By David Martinez / Boxing Historian
I was saddened to learn that on December 26, 2007, George Latka passed away.
When I first saw George Latka, it was at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium in the early sixties. I was just a young teenage kid learning my trade in boxing and what I saw that night was an outstanding referee at work.
Little did I know then that, later in my life, I would connect with George and his lovely wife Trudie as best friends. That instantly came into effect when I entered my ten-year tenure in the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
George, also known as “the professor”, is the only person to ever be inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame as both a referee (1988), and as a boxer (1992).
George started boxing as an amateur in Gary, Indiana and entered the Golden Gloves in 1934, with a group of boxers that also featured former Middleweight champion Tony Zale. George won titles in the Golden Gloves tournament in 1934, 1935, and 1936, later entering San Jose State (also in 1936) – when major colleges offered scholarships in boxing. He finished up his college education at UCLA.
Turning pro in 1937, George fought fighters such as Richie Lemos, Petey Scalzo, Ray Lunny, Baby Arizmendi, and Sammy Angott. He even had a bout with Joe Ponce, who later became a renowned manager for former Featherweight and Junior Lightweight champion Bobby Chacon.
After a successful career as a boxer, George retired in 1942 with a ring record of 26-7-9, and was never knocked out in his professional career of 42 total bouts. He then went on to teach actors in Hollywood the basic boxing techniques for “tough guy” movie roles.
George started his career as a referee soon after, quickly moving to the top of the profession, and later became a judge in boxing. He was a referee in many major bouts, probably the most memorable being the Sugar Ramos vs. Davey Moore World Featherweight championship in March 1963 at Dodger Stadium in L.A. Moore died two days after that bout, a fight that George, and the world of boxing, would never forget.
On a personal note, I will always remember a special day in my life during March 2007, when George and Trudie made the drive north to Santa Barbara from Orange County to come to my home for a visit, and to view my personal boxing collection. How ironic it is that when I first saw George at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium as a young boy it was 1961, the same year I started to collect and began my avid love for the sport of boxing.
May his soul rest in peace in heaven – George Latka, “the professor”, a true icon in boxing!