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Boxing : A Couple of Old Friends Slug It Out

One doesn’t have to pay half the rent money for a great seat to a good boxing match. Keep an ear to the ground, and you can find out where to see one from ringside--at no cost.

The other day, word was out of an afternoon meeting in East Los Angeles. Al Stanky, Paul Gonzales’ trainer, was on the phone.

“Come to the Resurrection Gym on Lorena Street, about 2:30,” Stanky said. “Paul’s going to spar with Ricky Romero for five or six rounds; they’ve been really going after each other.”

Resurrection Gym was once known as the Church of the Resurrection and, from the outside, it still looks like a church. There’s no gym sign, but even from across the street, parking in front of La Pasadita Tortilleria , you know you’re at the right place when you hear the unmistakable rattle of punching bags and the tap-tap-tap of jump ropes slapping against a wooden floor.

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The cornerstone outside reads 1924, but no one seems to know when the church was converted to a gym.

In a gym such as this, a dream was brought to life for Paul Gonzales, one-time gang member from the Aliso Village projects. A cop, Stanky, turned him from a street fighter into a boxer and darned if the kid didn’t win a gold medal at the Olympics, just like he said he would.

In 1984, Gonzales and Romero were Los Angeles-area light-flyweights. Both made a U.S. team that toured three cities in the Soviet Union in early 1984, but only Gonzales made the Olympic team.

Gonzales and Romero figure they have sparred about 200 rounds over the last decade. Now they were meeting again.

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Red Shannon, a big-name Los Angeles featherweight in the 1930s, is cinching Romero’s headgear. Romero, 17-1 as a professional super-flyweight, has a Saturday meeting with Jose Quirino at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds for the California super-flyweight championship.

It’s hot and stuffy in the little gym, but Gonzales steps into the ring wearing a blue sweat suit. A bantamweight now, Gonzales has to drop from 122 pounds to 118 for a July 31 bout in Sacramento with an opponent to be named. Gonzales has had two opponents scheduled for that date, but both have fallen through.

In the emotional aftermath of the 1984 Olympics, Gonzales predicted he’d win six world pro championships. And after he had courageously fought his way through the two-week tournament with a broken right hand, who was going to challenge him?

Five years later, Gonzales is still looking for that first title shot, but now he talks as much about going to law school as he does about winning pro titles.

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“I never dreamed in ’84 it would take this long,” he said. “I took a year off for my hand to heal; my car rolled over my left foot and broke it; I had knee surgery; I hurt my hand again, and I injured my hip falling off a bike. In a way, it’s amazing I’ve had 13 fights.”

He is 12-1 and might be, finally, a fight away from a title shot.

Promoter Don Chargin finds Gonzales much more attractive championship material as a bantamweight.

“I think Paul’s been at fly too long,” he said. “The knock on him at fly was he’d never scored a single knockdown in 10 fights. But at bantam, in his last two fights, he’s scored clean knockouts. Really, I like him a lot better now; he can really hit with those few extra pounds. I told Paul and Al that I want to see him once more at this weight, against a good fighter, and if he looks good again I’d get them a title fight.”

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Gonzales and Stanky, however, are reluctant to leave the super-flyweight division because both think Mexican Gilberto Roman, the World Boxing Council champion, is beatable.

The game plan: Beat Roman at 115 pounds, then abandon the championship and move up to bantamweight in search of Orlando Canizales. In 1986, Gonzales won a decision over Canizales, who has since become the International Boxing Federation bantamweight champion.

“I’ve already beaten Canizales, and he’s a champion,” Gonzales said. “I want him again--I know I can win that title.”

The horn sounded on the round clock and the two little boxers marched toward each other.

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Romero was always shorter and more muscled than Gonzales. Most who watched them as amateurs always figured Romero was more suited to the rough pro game. Gonzales started Romero off with a jolting left jab, but Romero countered immediately, deftly stepping inside with a left hook to the ribs.

The fighters tore into each other furiously. There were crisp exchanges at center ring, in the corners and along the ropes. Shannon and Stanky shouted encouragement. The half-dozen other boxers in the gym stopped their workouts to watch.

There was a rare intensity to it all, and both seemed exhausted at the end, after five rounds. When Shannon and Stanky pulled the headgear off, both fighters wore smiles, and they hugged each other.

“This is perfect, for both these guys,” Stanky said. “Both are roughly the same weight and both have important fights coming up. Ricky is going to walk through that guy (Quirino) because of this great work he’s been getting with Paul. Same with Paul.”

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Fight preparation days are long ones for Romero. He’s a medical records clerk in Torrance. In the afternoons, he goes to war with Gonzales. He’ll earn his biggest purse for Quirino, $2,500, and he can use it--he and his wife, Suzie, have a new daughter, Nicole LeAnn.

Romero praised his longtime pal.

“When Paul and I sparred when we were both flyweights, he never really hurt me,” he said. “But just those few more pounds make a lot of difference. When he hits you now, it hurts.”

Shannon is 69 now, and has seen all kinds. Romero, he says, is the best kind.

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“This is a great kid,” he said, as Romero cooled down with a speed bag. “Absolutely perfect work habits. He’s always on time. I’ve trained a lot of fighters in my day and some of them, if they didn’t show up late, didn’t show up at all.”

Would these two fighters ever meet for real?

“Anything’s possible, but I doubt it,” Stanky said. “Paul’s going up in weight from where he is now, and Ricky is staying at 115.”

“It’s kind of hard to think of fighting a friend, for real,” Gonzales said. “But if we did, it would be all business with me. He’d feel the same way.”

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Then the Stanky needle: “Let me put it this way, we’d never turn down a Romero fight, because that would be easy money for us, and you want that easy money anytime you can get it.”

Boxing Notes

Sacramento’s hot junior welterweight, Loreto Garza, meets Frankie Warren for the U.S. Boxing Assn. junior-welterweight championship Aug. 12 at Arco Arena. . . . Olympian Todd Foster, 4-0 as a pro lightweight (all by knockout), makes his Las Vegas debut on a Showboat Hotel today. . . . Name from ’84: Moon Sungkil, the South Korean who knocked out Robert Shannon in the most exciting bout at the L.A. Olympics, recently lost his WBA bantamweight championship to Kaokor Galaxy of Thailand, on a decision in Bangkok.


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