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BOXING / EARL GUSTKEY : At 74, Flores Remains Guiding Light of Amateur Division in Southland

Before World War II, there lived in Los Angeles a promising amateur featherweight named Johnny Flores.

Couldn’t miss, folks said. He had already won some amateur tournaments when war came. Flores wound up as an Army infantryman, landing at Salerno, Italy.

Early one morning in 1944, Flores and five comrades sought refuge from German artillery fire in a small, abandoned farmhouse. But as the Germans began targeting the house, the six soldiers prepared to flee.

As they ran from the house, a round exploded directly above them. Five died instantly. By the time they got Flores to a field hospital, he was bleeding profusely from 33 shrapnel holes in his body.

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But Johnny Flores survived. They gave him the purple heart, silver star and bronze star. He spent years recovering from his wounds, and never was able to resume boxing.

Instead, he turned to coaching young boxers, directing troubled kids into boxing gyms, organizing amateur boxing shows. Today, at 74, he still carries little chunks of steel in his body.

And in L.A., he is Mr. Amateur Boxing.

This week, he has been the major domo at something like his 750th amateur boxing tournament at the Lincoln Park Recreation Center gym. Tonight the finals of the 1991 Los Angeles Golden Gloves tournament will be fought.

Flores has no idea how many events he has run, or how many kids stayed out of trouble because he kept them in boxing gyms. So let’s call it hundreds, in both cases.

Over the years, he has trained noteworthy pros, among them Jerry Quarry, Dwight Hawkins and Ruben Navarro. He has also seen countless promising prospects wash out along the way.

One boxer he has watched closely in this week’s tournament is novice super-heavyweight David Luster, a 6-foot-4, 228-pound former linebacker at San Diego State. At 27, Luster began the tournament with only five amateur bouts.

Luster won Wednesday night, and will seek the L.A. Golden Gloves title tonight. If he wins, he will be on the L.A. team challenging the San Diego winners April 20. The North-South California Championships are April 27. Both the L.A.-San Diego and North-South events are at Lincoln Park.

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Those winners will advance to the national Golden Gloves championships in Des Moines, Iowa, May 6-12.

Luster figures he is making up for a lack of experience by having picked Mercer Smith as his trainer. It was Smith who found Henry Tillman in a California Youth Authority boxing class and took him to a gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics.

Luster won’t even discuss 1992 Olympic hopes yet.

“I’m taking this one step at a time,” he said. “I’m enjoying everything, except getting hit.”

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Actor Mickey Rourke hopes to launch a second career as a pro boxer May 23 on a card in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Rourke, 34, who plans to box as a super-middleweight (168 pounds), has been training under Tommy Torino, who reports his prospect shows promise.

“If he couldn’t fight, I’d be helping him by not allowing him to fight,” he said.

Rourke’s workouts have also been watched by the Florida State Athletic Commission. Don Hazleton, commission executive director, said Rourke must apply for a boxing license.

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“They tell me he can fight and that he’s serious about his training,” Hazleton said.

Rourke had 26 amateur bouts in the mid-1970s before becoming an actor. He recently told a Miami Herald reporter that he hopes to box 12 to 15 times in the next two years.

“There’s a whole lot of guys in the top 20 that could kick my butt real good, but there’s still a lot of guys I can put it to real good,” Rourke said.

John Branca, the former chairman of the New York state athletic commission who is seeking support for a federal pro boxing commission, says Congressman William Richardson (D-N.M.) will submit legislation this year that would establish federal “conflict of interest guidelines” for boxing promoters.

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Richardson introduced a bill last year that would have established minimum health and safety regulations for pro boxing, but the measure died before being brought to a vote.

An aide to Richardson said that Richardson is still upset over what he said were attempts by promoter Don King and World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman to overturn Buster Douglas’ victory over Mike Tyson in Tokyo.

Paul Banke, the super-bantamweight from Azusa who became one of the Southland’s most exciting boxers, is trying to acquire a new manager and promoter in Las Vegas.

Banke took a beating at the Forum last November when he lost his world championship to Pedro Decima, and hasn’t fought since. He has split from his manager, Bob Richardson.

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The undercard for the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman fight in Atlantic City April 19: Jorge Paez-Lupe Suarez, Yuri Vaulin-Tommy Morrison, Bill Wright-Joe Hansberry, Michael Moorer-Terry Davis, James Leija-Rafael Solimon.

Added to the undercard for the Forum’s Virgil Hill-Thomas Hearns fight at Caesars Palace June 3: Tony Tucker and Tim Witherspoon. Already on that card was Humberto Gonzalez-Melchor Cob Castro, and Troy Dorsey-Alfredo Rangel.

Boxing Notes

That $300,000 bonus check promoter Bob Arum gave Julio Cesar Chavez for signing with him in December has never been cashed. In fact, after Chavez changed his mind about boxing for Arum, he returned the check to Arum, then re-signed with Don King. But Arum last week sent the check back to Chavez by registered mail, and threatens to sue if Chavez boxes for King. Leon Pizante has quit as Chavez’s attorney. “I can’t play that game anymore,” he said, referring to Chavez’s propensity to sign any contract placed in front of him. “Arum gave him the best contract ever offered to a non-heavyweight. If he had lost six fights in 18 months, he would have been guaranteed $7 million. Julio is 28. He should have taken that contract.”

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Orlin Norris and Lionel Washington meet in a Ten Goose heavyweight bout at the Country Club in Reseda April 30. Norris, older brother of junior-middleweight champion Terry Norris, is 28-2 and has won four in a row at the Country Club. Washington, 11-8, was knocked out by Tony Tucker at the Forum in his last appearance.

Sacramento promoter Don Chargin has two fight dates coming up: Hector Camacho-Greg Haugen May 18 in Reno, and Loreto Garza-Edwin Rosario June 14 at Sacramento’s Arco Arena. Camacho-Haugen, an HBO fight, is a rematch of their Feb. 23 fight, won by Haugen on a close decision. Haugen, however, later tested positive for marijuana and was fined $15,000 and ordered to give Camacho a rematch.

George Foreman is not the world’s oldest boxer. At, least, he’s not as old as Doug Fenske, who boxed this week in the L.A. Golden Gloves tournament. Fenske turned 42 last December, Foreman last month. Fenske, a 195-pounder from Santa Barbara, had to get a court order to gain admittance to the tournament.


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