Joe Rein Writings


The Definition of "Old School"

Seeing Ruben Olivares, Jesus "Little Poison" Pimentel and Bobby Chacon--arms over each other's shoulders, huddled close with big smiles for a picture, I knew I had to make a frozen frame of this to call up these immortals forever.

They stood against a wall in L.A.'s Old Spaghetti Factory in what little room was left to them, while flashbulbs went off, cameras clicked, people cheered and shouted their names, as the ceremony drew to a close to honor them along with Hedgeman Lewis, Oscar "the Boxer" Muniz, Dr. James Jen Kin, Eddie "Bossman" Jones and Macka Foley for a lifetime of achievement by the Golden State Boxer's Association.

A former fighter at my table got my attention pointing to a man wearing the organization's T-shirt, and shaking his head: 'Isn't that a shame?' he said. They'd spelled "Boxer's" incorrectly. But, at least they were consistent; it appeared that way on the program, as well.

If you'd been in the fight game or around fighters for any length of time, this congested room, where it was almost impossible to get a seat--with bad acoustics-you wouldn't have traded it for anything, because while those little giants posed for pictures, everybody flashed those images of all the thrilling moments they'd given us.

This was one large extended family. And in their faces was what only those who were fighters and their families understood about what it meant to be a fighter, and so they applauded for them, shouted for them and showered them with love and tribute. And eyes glistened all over the room.

It must have been like it was at the height of their careers. Everybody was thrusting programs in their faces to be signed or begging to have pictures taken with them or just a word or two, so I only managed to speak briefly with Olivares and Pimentel, as their friends, or translator, in the case of Olivares, pointed out that he only had a few moments.

So, in the din of the bar area, where Olivares raised a few with his friends, we sat and talked for a few moments, with the help of his translator, Gene Aguilera. Olivares is more like a super middleweight now. A man with the look of somebody enjoying what he was deprived of during his fighting years.

His hair is still black and full and spiky-straight and the Indian features on his face are even more pronounced when he smiles, which he does easily and often, revealing a gleaming gold frame for his right front tooth.

Q:     Ruben, tell me about your two losses to Rafael Herrera.

RO: The first time Rafael took the title away from me, I had trouble making weight, and the second time, he just beat me, fair and square.

Q:     After your first loss to Bobby Chacon, what did you learn that allowed you to win the next two?

RO: Good preparation, because we went 15 rounds in those days. I studied Bobby Chacon's tapes. All three fights were very tough. Bobby Chacon is very brave...

Q:     You're one of the hardest punchers that's ever stepped in the ring, how did he manage to take those?

RO: Chacon hit very hard also...He was very, very BRAVE...

And he seemed to be struggling to find an even stronger word. I volunteered, "cahones," and he rocked back with laughter, nodding his agreement. "You speak my language," he said, tapping me on the shoulder.

Q:     Did you experience any dirty tactics from Pedroza?

RO: Yes, he would hit me with elbows. He was thumbing me in the eyes.

Q:     Do you still have a bar? And is it going OK?

RO: I have a bar/restaurant and gym on the same lot, and I'm working with all the young kids from Tijuana.

Q:     What do you think of the changes in the rules since you quit, and the new training methods?

RO: There's a lot of intermediate weight classes now. They fight 12 rounds. They make more money now. They fight 12 rounds but they get tired right away. They're missing the inner strength.

Q:     How would you do against the fighters they have now?

RO: I respect them but I would handle them.

Back at my table, I sat across from Willie Bean, a former light heavyweight who fought Archie Moore, and though 75 and slowed by a stroke, still had a handshake like a vice.

In recalling the Moore fight, Bean said he'd been warned over and over again by his trainer not to be suckered into bending and throwing a left hook at what looked like an unprotected, jagged scar on Moore's mid section. But he went for it anyway, and Moore dropped a short right over the top. He never saw it. "When I got up, I thought I was walking on razor blades."

Jesus "Little Poison" Pimentel still looks within a couple of workouts of making the bantamweight limit. He's gracious and patient with all those that fight for his attention, but he moves very nimbly and generates a certain energy and alertness. His eyes are kind--not what you'd imagine from a man who knocked out 69 men.

He was baby faced as a fighter, and it's stood him in good stead these many years later; with his thick, black hair, he looks easily 15 years younger than 64.

On a bench, almost in the eye of the hurricane of people milling about us, Pimentel ushered me to sit and to ask him anything.

Q:     Watching you with all these people, you don't appear to be the least bit damaged after 80 fights, except for a hint of a fighter's nose.

JP: It's logical with that many fights, he smiled

Q:     When you decided to pull the plug, what made you say, "I've had enough."

JP: I didn't want to retire till I got a chance at the title...and, I got it, even though it was my last fight, but I got the opportunity and I fought a great champion, which was Ruben Olivares.

Unfortunately, my time had past; I lost in a 12-round TKO.

Q:     When you say your time had passed, what was it about your skills that wasn't right?

JP: My legs, in the first place. My reflexes, they weren't the same no more...because punches that Ruben was throwing me, in my early days, I could easily avoid them.

But, that's when I knew. I started feeling the punches...all the way to my neck, and I knew it was time for me to call it quits, which I did.

Q:     How old were you when you retired?

JP: I was only two months away from being 32. I retired December 14 of '71.

Q:     What was the true story behind your walking out on the Edre Jofre fight?

JP: That is wrong! The real story was the fight was cancelled not by us but the promoter, George Parnassus. And the reason was: Even though Edre Jofre was a world champion and I was the number one contender, Edre Jofre never fought in North America, and I, as the number one, had never fought in San Antonio. Neither did Edre Jofre, so there was not that kind of interest for a title fight, knowing it was for the bantamweight championship. So, that's why the promoter cancelled the fight.

But, then he accused me of being afraid of Edre Jofre, and he had advanced me $10,000, which was wrong.

I got suspended by Luis Spota, which at that time was the President of the World Boxing Council.

Now, I wish that in that time Don King and the recent President of the World Boxing Council, Jose Suliman, was around. I would have been champion of the world.

George Parnassus and Luis Spota, they used to eat out of the same plate. Parnassus told him a false story, and he suspended me for a full year.

Q:     How much did the suspension hurt your career?

JP: I still kept myself busy on the coast and Mexico. So, even though I was not making any big money or nothing, but I was active. After the suspension was lifted, I started my boxing career again.

Q:     How do you feel about the dirty dealing that goes on in boxing today?

JP: I will criticize nothing. Boxing is still boxing. The fighters of today, they are so fortunate; they can make all kinds of money.

Q:     Do you think the advancements in training methods have improved fighters?

JP: My opinion is: We didn't need all that stuff they do today. We fought like we knew best. The fighters of the past are the most dedicated fighters, especially, fighters from Mexico.

We ate tortillas and beans; that was our main dish, but today a lot of vitamins, a lot of weight lifting. I don't believe in that myself.

Q:     Mexican fighters have been known for their liver punches. Is it a difficult punch to learn?

JP: A good body puncher, a liver puncher, to me, you gotta have it! We teach the fighter a way of throwing that left hook to the liver, but if the guy does not have the punch, does not have the quality to do so, it's not gonna help.

I try now to teach the kids what I did during my career, what I learned from a manager.

Q:     Can you teach a kid to punch?

JP: No, no, no! That's wrong! You cannot teach a kid to be a puncher.

That's a problem I had with an owner of a gym. He tried to teach me how I should train-that my training was old fashioned. And I said, 'What? Boxing's boxing. There is only one way of teaching a boxer the way of moving, a way of executing the punches, a way of blocking the punches, and a way of how to avoid the punches.

'And, you mean that if Sugar Ray Robinson was here as a trainer for your company, you mean he has an old style?' And, I quit from that particular gym.

Q:     Can I ask what he said when you said that about Robinson?

JP: He just kept his mouth shut. Once he told me how to teach, I said, 'No. Goodbye!'

Q:     You have a tremendous amount of knockouts. When did you realize you had this awesome power?

JP: That brings back memories of a manager. One day, my manager was trying to teach me how to set myself and execute the punches with more effectiveness. And I said, ' Harry, Harry, I'm not a puncher; I'm a boxer.'

After my 29th straight knockout, he gives me a birthday card: "I'm not a puncher"

Q:     When did it dawn on you? You thought you were a boxer.

JP: I knew it when every fighter kept going down. I knew I had the punch.

Q:     Who is the toughest you ever fought?

JP: I had many tough fights. I had one helluva fight in 1963 at the Olympic Auditorium, with Jose "Portillo" Lopez.

I was almost down, and he was almost down. We fought eight rounds trying to knock each other out, and I ended up knocking Jose "Portillo" Lopez out.

My toughest fight was Mimoun Ben Ali, the European champion that had never been knocked out in 62 professional bouts. I knocked him out in San Antonio Texas in '66 or '68. That fight was chosen as the best fight in the history of San Antonio.

Q:     Did you fight amateur?

JP: I had 21 fights...and lost 22. In other words, I had a bad record as an amateur.

Q:     How could you be so good as a pro and so bad as an amateur?

JP: I was very young. I didn't have the proper experience. I took my first amateur fight with one day of training in my life; and only because I went to see my best friend fight and his opponent did not show up. And the bullring in Mexicali, Mexico was full to the top to see that particular friend of mine fight.

They started calling me: 'cabezon!'--cabezon meant big head, --you fight. I said you guys are crazy. I only trained one day in my life; you want me to fight this guy. He had a lot of experience, was well known.

I agreed because the commission accepted it. They borrowed me a brand new set of trunks, my shoes, my wraps, and a mouthpiece.

The white trunk was a beautiful, brand new trunk. At the second round, that trunk was red, full of blood.

When you're not used to getting hit in the nose and they touch your nose, blood just keeps squirting out, and that's what happened to me.

Q:     Boxing isn't like tennis, when you lose, you get beat up. With such a bad record as an amateur, what made you continue as a pro?

JP: I made a promise to God... (And he had to stop; his eyes welled-up with tears. And it was a moment or two before he could regain his composure) I said I'm going to be a boxer. I'm going to dedicate myself completely, and I did-thank God.

Q:     To see such a veteran pro so moved, fighting must have meant more to you than just the money?

JP: I would be wrong if I was to say, it's not for the money. That person who makes that statement, stating he's fighting not because of the money; he is a crazy person. Money is the main reason.

Q:     Do you still keep in touch with any of the guys you fought?

JP: Definitely! I do, yes. For example, Ruben Olivares, he and I are very close friends. I see many of the fighters, and we enjoy seeing each other. It's an honor; it's a pleasure.

Today fighters are screaming and vulgarizing each other. I just don't think it's proper. We respected each other during those times. We have kept that respect until today.

Q:     So, how do you react when you see these guys talking trash on TV?

JP: It's senseless. I just don't see a reason. A lot of guys just do it to pop off, that's all.

Q:     Was it ever personal with you? Were you ever really angry?

JP: Never, I never was angry at nobody. We were in the same business, making money.

So, why should I be angry or have something against a person. Never did.

Q:     As hard as you hit, did you ever stop someone and worry that they might be seriously hurt?

JP: I never did. I did what I had to do. If a fighter was hurt, it was not my concern to try to stop myself from hitting him. I was paid to do my job, and that was it.

Q:     Was Ruben the hardest puncher you ever fought?

JP: No, never. The only fighter that hurt me was another Mexican fighter, Jose Medel. And Jose Medel was not recognized as a puncher.

Q:     What advice would you give to a young fighter?

JP: Dedicate! Dedicate themselves completely. That's my best recommendation.

When I thanked him for the interview, he asked for my name again, as if he really wanted to remember it.

Right nearby in a booth, I spotted a former very classy welterweight contender, Andy "The Hawk" Price.

Q:     How did you get the name "The Hawk?"

AP: I was given the name because the bolo punch I used to throw when I was very young, and that punch was made famous by Kid Gavilan, who was the original "Hawk"

Q:     In the elimination tournament for the welterweight title, you beat Pipino Cuevas, yet Espada fought him for the title. What was the story?

AP: I fought Pipino Cuevas six weeks before he fought Angel Espada. The fight was supposed to be an elimination bout, and because I didn't knock Cuevas out-I beat him a 10-round decision-Angel Espada said he'd go to Mexico to fight Cuevas and then come back to L.A. and fight me. Well, he went to Mexico and he got knocked out in two rounds.

Q:     When you prepared for Cuevas, who could knock down a building with his left hook, what went through your mind?

AP: A fighter with just one single shot really didn't bother me, because I was taught to block a left hook real well. And, I was up for the challenge because, in my mind, the winner was going to fight for the welterweight title.

And, I got up for Cuevas, And, I almost had Cuevas out in the sixth round myself. I hit him with a left hook and he staggered. But I couldn't finish him.

Q:     What could you have done differently to close the show?

AP: In retrospect, I could have saved a little more for the end of the fight, because when I hurt Cuevas in the sixth round, I let everything go to try to finish him.

When I came back to the corner, I told my coach, 'That's it!' He said, 'What do you mean, that's it?' I had no more gas. He pushed me back out. I just went on basic boxing skills from then on.

Had I not tried to get him out so hard in the sixth round, I probably could have finished him late in the fight.

Q:     When did you realize you were a world-class fighter?

AP: The night I fought David Oropeza, who was a terrific fighter in Jackie McCoy's stable when I was growing up as a kid.

I had built a record of 18 wins, and my manager said we were going to Vegas to Fight David Oropeza. I said I didn't want to fight David Oropeza. He said the contract's signed; you're gonna fight David Oropeza.

I boxed David Oropeza for 10 rounds and he didn't touch me. At that point, I knew I arrived as a fighter.

Q:     When something like that comes over you, how does that change what you're able to deliver in the ring?

AP: Your confidence level dramatically goes to the next level. And once you reach the next level in boxing, on any night, you can beat any fighter in the world.

Q:     I'm always surprised when I ask this question. Sometimes I get some very unexpected answers. Who was the toughest fighter you ever fought?

AP: Most people think because I fought Ray Leonard, and Ray Leonard was a tremendous athlete that he'd be my toughest opponent. My toughest opponent was a kid named Rudy Barro, who broke my undefeated string and stopped me in the second round. The rematch I beat him a ten-round decision.

The third fight we had, I stopped him in seven. I fought him a fourth time, and I stopped him in nine.

Q:     What did you learn the first time that made the other outcomes different?

AP: The first time I fought him; I used to do a lot of hot-dogging in the ring. I used to clown quite a bit. I was real young. After he stopped me, I was strictly business. And, as long as I kept to business, kept my hands up, and kept my jab in his face, the fight was mine.

Q:     Was there anybody you were able to con when you were hurt, so they didn't jump right on you?

AP: No question, the rematch with Julio Gomez. In the first round, Julio Gomez hurt me. If he'd hit me two-three more times, he probably would have finished me.

Q:     How did you manage for him not to know that you were hurt like that?

AP: Basically, it was just the Lord. He beat me the whole first round; did everything but put me down. When the bell rang for the second round, Julio Gomez ran across the ring to finish me off. He ran into a left hook-and I wasn't known to be a one-punch knockout artist---but I knocked Julio Gomez dead.

To this day, I think it was the Lord.

Q:     Did you ever try to change your style of fighting?

AP: Changing your fight plan in the middle of the stream, can get you in trouble.

Because I wasn't a tremendous puncher-but I knocked out a few guys in a row, and in my mind, I thought I could punch. In the Ray Leonard fight, that really cost me, because I went in to knock Ray out, instead of boxing him. And, I got hurt, and I couldn't finish the fight.

Q:     How did you learn new moves?

AP: I would copy good athletes-like a lot of people would copy Ali. I chose Hedgeman Lewis to idolize. I tried to copy everything I saw Hedgeman do. Hedgeman was a tremendous boxer. If Hedgman did it, I did it...and I was very successful.

Q:     How much of an advantage are the new methods of training? And would the old fighters be competitive with the fighters now?

AP: Personally, I don't think the fighters now could compete with the fighters from yesterday. I think the old way of training was the best way of training.

All the new technology, it can enhance somewhat the look of a fighter, but his performance is still going to be left on his ability.

Q:     A lot of old school trainers feel: It's all how much heart you have. What do you think?

AP: I'm in agreement with that. The new technology will make a fighter look better, like Evander Holyfield. When he comes in the ring, he looks like a chiseled, muscled doll, but his performance will rely on what's inside and how much knowledge he has in the game.

Q:     How do you think the match stacks up between Holyfield and Toney?

AP: I think Evander will be a warrior till the end, and I'm looking for a very good, competitive fight.

Q:     But you won't pick either one?

AP: If James Toney is 100%, and is on game, Holyfield won't beat him.

Q:     For all those out there who make fun of James and call him fat this and fat that, what would you say to those people?

AP: I would say you have to look beyond what you see and you have to look inside an athlete. And James Toney, he'll have to go down in history as being one of the best boxers of our day.

One last look before I left. There was nothing but "old school" --some with t-shirts and loud, and much too heavy to be healthy, vaguely familiar flattened faces, former greats-vacant and tranquil, and seconds, like Macka Foley, who were the blood of the sport.

There was dignity and respect and honor among them; the definition of "old school."

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