Paul Gonzales USA’s Smallest Gold Medal Winner!
Interview by Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Sept 3, 2009)    
In 1984 East L.A.’s Paul Gonzales won the Gold Medal before his hometown people to become the first American at 106 to capture amateur’s highest award. Twenty-five years later he still holds that distinction. “I was born in Pecos, Texas, and with my Mexican heritage, I was also the first American-Mexican to win a gold medal,” said Gonzales.

I spent a couple of enjoyable hours discussing the trials and tribulations of his professional career recently. At 5:09 and 106, Gonzales seemed to have quite an advantage over his many opponents posting a 314-9-2 record during the amateurs. “I beat Philly’s Bryan “Boogaloo” Jones (3x Pennsylvania GG Champ) in the trials,” said Gonzales. Gonzales was a silver medalist at the 1983 Pan American games losing to Rafael Ramos of Puerto Rico in the finals. In a rematch Gonzales would turn the tables. At the Olympics he hoped to meet Ramos for a third time in the finals but Italy’s Salvatore Todisco would defeat Ramos in the quarter-finals. Todisco suffered a hand injury in the semi-finals that automatically rewarded Gonzales with the Gold. “I had a broken hand and discolated shoulder after my last fight (defeating Marcelino Bolivar of Venezuela) and felt Todisco should have fought me,” said Gonzales. He had defeated fighters from South Korea, Uganda and Bolivar 5-0. He also defeated a fighter from Great Britain 4-1 and earned the Val Barker Trophy for Outstanding Boxer at the Games.

“We were united as a team. Pat Nappi was our coach and the little guy was military and he ran things that way,” said Gonzales. “I felt bad that I didn’t know about his death until after the funeral,” he added. He started boxing at age 7 and began training for Al Stankie, at age 9, who was also a police officer. He would also manage Gonzales as a professional. They had a close relationship.

We discussed his 1984 teammates whom were to have had their 25th re-union in August. I talked to Xavier Biggs, brother of Tyrell, the super heavyweight on the team. “We hope to have the event around November 14th. We have never had the full team together at the same time,” he said. “I put together the 10th year re-union at the Foxwood Casino and Resort,” said Gonzalez. Unfortunately Steve McCrory passed away in 2000 at the age of 36. He and Frank Tate were members of the famous Kronk Gym of Detroit.

Tyrell Biggs was the reincarnation of Muhammad Ali. He boxed like him and could even imitate him when he talked. Henry Tillman, great guy, like a brother, both from the hood. Evander Holyfield spanked Tyson in the camp. He’s a great guy and very humble. He always has that serious look. He’s the father of our country (11 kids?). Pernell would say “are you mad at me?” adding “if you are we’re going to have to fight” Virgil Hill was a good runner, quick and beat you with the basics Frank Tate and Steve McCrory were both Kronk fighters and good boxers. McCrory and I were roommates and a real funny guy. Mark Breland was a real nice guy and had his trainer George Washington in camp who was a very good trainer. Jerry Page always made me laugh. He was a really strong boxer. Pernell Whitaker was phenomenal. He had to come back and beat Joe Belnic after losing to him in the trials. Meldrick Taylor was exceptional and only 17. He lost to Andy Minsker and came back to beat him twice to make the team. Robert Shannon was a good guy who should have boxed more in the Olympics and he would have won a medal. “We beat the Russians in January of 1984 and had defeated the Cubans as well. We’d beat them if they would have participated,” said Gonzalez. “There is always the comparison between our team and the 1976 team,” he added. Charles Mooney, silver medalist in 1976 who helped with the 1984 team said “you can’t compare the two teams”. The entire 1984 Olympic team was given the opportunity to train at Josephine Abercrombie’s ranch in Houston. “It was a beautiful ranch and we were all united there as a team,” said Gonzales. Abercrombie had the Houston Boxing Association (HBA) and would sign Tate, but Holyfield rejected his offer of $250,000.00 per Lou Duva, who signed him.

“I turned professional against Jose Torres, 19-14-1, who had split with Charlie Magri in 1982. Magri would win the WBC fly title in his next fight after winning the rematch with Torres,” said Gonzales. It was his debut in a 6 rounder and he won every round in August of 1985 in Hollywood. It was reported he made $40,000 but he said CBS covered it and it was more. In his second fight he won an 8 rounder over Joey Roach, 6-1-3, Freddie’s brother. Next up he won the NABF flyweight title over Alonzo Gonzalez, 19-10-1, in 12 rounds. This was quite an accomplishment fighting that many rounds in just his third fight. He put Javier Barajas, 9-21-1, into retirement and then agreed to meet future world champion Orlando Canizales, 11-0-1, in July of 1986 in a NABF title defense. Gonzales came off the floor in the 3rd round to capture the decision 117-110 and 118-109 (twice). “Canizales complained about the heat and how his feet were burning. He was afraid to run out of gas, even though he was not tired at the end” said Jesse Reid (trainer). “I told him some day you will be champ and fight him again,” added Reid. He was right and that would be four years later.

Gonzales didn’t fight for almost a year after suffering a broken knuckle on his left hand in 1986. He also broke his ankle along with suffering knee damage in 1987 from a car accident. Off a year he would fight tough Lucilo Nolasco, 6-6-3, who had two TD in his last two fights. “This was the best fighter I fought. You cannot go by his record,” said Gonzales. “I was knocked down in the 1st round and suffered a concussion. I cut both his eyes and won in 10 rounds,” he added. Gonzales had won his first 8 fights when he was matched with Ray Medel, 13-3, for the USBA title. He had won 7 straight and would fight for the WBA flyweight title after defeating Gonzales. “I didn’t want to go to San Antonio to fight Medel who was from there. I got a bad head butt in the 1st round. I thought I won this fight,” he said.

In 1988 Gonzales fractured his hip falling from a 10 speed bike after being brushed by a horse. He came back with 4 straight wins, the last 3 by knockout before defeating Armando Castro, 23-9-2, for the vacant WBA Americas bantamweight title. Castro was the former Mexican super flyweight champion. “I fought that fight with a high fever. It seemed I had something wrong going into most of my fights,” he added.

The stage was set for the rematch with Canizales, now 24-1-1, for his IBF bantamweight title in El Paso in June of 1990. The champion had won 13 straight since losing in their first match. “I knew going back to Texas was going to be a problem,” said Gonzales. He changed trainers just before the fight bringing in former WBC champion Alberto Davila. “I took a head butt in the 1st round and was cut under the left eye brow. Chuck Bodak was my cut man and one of the best,” he added. In watching this replay one couldn’t tell what caused the cut thought the announcers said it was from a punch. In the 2nd round after 30 seconds with the blood starting to come down his face again the referee (Barry Yeats) stepped in and called the doctor over. “The doctor said it was a cut that couldn’t be stopped during the fight,” he added. Gonzalez complained and it looked like a quick stoppage. Bodak stopped the blood right after the fight. Ferdie Percheco did the interview and didn’t help things by saying he didn’t see the head butt. Gonzalez would seek a rematch even going to Canizales training camp two months later. Gonzalez was also training for his next fight just weeks after Canizales would have his, so a rematch could have been arranged that soon.

Gonzales moved up in weight to face Javier Leon, 29-3-2, in Inglewood, losing a close decision. Two of the judges gave it to Leon by one point. “I thought I beat him,” said Gonzales. There would be no more title bouts in his future. He would bring Stankie back as his trainer continuing to fight but on small shows. It would be 8 months before he fought again defeating Ancee Gedeon, 8-2, in New Mexico. Gedeon was a future title challenger,

In June of 1991 Gonzales fought tough Darryl Pinckney, 8-11-2. This is one of those fighters that you can throw the record out on. He had won his last 4 fights. This was for the NABF super bantamweight title in Jacksonville where Pinckney was from. “He was a tough fighter,” said Gonzales. The decision went to Pinckney after 12 rounds. Gonzales would win his next fight a month later in San Bernardino over Abner Barajas.

“I always knew I would retire when I reached 30,” said Gonzalez. “I only fought 4 times from 1992 to 1994 and retired,” he added.

In 2005 Gonzales would run for council in the city of Los Angeles, District 14. He was a member of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports; D.A.R.E. America International Spokesperson & Executive Board member. The Commissioner for Children, Youth & Their Families. United States Olympic Committee Representative Louzanna, Switzerland. An executive board member for (F.O.G.L.A.P.) Friends of Greater Los Angeles Parks. He was also inducted into the World Boxing Hall Of Fame, Los Angeles, California.

When asked who his favorite fighter was he did not hesitate. “My favorite fighter was Alexis Arguello,” said Gonzales. He also talked about boxer’s superstitions though he was a religious person. “All boxers are superstitious. As long as you were doing (winning) something right you would keep it up,” he added. Pertaining to his beliefs in God, he said “He’s all of my life, everything. At the Olympics I was never fighting by myself. I had the Father, Son and Holy Ghost with me.” That’s a hard team to beat.

Ken at:

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