career.
A year before James was born, Frank Sr. would travel to Boston with the 1973 Los Angeles Golden Gloves team, representing Southern California in the National Golden Gloves “Tournament of Champions.”
Frank was head coach for an all-star Los Angeles team that included future world champ Art Frias, and world title challengers Frankie Duarte and Randy Shields. “Roy Hollis took home the National title in his weight class. He was the only L.A. boxer to do so that year”, Frank pointed out.
In 1977, Don King and ABC-TV partnered to promote a televised professional boxing tournament that would crumble under the rumor of corruption, rigged ratings, etc. The ill-fated “U.S. Boxing Championships” may have been a failure for most concerned, but it provided Frank Baltazar Sr. an opportunity to meet and visit with one of his greatest boxing idols.
In April of that year, Frankie Baltazar Jr. had nine pro fights under his belt when Don King invited him to Miami Beach to face Francisco Villegas in the U.S. Championships. Frankie Jr. would knockout Villegas, however, the most exciting part of the trip for Frank Sr. wasn’t his son’s victory.
“Frankie and I went to Miami with Johnnie Flores, who was one of my cornermen for the fight”, Frank Sr. remembered. “We needed somebody to take us around Miami while we were there, so Don King assigned us a driver.
You won’t believe who King sent to drive us . . . JOE LOUIS!”
It turned out to be quite a day, because Johnnie Flores and Joe Louis had been friends since the war. “During the fifties, Louis promoted boxing in Hollywood, at the Moulan Rouge night club on Sunset. Johnnie Flores had been matchmaker for the former heavyweight champion, so, when they met again, they had a lot to talk about”.
Before Joe Louis could take his place behind the steering wheel, Baltazar insisted that Louis allow him to drive, so as the Brown Bomber could sit in the backseat with his friend Flores, and share some incredible stories. “There’s no way I could let the great Joe Louis chauffer me around town, he was one of my childhood idols”, Baltazar said.
Today the Baltazar kids are long grown, and Frank and Connie Baltazar are grandparents. Frank no longer trains young kids in the art of boxing, however, he’s still teaching. Today, Frank Baltazar Sr. shares his experience, memorabilia, and tremendous boxing knowledge with guys like myself, L.A. boxing historians who desire to know the inside story behind the history of California boxing.
Unlike many so called historians, Frank Baltazar doesn’t just know boxing history, he’s lived it, and without question, is a part of it.
Speaking for all of who have benefited from Frank’s participation in the Los Angeles boxing community, I wish to say, “Thanks Kiki!”