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Mingling with pugilistic legends: The West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame

The West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame
The West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame

By John J. Raspanti

A hush fell over the crowd as the man with the white mustache made his way into the bar.

As he stopped near a table, with his wife at his side, a group of admirers crowded around him, eager to shake his hand and take a snapshot.

He obliged.

I couldn’t help myself either. I had wanted to meet Danny Lopez for years. His wife, Bonnie, was kind enough to take a picture of us. I’ll cherish it forever.

Boxing fans love their fighters. We admire them for putting it on the line. And most are remarkably kind.

The occasion was the inaugural gathering of The West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame.

Inducted were ring announcers Jimmy Lennon Jr., and his father Jimmy Sr., matchmaker extraordinaire Don Chargin, “Golden Boy” Art Aragon, former lightweight champions Rodolfo El Gato” Gonzalez and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, the charismatic welterweight champ Carlos Palomino, and the man with the white mustache, former featherweight kingpin Danny “Little Red” Lopez.

The theme was “Legends of the Olympic Auditorium.”

Danny sure fit the bill. His first professional bout was at the Olympic in 1971.

As I stood there, my mind flashed on memories of Lopez and his older brother, Ernie, who for a while was the more famous of the two. He challenged Jose Napoles twice for the world welterweight title. He lost both times, but gave it everything he had. He was a very good fighter.

After my picture with Danny Lopez was taken, a man walked up to me and introduced himself.

“Hi,” he said,” My name is Lance Lopez, I’m Ernie’s son.”

For a second, hearing the man’s name jarred me. Had it been that long since I witnessed the Lopez brothers in action?

Yes, it had.

Danny burst on the boxing scene winning his first 22 fights by knockout. His power was freakish. The question constantly asked then was, "Where did it come from"?

Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 126 pounds, Danny looked like a scarecrow with red hair, but his right hand was loaded with dynamite. He was impassive in the ring, stalking his prey, looking to launch his murderous punch. He was floored a few times early in his fights, but he’d come on stronger after getting up. It was like getting knocked down woke him up.

He was wildly popular in the Los Angeles area not only because of his home-run-hitter mentality, but his modesty outside of the ring. There was nothing phony about Danny.

Later in the ballroom of Vitello’s restaurant, where the banquet was held, Danny was inducted into The West Coast Hall of Fame. Before he came to the stage, video highlights of his career were shown. The audience clapped and cheered as the redhead knocked out one opponent after another on the big screen.

Actor Ryan O’Neal humorously stated he wasn’t sure why he was on the stage, but drew a nod from the audience when he spoke of the brothers.

“I did know of the Lopez brothers,” said O’Neal. “And, I knew how dangerous they were, especially Danny.”

Everyone did.

During his turn in the spotlight, Danny, recalled the opponents who beat him. He also warmly thanked fellow inductee, Don Chargin.

The event was loaded with emotional moments and heartfelt speeches.

Rodolfo “El Gato” Gonzalez shed tears as Dan Hanley reminded everyone of his boxing life. Gonzalez was reluctant to speak, but when he did, he held a rapt audience.

“During this one fight,” Gonzalez said, “Someone threw a snake into the ring. I ran over to one corner and jumped on top of the ropes. My opponent did the same thing on the other side of the ring.”

Audie Aragon, named after World War II hero, Audie Murphy, spoke of his father Art with love and respect. “The original Golden Boy,” Art Aragon had an extraordinary life, filled with many glorious fights and even more romantic entanglements. Aragon also brought along some treasured boxing memorabilia.

Classy Jimmy Lennon graciously accepted his award and one for his late father; Jimmy Lennon Sr. He remembered fondly how his father always made time for everyone.

Matchmaker Don Chargin, called "War-A-Week" for his proclivity at making exciting matchups remembered his boss, promoter Aileen Eaton.

“She told me my job wasn’t to make her happy,” Chargin said. “It was to make the boxing fans happy. It’s great to be here with all these fighters, especially Danny Lopez.”

West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame President Rick Farris, who did an amazing job of putting the event together, had asked me months ago to speak for a few minutes about former WBC welterweight champion Carlos Palomino.

I jumped at the chance.

Palomino was another fighter who paid his dues at the Olympic Auditorium. Quietly confident, with the will of a Kentucky Derby winner, Palomino made his way through a bevy of talented contenders in the 1970s.

He captured the welterweight crown in 1976 by stopping defending champion John H. Stracey in round 12. The highlights of his victory drew an approving response from the crowd.

The charismatic Palomino thanked his family and explained how he withstood Stracey’s attack.

Alan Swyer graciously accepted a special award for his noted documentary “El Boxeo” as did Gene Aguilera for his book, “Mexican American Boxing in Los Angeles.”

Blanca Gutierrez, owner of the BabyFace Gym, spoke passionately about women’s boxing. Gutierrez, also a promoter, reminded us that people who love boxing are basically a family, regardless of gender.

She’s one hundred percent correct.

After the event ended, a number of us made our way back to the bar. We talked and laughed, remembering the best fights and fighters we had ever seen lace em up.

It was glorious to reminisce. People who love boxing are more than kindred spirits. It goes much deeper than that.

We are, as, Blanca Gutierrez said, a family .

John J. Raspanti responds to all his emails. Please send all questions and comments to John at:


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