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HIT THE BEACH : Boxer John Armijo Makes a Name--and an Image--for Himself as the Fighting Lifeguard

Times Staff Writer

When John Armijo steps into the ring, he’s announced as the “fighting lifeguard from Huntington Beach.”

The nickname gets plenty of attention. But not everyone believes it. Promoters have been known to call boxers a lot of things to jazz up an image.

But in John Armijo’s case, there’s no hype.

He really is a lifeguard. He surfs, too. But he has yet to be billed as the “slugging surfer.”

The “fighting lifeguard” will be introduced again Monday for a six-round bout on the card of the monthly boxing program at the Irvine Marriott. Armijo (8-0-1), who will fight at 160 pounds, is matched against Vincent Durham of Los Angeles. George Garcia of Westminster will fight Luis Hernandez of Redlands in the 10-round main event.

Armijo seems to enjoy the image that goes with working in the ring and the water.

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“I guess there aren’t too many boxing lifeguards,” Armijo said. “I’ve never met another one. . . . No one I work with boxes, and I don’t think too many of the guys at the gym go to the beach.”

Don Fraser, who has been promoting fights for more than 25 years, hadn’t come across a boxing lifeguard before Armijo.

“It’s a first,” Fraser said. “He sure is an interesting character.”

Armijo has one of the most vocal cheering sections in the five years of boxing at the Marriott. He has about 20 lifeguard friends in his corner and another small group of friends from the gym, all yelling for him.

“People tend to notice the lifeguards,” Armijo said. “They’re a noisy crowd. But it’s great to have so many people cheering for you.”

Every summer, almost every day, Armijo practices his contrasting life styles.

During the day, he’s at Bolsa Chica State Beach protecting people. After work, he’s at the Westminster gym punching people.

“Surfing and swimming are very good workouts for boxing,” he said. “The strength it takes to push up on the board (to stand up) is really a good workout. If the water was warm in the winter and the waves good all the time, I’d never have to go to the gym. That would be my workout.”

Running in the soft sand creates strong legs and helps with his endurance. If he has a busy day pulling swimmers to safety, he’s usually too tired to go to the gym afterward.

Armijo’s strange combination is a natural considering his background. It comes from two things--family and geography.

Armijo’s father, Clyde, is a former fighter who also worked as a trainer. The family lives across the street from Edison High School, about a mile from the coast.

When John was about 7, he first went to the gym with his father. But he didn’t start boxing until after high school.

In high school, he was a swimmer and also played football and water polo. He also became involved in the Huntington Beach junior lifeguard program.

After high school, he became a lifeguard and also started going back to the gym.

“I don’t really know why, I just sort of felt like it was time,” he said.

He was the Southern California Golden Gloves champion at 149 pounds in 1981 and 1982. He stayed with it another year or so, but then lost interest again.

“He’s like that,” Clyde said. “He’s into it for a while, then he’ll just leave it for a while.”

One problem with John’s indecision is the weight he gained each time he lost interest. He was up to 230 pounds three years ago before he started his professional career. “There really wasn’t one reason I got started this time,” John, 27, said. “I just figured it was time to get serious about boxing for once.”

Armijo has continued to fight his weight, losing enough to make weight then gaining it back once he was between bouts. He has fought as heavy as 170 pounds but would like to get down to 154 and stay there.

“It just will take a while for me to get to a weight and stay there,” John said. “It’s hard to be strong when you are losing weight all the time.

“I just figure it’s time to give this one final chance. I’m not worried that I’m too old or anything. It’s just time to be serious.”


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