Benny Flores at Chino
It was just as you might imagine, a large but poorly lit building, a thousand or so heavily tattooed men shouting vulgarities, some stepping out of there seats making violent and obscene gestures at you. They seemed to know exactly where to draw the line to keep the many stoic faced guards from intervening though. Ive never been someone that was easily intimidated or fear stricken in a threatening situation, but it was a little unnerving being in an arena filled with the dregs of the earth shouting out that you will be carried away in a body bag.
Chino State Prison 1977, I could have and probably should have been an inmate there, but I escaped my violent criminal past and managed to dislodge myself from that lifestyle before I ever faced my just deserts.
I was now standing in the corner of the prison boxing ring facing a inmate that looked as rugged as a junkyard dog. In AAU Boxing there are strict rules, protocols and even certain etiquettes to be followed, but this was no AAU sanction bout. If it were my vile opponent would have already been disqualified for shouting that he was going to f*** me in the a** after he knocked me out. It didn’t bother me though, guys that have to boast of their intentions have more bark than bite. I was warned ahead of time about the prison atmosphere and that they had a pretty good coach and that they were not to be taken lightly.
As my name was announced over the loud speaker I took my usual two steps towards the center of the ring and my modest bow, there was no showboating or celebrating in the ring when you boxed for Junior Robles, we were expected to act like true sportsman, so I was shocked when I walked back to my corner and Junior told me to “ Knock this mother f***er out!” He had never told us to do that, in fact he would usually get mad if you knocked your opponent out. If we were matched with an inferior opponent Junior wanted us to utilize that opportunity by working on new moves, practicing on uppercuts, a double left hook or maybe sidestepping to counterpunch, so I was a little puzzled by his angry request.My bout was the first of the night, and when that bell rung there was a roar from that inmate crowd that sounded like angry thunder. I don’t think that guy ever hit me in the first round but every time he threw a punch the crowd exploded like he just landed a death blow. By the middle of the second round I had this fight in hand, and the crowd turned on their own fighter, booing and shouting fagot and other degrading inflammatory’s. He lacked skills to out box me but he was relentless, but that only worked against him as it made it easy for me to catch him coming in, and man did I catch him. I had a devastating right cross and he ran right into one that sent him to slumberland. He was out, and the crowd noise was reduced to murmuring disgust. As they revived him I stood in my corner and noticed that the foul and vicious comments hurled at me earlier had ceased, and they were no longer demanding my death.Finally we were both called to the center of the ring for the announcement and the shouts of vulgarities were now only focused on their own disgraced fighter. As the referee raised my hand, my dizzy opponent was screaming at me that he was going to kill me. He continued his verbal assault with his spit hitting my face as we both walked into the shower area. I thought I was going to have to knock this loudmouth out again but I knew I needed to keep my composure or face the wrath of my coach, a far more intimidating prospect for me at that time as I was trying very hard to earn his respect. Once we reached the shower area and out of the sight of the other prisoners this guys countenance completely changed, I could see all of his stiffened muscles relax and he just shut his mouth and walked away and took his shower, he never even looked over at me. We were now both fully clothed and we headed back out into the auditorium and as soon as we were under the eyes of the other inmates he was right back in my face making death threats and screaming obscenities. I then understood he was just trying to save face and not be regarded as a punk in a world where stature ruled. I actually felt bad for him knowing what he would endure in the days to follow.After our other boxers finished we didn’t get out of that prison till after midnight and during the ride home I asked Junior why he asked me to knock that guy out. I really wasn’t expecting an answer as Junior still did not like me very much and I thought I would get his usual response, “none of you business.”But he did answer me, perhaps because I gained a little favor by actually knocking that guy out.Junior said when you travel to a boxing match from out of town the tournament director usually gives you all of your bouts first on the schedule so you can get on the road and not be up all night driving home. That guy gave our fighters the last two bouts and I could see Junior was still pissed.It was a very introspective time in my life, trying to leave my past behind and trying to find solid ground to stand. It was more than eye opening to see such an obvious display of false bravado from my opponent to save face. The mask we wear and the facades we build that make up our persona to get by in this world.It wasn’t easy recreating myself and as I later looked at myself in the mirror I found it odd that I chose to use a violent sport to redeem me from my violent past, but that sport has a way of humbling you, something I really needed at that time. It wasn’t till decades later and much trial and tribulation that all of my masks were removed, and that was a very difficult surgery and one that was not preformed by my own hand