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The Power and Passion of Dwight Hawkins
by Rick Farris
In the early sixties boxing was on the ropes and still reeling from the
exposure of mob corruption. Names such as Frankie Carbo, Blinky Palermo and
Jim Norris became the targets of eager politicians seeking to advance their
careers. Their goal was the abolition of the sport that people love to
hate. In 1965, Sonny Liston's questionable one round loss to Muhammad Ali in
Lewiston, Maine did nothing to help matters.
However, like the cock roach, boxing proved itself to be the ultimate
survivor. The sweet science suddenly began to flourish with a brash young
heavyweight champ and the re-emergence of local clubs that began to produce
some solid talent. It was about this time that I was given the chance to
realize my goal of becoming a boxer. At the time, I doubt that a
12-year-old kid could have had a better opportunity to do so.
In the mid sixties, boxing in Los Angeles experienced a sudden rebirth
thanks to the efforts of promoter Aileen Eaton. Mrs. Eaton turned the
legendary Olympic Auditorium into the most successful weekly boxing promotion
on the planet. With televised weekly cards every Thursday night, fifty weeks
out of the year, the Olympic showcased some of the best talent in boxing.
In recent months, I've written about many of the young boxers that came out
of the Olympic Auditorium promotions. However, there were also veteran
contenders that filled the 18th & Grand arena and waged great wars as the
young crop developed. One of the veterans was somebody whom I had the luck
to meet and get to know very well. I am speaking of former bantamweight and
featherweight contender Dwight "The Hawk" Hawkins.
Before I chronicle the life and career of Dwight Hawkins, I'd like for you to
imagine this: In California, you must be eighteen-years-old to qualify for a
professional boxing license. However, through creative management (AKA: a phony
birth certificate) you are able to get a boxing license at fifteen. At age
seventeen, after only a dozen pro fights, you are matched with a brilliant
22-year-old from Mexico. The Mexican was rated number one in the world and
would become an all-time great champion in the bantamweight division. The
future world champ had more than fifty pro fights and you are only a senior
in high school. You are listed as a 10-to-1 underdog and considered an easy
tune-up for the next boxer in line to fight for the title. Before a capacity
crowd, attending a title fight in the main event, you shock the world by
knocking out the number one contender, knocking him out cold.
Impossible? Not if you're Dwight Hawkins. That's exactly what "The Hawk"
did on November 6, 1957. The 17-year-old Manual Arts High School senior
knocked out future champ Jose Beccera in the fourth round. It was the
biggest upset in world class professional boxing that year.
Let me start from the beginning and introduce you to one of the most brutal
punching boxers to ever step into the ring. However, if you think a
17-year-old knocking out the great Jose Becerra was amazing, wait until you
hear the whole story. I was lucky to be a part of the last five years of
Hawkins career, and even luckier to have this man help train me early in my
In the late 1940's Dwight Hawkins was a small, athletic kid who loved sports.
At the age of seven, Hawkins' mother, grandmother and uncle packed up the
family car and left the South and headed West. Young Dwight's family sought
a better life in California.
On their journey West the family drove through Texas late one night. As Dwight
slept in the back seat of the car, he was suddenly awakened. The car had
been forced off the road by another driver and Hawkins uncle, who was
driving, lost control of the vehicle. The car went off the road and flipped
over. Somehow everybody escaped serious injury except Dwight, whose left leg
was trapped underneath the wreckage. It was hours before another car passed
by and when a Texas Ranger finally stopped to see what had happened he found
the young boy in agony.
The cop called for help over his radio and nearly an hour later an ambulance
arrived. It took Dwight's uncle, the Texas Ranger and the two ambulance
attendants nearly an hour to free the kid's leg from under the car. It took
another 45 minutes to get the boy to a hospital. By the time they reached
the emergency room it was doubtful that Dwight's leg could be saved.
However, if this wasn't enough, there was another problem. This was post
World War II Texas and Hawkins was black.
When the ambulance arrived at the hospital the head nurse in charge told the
driver that the facility did not take black patients. She told him the boy
would have to be transferred to another hospital nearly an hour away. "But
the kid is going to lose his leg!" the driver protested. The nurse said she
did not make the rules and the boy would have to be taken elsewhere.
About this time a doctor walks into the emergency receiving area to see what
all the commotion was about. He took one look at the boy's leg and ordered
the nurse, "Get him into an operating room NOW"! The nurse answered, "But
doctor, we don't . . ." The doctor turned to the nurse and said, "Did you
hear me? I said get that kid into an operating room or you won't have a job
Had it not been for the human decency of the doctor, a seven-year-old would
have lost his leg and very possibly his life early that morning in 1947. As
it was, it would be touch and go regarding saving the leg and the doctor
told Dwight's mother that the boy would spend the rest of his life on
When the family arrived in California they settled in East Los Angeles, a
predominately Mexican-American community, but at the time, still had an ethnic
mix including blacks, whites and Asians. Dwight's mother immediately found
a job across town in a hospital. To get back and forth from work she'd have
to ride the bus for more than three hours everyday.
Dwight was left in the care of his grandmother while his mother worked.
After school, the boy would sit on the curb with his leg in a brace watching
the neighborhood kids play baseball, football or what ever other sports they
were involved with. This would be tough on any kid, but for one as athletic
as young Dwight had been, it was heartbreaking.
Dwight would toss his crutches aside and try to play anyway. Hawkins could
still run but it was painful to do so. However, it beat sitting on the
sidelines and watching the other kids have all the fun. If his mother had
found out about this he'd have been in big trouble. But sometimes a kid just
has to do what he has to do, regardless of the risk.
One day, Dwight's friend Armando told him that a boxing ring and punching
bags had been set up in the basement of a local church and that boxing
lesson's were going to be offered to neighborhood kids. "Why don't you come
down and watch us box"? the boy offered.
Dwight's mind began to race and it occurred to him that boxing didn't require
kicking and he believed that he might be able to give it a try. However, he
knew that nobody was going to let a crippled kid try out for boxing. One
afternoon, Hawkins followed Armando and the others boys to the basement gym.
Before entering Dwight tossed his crutches under a bush and pulled his pant
leg down to make sure his brace was covered. He made the other boys swear
not to tell the coach about his leg and the boys agreed to keep their
Hawkins found the boxing coach to be a tall, well built former boxer who'd
spent twenty years as a Sargent in the Marine Corps. The man was stern but
fair and took a liking to Dwight. Hawkins was smaller than the other kids
and worked twice as hard as the rest. He also proved himself to have a
natural talent and in no time was outfighting the other boys, even the bigger
ones. Dwight was able to hide the leg from the coach until it was time for
the boys to compete in a kids boxing program. The boy's on the church team
would all have to wear boxing trunks.
To keep his secret from the coach, Hawkins removed the brace and tossed it
under the bush with his crutches. He then took an elastic band and wrapped
it around his knee for extra support. The coach was no fool and noticed the
boy did not move with the same balance as the others. When the boys left the
gym the coach quietly watched Hawkins walk down the street and saw the boy
retrieve the brace and crutches.
The next day the coach called his tough little protege aside and looked him
in the eyes. "Son, do you have something to tell me"? Dwight looked up and
knew immediately that coach was on to him. The boy stammered, "Uh . . ". The
coach had become like a father to Hawkins and Dwight idolized the man. The
kid also loved boxing, a sport that he had found a way to excel in despite
his injury. Suddenly, it hit the boy that what had become so important to
him was about to evaporate. Tears filled Dwight's eyes and the big man
kneeled down and put his arms around gutty little kid. "Why don't you just
tell me about it and we'll see what we can do".
Dwight poured out his heart and the coach understood how important it was to
the boy to be a part of the boxing team. He also understood how a mother
would fear for the safety of the boys leg. The coach met with Dwight's
mother and together he and Dwight told her about her son's secret after
school activity. Dwight was a good student in school and had never caused
his mother a days worry. Dwight's mother reluctantly agreed to let her son
box and the coach promised her that he would not allow the boy to continue
if the activity was hurting the leg.
With both his mother and Coach supporting his boxing, Dwight Hawkins felt as
if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost
immediately, young Dwight not only became the best junior amateur boxer on his
team, but one of the best in the City of Los Angeles.
A couple of years later, Mrs. Hawkins decided that it would be best to move
across town closer to the hospital where she worked. The long bus rides were
not only difficult but prevented her from spending time with her son. The
Hawkins family left East L.A. and moved into the Imperial Courts Housing
Project in Watts. Imperial Courts was, and is today, one of the most violent
and dangerous projects in the country.
It was lucky for Dwight that he had established himself in amateur boxing at
the time because it gave him the strength and reputation necessary to
withstand pressure from the other kids in the project to join their gang.
It wasn't easy, but nothing in the life of Dwight Hawkins was easy. If it
was easy then anybody could do it. And "The Hawk" isn't just anybody.
It was at Imperial Courts that Hawkins learned first hand the problems of
inner city youth, he lived it. At night, he would lay in his bed and hear
the sound of gunshot's ringing through Imperial Courts. He saw countless
neighbor's harassed by police or sent to jail for behavior that he knew was
senseless. Violent death was also a way of life in the projects.
By the age fifteen, Hawkins had another problem. He was just too good for
amateur boxers and nobody wanted to fight him. His coach, the big Marine who
had been like a father to him knew that his protege was good enough to beat
professional boxers because Dwight was doing it every day in the gym.
Another problem was money, Dwight wanted to contribute financially so as his
mother would not have to work so hard. He wanted to make it possible for his
family to move out of the projects and professional boxing might be the
It was at this point that Hawkins' coach contacted Johnny Flores. Flores was
known as "Mr. Golden Gloves" in Los Angeles for his work with amateur boxers
and was also a manager & trainer for some successful professionals. Flores
knew all about Hawkins and believed that the fifteen-year-old was already
good enough to fight in the pros. Along with Hawkins' amateur coach, Flores
and his partner Hal Benson helped Hawkins secure a phony birth certificate
which enabled him to get a professional boxing license.
Dwight Hawkins was only fifteen and a sophomore at Manual Arts High School in
South Central L.A. when he made his professional boxing debut. Flores and
Benson chose to take Hawkins out of Los Angeles for his first pro fight.
They wanted their young fighter to have a little experience before he was
seen in a fight Mecca such as L.A.
Johnny Flores took Hawkins to San Diego for his pro debut on May 14, 1956.
In his first pro bout, Dwight Hawkins knocked out Rudy Cisneros in the first
round. Two weeks later he returned to San Diego where he KO'ed Chuck
Palomeros in two. It was now time to unveil the "The Hawk" in his hometown,
the City of Angels.
The problem was that most of the prelim bantamweights in L.A. knew all about
Hawkins. Dwight was a devastating body puncher with an awkward style and
he'd already hurt a number of local fighters in the gym. In order to get a
match Flores had to agree to let Hawkins face Tom Turner, and experienced
veteran. Hawkins KO'ed Turner in four rounds. A month later, Dwight was
matched with winning main eventer named Al Wilcher and this was a dangerous
match because Wilcher had beaten the best of local talent and was not to be
taken lightly. The bout was scheduled for ten rounds at the Olympic
Auditorium. In the sixth round, Hawkins caught Wilcher with a brutal left
hook to the liver, sending the veteran to the canvas where he was counted
out. The Olympic crowd included several of Dwight's teachers at Manual Arts
High as well as a couple of dozen of his classmates.
There were no local boxers willing to take on the hard punching teenager so
Flores took "The Hawk" down to Tijuana, Mexico. Before a sell out crowd he
scored a unanimous ten round decision over Joel Sanchez in the Tijuana bull
ring. Dwight was 5-0 (4 KO's) when he began his junior year in high school.
Hawkins returned to L.A. and took on a tough veteran named Babe Antunez at
the Hollywood Legion Stadium. Antunez was awarded a highly disputed decision
over Hawkins and the fans demanded a rematch. Exactly one week later,
Hawkins beat Antunez by decision in the same ring.
It was becoming becoming more difficult to find established main eventers
willing to fight Hawkins. Flores agreed to match Hawkins with Fuji
Rodriguez, a tough Japanese-Mexican fighter whom had been rated among the top
ten bantamweights in the world. Hawkins dropped Rodriguez early in the fight
but was cut by a head butt in the fourth round. After six rounds the referee
was forced to stop the fight due to the cut.
Two months later, Hawkins returned with a first round KO over Leo Carter at
the Olympic. A couple of weeks after KOing Carter, Hawkins was matched with
world rated Herman Duncan at the Olympic. The scar tissue from the cut
suffered in the Rodriguez fight two months earlier was still fresh and ripped
open from a grazing left hook in the opening round. After six rounds referee
Tommy Hart was forced to stop the bout. Despite Hawkins leading on all score
cards, "The Hawk" suffered the second loss of his young career.
After winning his next three fights, two by knockout, Hawkins fought top
rated Kid Irapuato in the Tijuana Bull ring. Hawkins beat Irapuato badly in
a one-sided match, but after ten rounds the hometown judges awarded the fight
to the Mexican . The loss was discouraging to Hawkins who had just turned
seventeen and was proving himself as good as the top bantamweights in the
world. He knew that winning wasn't enough, he'd have take the decision out
of the judges hands or he was never going to make it. On November 6, 1957,
that's exactly what Dwight Hawkins would do.
Alphonse Halimi was the Bantamweight Champion of the World and would defend
his title against Raul "Raton" Macias at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Mexico's Jose Becerra, the number one contender, would be next in line for a
shot at the title.
It was decided that Becerra should be featured on the undercard of the title
match to build interest in his impending shot at the crown. Becerra was an
exceptional fighter and considered by many to be the best 118 pounder on the
planet. The 22-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico had been fighting
professionally for nearly five years and had a record of 48-3-1 (24 KO's).
He had beaten Jose Medel twice, KO'ed Kid Irapuato as well as Manuel
Armenteros, all world class bantams.
It would be impossible to overmatch Becerra, but finding anybody willing to
take on the future world champ on the Halimi-Macias undercard was not easy.
Former champ Mario D'Agata pulled out at the last minute, as well as two
other substitutes. Just two days before the fight the frantic matchmaker
came up with an opponent. Dwight "The Hawk" Hawkins would take the fight.
Hawkins wasn't world rated but he'd done well in matches with Herman Duncan
and Kid Irapuato and the Los Angeles fans loved "The Hawk".
As mentioned earlier in this story, Dwight Hawkins shocked the world by
upsetting Becerra. Jose Becerra was knocked unconscious in the fourth round
by the 17-year-old Manuel Arts High School senior with only a dozen pro
fights under his belt.. This ruined Becerra's chance to challenge Halimi,
the winner over Macias, in his next title defense. It would be more than a
year later before he'd finally face the champ from Algeria in the ring and
win the title.
Suddenly Hawkins name became well known among the world's best bantamweights.
However, it was also a name to be feared. "What benefit is there to
fighting Dwight Hawkins?", was the question concerned managers asked
themselves. "Hell, even if you find a way to beat the guy what does your
fighter gain? Broken ribs? A victory over a teenager"? Hawkins was one to
avoid, boxing is tough enough without throwing the name Dwight Hawkins into
Three weeks after defeating Becerra, Hawkins went to Mexicali where he faced
Felix Cervantes, whom he'd knocked out two months previous in Tijuana.
Hawkins had his way with Cervantes but this time the bout went the distance.
When Hawkins failed to KO the Mexican he feared he'd have little chance of
winning a decision below the border. He was right, The Mexicali judges
awarded the match to Cervantes despite the fighter being dropped three times
during the fight. Less than two weeks later he took on Kid Anahuac, who was
a top ten rated featherweight. After ten bloody rounds the larger Mexican
fighter was awarded a close split-decision over Hawkins.
Three months after the loss to Anahuac, Hawkins & Flores traveled back down
below the border to Guadalajara to face Jose Becerra in a rematch. Becerra's
loss to Hawkins had cost him a title shot with Halimi and it was important
that he avenge the loss. To insure this, the match would be held in Mexico.
Why Flores' agreed to let Hawkins fight Becerra in Guadalajara (Becerra's
hometown) defies common sense. While training in Guadalajara Flores paid a
Mexican assistant to bring bottled water to Hawkins to assure the fighter not
be poisoned by the Mexican tap water. One day after drinking the water
Hawkins became violently ill. Flores called for the assistant to get more
water and then followed the man after he left the room. Flores witnessed the
Mexican taking the bottle and filling it with water directly from the tap.
It was now understood what was wrong with Hawkins. He had Montezuma's
revenge. He had been poisoned by the water.
The following day Hawkins, still ailing, entered the ring against Becerra and
was stopped in the ninth round.
A few weeks after losing to Becerra Hawkins was matched against another
talented L.A. contender named Auburn Copeland. Copeland was the California
Bantam king and agreed to fight Hawkins in a ten rounder, but would not risk
his state title. Hawkins easily beat Copeland over ten rounds. The
following month, he took on another top Mexican bantam Nacho Escalante in San
Bernardino and won a unanimous decision.
Nine days after Hawkins beat Escalante, he fought one of the best
bantamweights to never win a world title, Jose Medel. The fight was held in
Mexico City and Medel stopped the seventeen-year-old two weeks after his
high school graduation. Hawkins was disappointed but not discouraged and
within a month was back in the ring against world rated Herman Marques at the
Olympic. After a ten round war the bout was declared a draw.
Hawkins would win his next seven, four by KO, with victories over world rated
featherweight Danny Valdez, Noel Humphries and a KO over Nacho Escalante in a
It was about this time that an 18-year-old Dwight Hawkins would meet and
befriend somebody that would become a very important influence in his life.
His name was Davey Moore.
Davey Moore was 25-years-old when he came to Los Angeles to challenge Hogan
"Kid" Bassey for the World Featherweight championship in 1959. Style-wise,
Moore and Bassey were similar in the ring. Both were strong, punishing
fighters with knockout power in both hands. Moore needed sparring partners
who would fight him hard in the gym, just as Bassey would fight defending his
title. Veteran trainer & gym owner Jake Shagrue told Moore's manager Willie
Ketchum that there was only one fighter in Los Angeles capable of filling the
bill and that was Dwight Hawkins.
Hawkins was hired as a sparring partner for Moore and the two immediately
became friends. Hawkins thought the world of the number one contender from
Springfield, Ohio and the two would spend hours talking after finishing their
workouts at Moore's training camp in Hemet, California. Moore was like an
older brother to Hawkins and would warn the young fighter about the pitfalls
of professional boxing. However, by the age of eighteen, Hawkins had already
experienced the worst boxing could offer.
One of things that Moore stressed to Hawkins was the importance of family.
Davey had six children back home in Springfield and every night would call
his wife to check on her and tell her how things were going.
A few weeks later, Davey Moore would knock out Hogan "Kid" Bassey and win
the world featherweight title. During the next four years that Moore would
hold the title he and Hawkins would remain close.
After Moore won the title Hawkins found it impossible to get fights in Los
Angeles and would have to move up to the featherweight division in order to
get any fights at all. Many of Hawkins recent fights had already been
against featherweights despite Dwight barely tipping the beam at 120 pounds.
In his next fight he would fly to Glasgow, Scotland and lose a disputed
decision to Billy Rafferty. Six months later he took on top rated Nelson
Estrada in the fighter's hometown of Caracas, Venezuela. Another close fight
and another loss to a hometown hero. It was 1960 and 19-yearold Dwight
Hawkins was tired of fighting his heart out and not getting any closer to a
shot at the title. He announced his retirement from boxing and focused his
energy on his true passion, working with kids.
For the next two years Hawkins became involved with the youth of South
Central Los Angeles. He organized boxing programs at Imperial Courts as an
alternative to gang involvement and the kids loved Hawkins. "The Hawk" spoke
their language and had risen of above the desperation of the housing project
and made a name for himself. Hawkins drove a nice car, wore nice clothes and
spoke about how it WAS possible to make it out of the ghetto and make a
difference in the world. Hawkins programs were quite successful and he was
making an impression on the youth of Imperial Courts. Violent crimes
committed by gang members in the project dropped to an all-time low and
Hawkins influence was credited with the change.
The faculty of Manual Arts High School, Hawkins' alma mater, were well aware
of Hawkins' program and the good he was doing at Imperial Courts. The High
School principal set up a meeting with L.A. City School officials and Hawkins
was invited to share his knowledge of Inner-city problems and make
suggestions. So impressed were the board members that they hired Hawkins to
work for the Los Angeles City School System as a "trouble shooter". Hawkins'
new role would be to act as a liaison between gangs and the school system.
They could not have made a better choice. It would be a position that
Hawkins would fill right up to present day.
After two years away from boxing, Hawkins felt as if he still had something
to do in the ring. After a couple of years the younger kids were no longer
aware of who Hawkins was and he realized that the exposure afforded him
during his boxing career was the foundation of his success in working with
kids. Only 22-years-old and anxious to take care of unfinished business,
Dwight Hawkins returned to boxing on October 15, 1962.
The Hollywood Legion Stadium was packed for Hawkins return and "The Hawk"
scored a fourth round knockout over Manny Linson. After scoring two more
victories Dwight would join his pal Davey Moore who was training for an
upcoming title defense against Cuban Sugar Ramos. Hawkins would once again
be Moore's chief sparring partner for the Ramos match.
While training for the Ramos fight, Moore and Hawkins would rise early in
the morning and run the hills near the Moore's training camp in Hemet. On
the final day of road work, Moore and Hawkins raced to the top of a mountain
and after reaching the top sat together and talked while catching their
breath. Hawkins idolized the featherweight champ and Moore was in a
reflective mood. Moore told Hawkins about his childhood in Springfield Ohio
and how happy he was that he could provide for a better life for his family
than what he had as a child. He told Dwight that he would fight about
another year or so and then retire. "Too much time away from the family"
On March 21, 1963 Dwight Hawkins was at Dodger Stadium to watch his friend
defend the featherweight title. That night Moore would not only lose his
title to Ramos, but he would also lose his life. When Ramos knocked out
Moore, Davey hit the back of his head on the lower strand of the ring ropes.
Moore passed into a coma in the dressing room following the match and a
couple of days later died in the hospital having never regained consciousness.
Hawkins was devastated.
The loss of Davey Moore hurt Dwight Hawkins and took his mind off his own
career. A few weeks later Hawkins would head back down to Mexico where he
would take on another unbeaten future champ in Vicente Saldivar. Hawkins was
stopped by the brilliant southpaw in the fifth round.
The loss of Moore and losing to Saldivar would prove a turning point in the
life and career of Dwight Hawkins.
About a year later I would meet Dwight. "The Hawk" would rise above the pain
once again and I would witness first hand one of the most amazing fighters to
ever step into the ring. In the next issue of the Cyber Boxing Zone I will
share with you the last five years of Hawkins brilliant career and tell you
about what this special man is doing today.