Janey Way Memories #161
When Sacramento Was a Boxing Town
By Martin Relles
Last Thursday, when I picked up my granddaughter Gabrielle for dance, I got into a conversation with my son-in-law Ryan. I asked him about his plans for the weekend, and he told me he was attending a closed circuit television showing of the UFC (ultimate fighting champion) world championship fight in Las Vegas.
I must say that UFC (cage fighting) has no interest for me. However, during my youth, I was quite a boxing fan. Back then, Sacramento was known as a boxing town.
During the 1950s, I remember watching the “Friday Night Fights’ every week with my dad. Then, Dad, Terry and I huddled around a black and white television set watching great fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson, Kid Gavilan, Carmon Basilio and Archie Moore fight in Madison Square Garden.
When we weren’t watching boxing matches on TV, we often attended fights live at the Memorial Auditorium. At that time, some really good boxers called Sacramento home, guys with names like Joey Lopes, Trino Savala, Fred Roots and others who fought regularly at the auditorium.
I liked boxing because it wasn’t just about pummeling your opponent until they could no longer fight. Boxing was a skill, honed by many years of practice and disciplined training. Back then, the best trainers like Angelo Dundee and Cus D’Amato had several good boxers under their wing. When you watched these guys fight, they did so artfully with great skill and finesse.
I admired Joey Lopes more than any of the Sacramento fighters then. He fought in the light weight division. His boxing skills were unparalleled. He could stick and fade, throw combinations and simply outwit other boxers in the ring. His one shortcoming was that he cut easily. If not for that, he probably would have won the world championship. He fought world lightweight champion Joe Brown for the title in 1958. He survived 13 hard fought rounds, but ultimately suffered a technical knockout when the referee stopped the fight because of a cut over his eye.
That was Joey’s only championship fight, but afterward he often appeared as a guest at the Memorial Auditorium fights. He always dressed sharply and looked good walking into the ring. I loved Joey Lopes.
In the late 1980s, boxing reached its high point in Sacramento when, Tony the Tiger Lopez defeated Rocky Lockeridge for the IBF Super featherweight championship. Tony was a toe-to-toe, in your face kind of fighter who never gave up. He went on to win two more world championship titles before retiring in the 1990s.
Since that time, the great sport of boxing has faded away in Sacramento. Every once in a while, someone promotes a fight here, but the young people seem un-interested in the “Sport of kings.” Instead, they prefer to watch the brutal and less stylish UFC fights. For my money, I will take boxing, any day.
Now the time when Sacramento was a boxing town is just another leather-popping Janey Way Memory.