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Touching Gloves with Armando MunizInterview by Dan Hanley
Remember the days of our innocent youth, when we placed our sports figures on a lofty pedestal? To us, they were warriors. Whether they be a Sammy Sosa stepping up to the plate in Wrigley Field or a Walter Payton donning his helmet between the colonnades of Soldier Field. But for me it didn't get any better than that giddy feeling of seeing Armando Muniz's name in the TV listings, and the nervous pacing I would endure as he toed the mark in the smoke-filled Olympic Auditorium, or trying to hear his name through the din of the Fabulous Forum. Only a fight fan could know what I was going through as my favored warrior trudged out to answer that initial bell.
WAIL: Armando, you're originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. Is that right?
MUNIZ: Yes, but we moved north, to El Paso, Texas, when I was about 6.
What drew you to boxing?
Well, my dad boxed a little, but nothing really. To tell you the truth, I was just an average kid of 10 or 11 who was getting picked on in school, who was attracted to the sport while watching the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. I was captivated watching Floyd Patterson, Carmen Basilio, Isaac Logart, and Gaspar Ortega.
How did you get started?
I was 13 and decided I would give it a try. I saved my lunch money to pay for my physical, got my mom to sign a permission form -- which, of course, she had no idea she was signing -- and entered the El Paso Golden Gloves.
How did you prepare for the Gloves?
I had no idea what I was doing. I stuffed clothes into a gunny sack and pounded that. I shadowboxed in front of a mirror, but I felt I was ready. I fought a kid named Tony Ramos from Clint, Texas, and I fought my ass off but lost a decision. In fact, I think he hurt his hands on my face. But something unbelievable happened. People were applauding me, my dad gave me a great big hug, and the next day in school, the guys who were picking on me were now my best buddies. This was acceptance. And that night set the stage for the rest of my life. This was what I wanted to do.
You had a successful amateur career. Tell me about it.
Well, we moved to L.A. shortly after that, and I got hooked up with Marty Denkin and Jake Horn training me. I was doing quite well until I received that little notice from the government in May of '68 that said, "Greetings."
Vietnam was going full scale at that time too.
That same month I finally became a U.S. citizen, and then my wife, Yolanda, and I were married July 6. I reported for active duty July 16.
Did you figure this to be the end of the career?
Well, an amazing set of coincidences began unfolding at this time. I was to report to Fort Bragg, but my manager, Jake Horn, had a friend who knew Col. Don Hull of the Army, who sent out a flyer stating that when I came through, I was to be sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to resume boxing. It was uncanny because the Army box-offs were scheduled for August.
What was the Olympic-qualifying program like in the '60s?
Back then they would take the four service champs, the AAU champ, the national Golden Gloves champ, and western and eastern regional champs for an eight-man competition. I beat Jesse Valdez in the semifinals and Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts in the finals.
What kind of an experience was it to be in Mexico City representing the United States?
Dan, to this day I cannot describe the honor I felt representing my adopted country. I felt so proud at the opening ceremonies.
How did you fare in the tournament?
My first fight I beat the defending Olympic champ from Poland, then a West German. I can't recall who I beat in the third round, but the fourth bout, which was the quarterfinals, I lost a 3-2 decision to Mario Guilloti of Argentina, which would have guaranteed me at least a bronze medal [if I had won]. All three judges who voted against me were from Eastern Bloc countries. Hey, it was the politics of the time.
Did you turn pro right away?
No. As a matter of fact, when I returned, I still hadn't reported for basic training. Eventually they wanted me to re-up, but my daughter was born in '69, I was a dad now, and my dream was to fight pro, so I left the army when my hitch was up in '70.
So you turned pro in '70?
I turned pro and things were going great guns in L.A. that year. The Olympic Auditorium was staging weekly shows, and I was able to complete my last semester and a half of college for my degree.
Who did you sign on with?
The same guys I had as an amateur. Jake Horn was my manager, and Luis Jauregui was my trainer. These were the guys that made me, so I couldn't walk away from them.
You had a hard schedule. In your fifth fight, you beat your old amateur opponent, Bobby Watts and in your 13th fight you drew with future world champ Oscar Albarado. Looking back, do you think that was too much, too soon?
Well, I was already about 24 and fairly mature as a fighter, but my biggest problem at that time was getting thrown out of the Olympic after the Albarado fight.
Let me guess: Aileen Eaton?
Aileen Eaton. She was a very successful promoter, but that wasn't from being a nice person. She wouldn't pay a set fee, it was always a percentage of the gate. Well, they brought me a check after the fight for $7,500, which was supposed to be my percentage of 4,200 in attendance. The problem with that was the Olympic held about 9,000, and people were hanging off the rafters in the arena. I said to my manager, "Jake, there's no way there was only 4,200 in attendance!" Well, Jake Horn was old school and a hothead. He grabbed the check, went in screaming to Aileen Eaton, who screamed back, "How dare you question my integrity! You'll never fight for the Olympic again!" Thank God, Mickey Davies and Don Fraser began promoting at the Forum.
You were fighting at an incredible pace. By the end of '71 you entered the world rankings with KO's of Gil King and Clyde Gray.
I took out Gil King in five and Clyde Gray in nine to win the North American welterweight title. Gray was a beautiful boxer and got off to a fast start, but when I hurt him in the ninth, I tore into him to finish him. He was too dangerous.
In '72 your level of competition went through the roof, and you lost a couple of fights along the way. But the guys you were losing to -- Emile Griffith, Raul Soriano, and Eddie Perkins -- were all cuties. Were you having problems with that style?
These were wise old guys who knew how to box and use every trick in the book. The knock on me was that I took two to land one, and you can't fight guys like those with that style. But I was learning, and I felt I beat Perkins in our rematch.
When did Vic Weiss enter the picture?
Just prior to the Thurman Durden fight. Jake was getting more ornery, and while I was fighting in the ring I was worrying about who Jake was fighting with back in the corner. So, I brought in Vic Weiss as comanager, and they eventually got along. Vic also got me back into the Olympic, whereas Jake never could after telling the old lady off.
You were beating some hot ones at this time, including Percy Pugh, Manny Gonzalez, Adolph Pruitt, and Ernie Lopez.
Yeah, the Lopez fight really put me in the picture.
After you knocked out Lopez, you lost a split decision to Zovek Barajas, who was a tough one to fight. But you started getting a rep as a hot-and-cold fighter, beating top dogs but losing to guys like Jose Martin Flores.
You're probably right, but when I think of the Flores fight, I have to tell you: We took that fight in Vegas two weeks before my NABF title defense against Adolph Pruitt, just as a quick payday against a fighter with a record something like 0-35. I cut him to pieces, I'm clean as a whistle and they give him the decision. We sat there going, "Huh?" Afterwards, Davey Pearl said to my manager, "Never take a fight in Vegas against such an underdog. The gamblers will have a field day."
After Barajas copped the decision over you, he stopped Billy Backus, which put him at the top of the table. Then, he suffered back-to-back knockout losses to Billy Lloyd of Philadelphia. Then you signed to fight Lloyd, and the L.A. press began dictating your obituary.
Oh, I know. We actually went after that fight and Don Chargin, the matchmaker said, "You want who?" They thought he was going to kill me. But I took him out in the very first round.
Your next fight was against future champ Angel Espada in Puerto Rico. Tell me about that fight.
Well, Aileen Eaton was mad as hell that I left for San Juan. I wasn't under any promotional contract, but she didn't like any of "her" fighters fighting for anyone else. As for the fight, that was 10 of the hardest rounds I ever fought. It was in extremely hot conditions and they gave Espada the fight with the crowd booing the decision. I had his own fans coming up to me saying, "Man, you were jobbed!" He was a very good fighter, however. He fought alot like Clyde Gray, only harder hitting.
You then fought the No. 1 contender, Hedgemon Lewis.
Another great fight. I just stayed on him, not giving him an inch to breathe. His manager was the actor Ryan O'Neal. I ran into O'Neal earlier this year and when he saw me he said, "Oh, no, here's the guy that ruined my career in the fight game!" Lewis was the first and last fighter he managed.
You were now at the welterweight summit, and the title fight with Jose Napoles was beckoning.
This was funny. I was in training for a rematch with "Indian" Red Lopez when I get a call from Mexico City from a guy asking me, "How would you like a fight with Jose Napoles for the title?" I screamed back, "Are you kidding me?" As it turned out, Napoles was signed to fight someone else, and that fight fell through, but they wanted to keep the date. They'd heard I was cut in the Lewis fight, which I was, and must've thought I'd be an easy mark. Anyway, this guy asks me to have my manager call him and they'd set it up. Well, all they were offering was $15,000, but this was a shot at the title and my dream to be world champ, so we signed for Acapulco on March 29, 1975. The only problem was I was already signed to fight Lopez at the Anaheim Convention Center on March 28, and Don Fraser wouldn't postpone, so it cost me $5,000 on top of that in restitutions to the Forum Boxing Club.
You weren't getting any breaks here, and you certainly received no favors down in Acapulco. Of course I'm a fan, but that was the worst robbery I have ever seen.
Y'know, I almost finished him in that corner in the 10th. When they finally stopped it in the 12th, I could see the ringside doctor mouthing the words in Spanish: "He can't continue!" That's when the funny stuff began.
I remember, the officials huddled for 10 to 15 minutes before announcing a "technical decision." They had the audacity to say you butted him in the third and fifth rounds, so it had to go to the scorecards.
The third and fifth rounds ... and yet, in the 11th round, with his title slipping away, he threw 12 or 13 intentional low blows to keep me off him, and not a word from the referee. It's a wonder my jockstrap wasn't around my neck.
Your wife, Yolanda, told me that after the fight was stopped, Napoles kept glaring down at her until she realized he wasn't glaring at her, but at the fellow in front of her, who was the governor of the state of Guererro.
That's right, we figured Napoles was waiting for him to step in and do something. After the decision was announced, some fans were aiming for the judges but instead covered the governor in beer, so he had them arrested. My wife yelled at him, "You should have that referee arrested!" The ref, Ramon Berumen, although in on it, was pretty much made the scapegoat. But it was all Sulaiman.
Jose Sulaiman, WBC president?
Two years later, I'm getting ready for the first fight with Palomino. I, Sulaiman, and Vic were in the room, and Vic had to excuse himself for a minute. I asked him, "Mr. Sulaiman, it's just you and me now, it's been two years, there were no headbutts, why didn't I win that fight?" He said to me: "Armando, Mantequilla's my friend, I had to help him. You understand! I'd do the same for you." Dan, at that point I felt nothing but contempt for that man. He robbed me of the greatest feeling in the world. He robbed my dad the opportunity of seeing me as world champ.
A rematch is no consolation for getting robbed the first time, but tell me about the rematch?
Napoles came in with a completely different plan, never allowing me to get close and won the fight. But, I still managed to close his eye.
Were you surprised when he lost to Stracey?
I just stared at the sky and asked, "Did I do something wrong?" I had actually tried to get a fight with Stracey before the Napoles fight and again while he was champ, but his manager, Mickey Duff had some deal going with Aileen Eaton, and that's why he took on Carlos Palomino.
You were next up for Palomino. Tell me how that unfolded.
The date of the fight was September of '76, and I was in the best shape of my life. Then, Palomino got hurt, not once but twice. Two reschedulings, and we finally met in January of '77. The problem was that due to the contract, they wouldn't let me fight in between to keep sharp, and by the time the fight took place I had already lived on $15,000 of my $20,000 purse. And most of the remainder I gave to my trainer, Luis. Thank God, Vic never took any money. As for the fight, it was a hard fight. I had him down in the first, and going into the last round the fight was dead even on points. And with 17 seconds left, referee John Thomas stops the fight in Palomino's favor. I fought him again a year later, but it wasn't there anymore.
After the first Palomino fight, you fought on the undercard of the Ron Lyle vs. Joe Bugner fight in Las Vegas, and I was reminded why I was such a big fan of yours as you took out Antonio Leyva in the first round with two of the sweetest left hooks I had ever seen. Then came a revenge win over Zovek Barajas. You tore him up pretty good.
The problem with Barajas was he was very undisciplined when it came to boxing and the ladies. He just couldn't keep it zipped up. It eventually caught up with him.
There was a hotshot coming up at this time out of Sacramento who needed one more big win over a name opponent for a title shot. And again, the L.A. press wrote you off. Tell me about your bloodbath with Pete Ranzany.
The bettors made him a big favorite, and he really was good. In the third round he hit me to the body, and I thought his hand came out my ass, but I managed to weather the round. The thing was, Ranzany wasn't boxing, he was fighting me in close and he ended up getting cut. After he was cut he still didn't resort to boxing, he continued fighting in close, which was very accommodating to me and it was stopped in the sixth.
As you said, it was obvious that it wasn't there anymore in the second Palomino fight, but you had one more fight in you.
That's right, Sugar Ray Leonard in Massachusetts at the end of '78.
He got off to a fast start, but you turned it around in the fourth and fifth rounds with a tremendous body attack.
He did not like it to the body. But around the third round I felt a twinge in the elbow, tendonaitis. Vic knew something was wrong, but I just conned him until he saw me shaking my arm out in the sixth and he stopped it in the corner before the seventh. On the plane home he told me he didn't want to see me getting hurt and didn't want me to fight again. I moped around for a few days while my wife kept asking, "What's wrong?" Finally, a couple of days later I said to her, "That's it! I'm through boxing." She was so happy, my parents were happy, and finally I was happy. But, it was the hardest thing walking away from it. All those years I was preparing for a fight. Now, I was preparing for life.
Looking back on your career, is there anyone you would have liked to have fought but didn't get the chance?
Three, actually. Billy Backus, Vito Antuofermo, and Pipino Cuevas. I felt their styles were made for me.
You maintained a frenetic schedule during your career against the very best. What do you think of today's fighters with cautious, inactive schedules?
Well, both can be a bit of a problem. First of all, if you're not fighting anybody, what kind of a fighter are you? Look at Roy Jones. I couldn't see him beating Archie Moore, Victor Galindez, or Yaqui Lopez. Those guys fought everybody. Jones doesn't. In fact, I think Tarver should have won that fight last week. On the other hand, my way might have been too rough. When I fought Adolph Pruitt, it was like my 13th fight that year. Joey Olmos, the boxing commissioner, comes into the dressing room after the fight and says, "Armando, I have to suspend you for 60 days!" I said, "What? Joey, I'm the one who knocked out Pruitt!" He said, Armando, you've had a hectic schedule and you took a lot of shots in that fight." So, the KO loser received a 30-day suspension and the KO winner got a 60-day suspension.
Did it deter you?
No, I just went out of state and fought. [Laughs] But in retrospect, Joey was looking out for my well-being.
Lastly, Armando, a recent article I read stated that to be a successful fighter, the fighter must possess "tunnel vision." He must think only of boxing and to not waste his time thinking of an education or outside ventures and activities. When I read that I thought, Armando Muniz was a very successful boxer, got an college education, and was a family man throughout his career.
Dan, school only takes a couple of hours a day. You know, outside of boxing, one of my proudest moments was when I received an A for a 54-page thesis I had written on education. Do you know where I'd be today without an education? An education enables you to see things differently.
Armando Muniz, having since received his master's in Educational Administration, has taught high school math and Spanish for the past 17 years. He is a true success story of a feared contender who is quite philosophical regarding the magical title that eluded him throughout his 58 pro fight career. The disappointment is tempered by a quote from his mother, who put it into perspective by saying: "Son, maybe God has something else planned for you. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be."
See ya next round,
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