Philippines, 19 Jun 2024
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West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame Announces Class of 2023 (Series 1 of 4)

“Judo” Gene Lebell once called himself “The Toughest Man Alive”.

The prestigious West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame is proud to announce their Class of 2023 to be feted at The Banquet of Champions— dedicated to upholding the integrity, accuracy, and memory of great boxers.

Set for March 12, 2023 at the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California, Rick Farris has arranged a boxing gala for the ages.

Jun Aquino, painter of champions, will once again share his ‘Art of Boxing’ honoring the greatest boxers and personalities in boxing. Mr. Aquino has been kind enough to give us a peek into his masterpieces.

In this first of four installments, the 2023 WCBHOF starting five inductees are featured.

We should have no reason to disagree.

The late Ivan Gene LeBell (October 9, 1932 – August 9, 2022) was the ultimate fighter, long before the UFC made its name. He consolidated his lifelong knowledge of martial arts, wrestling, judo and boxing, and applied this skill set in a career in grappling.

He was an action star and a career stuntman who took the hits and falls so the main stars shine bright, working with the likes of Bruce Lee, ‘Superman’ George Reeves, Burt Reynolds, Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, just to name a few.

"The Godfather of Grappling" worked on over 1,000 action films, TV shows, authored 12 instructional books, and was part of the recent award winning documentary ‘18th and Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story’ by director Stephen DeBro.

He added boxing into his arsenal while training at the old Main Street Gym where Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong once trained.

“If you train in a martial art (and I consider boxing a martial art) and you take away even one move from that art and add it to your repertoire, then the training was more than worth your time,” Mr. LeBell wrote in his biography “The Toughest Man Alive”: True and Incredible Story of a Sadistic Bastard. (HNL Publishing, 2003).

“Larry Merchant is what every aspiring reporter, the sporting variety included, should strive to be,” my late father Hermie Rivera used to say, “His fight analysis packs a punch!”

Born on February 11, 1931 in the Bronx, New York City, to Ukrainian immigrant parents, he nurtured his interest in news and developed his passion into a career in broadcasting. Growing up, he faced daunting obstacles, including anti-semitism, that spurred him to change his Jewish surname from ‘Kaufman’ to its English equivalent ‘Merchant’.

Fight fans know him today as the sharp analyst and commentator for the ole HBO World Championship Boxing, Boxing After Dark and HBO and other pay-per-view telecasts.

Now retired, Mr. Merchant was a well-regarded sports columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News and the New York Post.

It was an honor hearing the legendary Larry Merchant's viewpoint about Filipino boxers. Here is what he shared with this aspiring reporter at one of Manny Pacquiao’s pressers, way back when.

”I’m not a book of knowledge about Filipino fighters. I do know of an outstanding flyweight-bantamweight almost a century ago [Pancho Villa] who beat a guy named Jimmy Wilde to win the world flyweight championship by knockout. Later in his short career, he fought a much heavier fighter Jimmy McLarnin who went on to become welterweight champion.”

“Ceferino Garcia, who fought in the 1940’s, was another great middleweight who drew with hall-of-famer Henry Armstrong; thus, preventing him from getting a fourth title in as many weight classes.

“Gabriel “Flash” Elorde I saw in the later part of his career fight the great featherweight Sandy Saddler beating him in Manila. In a rematch in San Francisco, California, Saddler stopped Elorde on cuts. At Madison Square Garden, I saw one of the greatest lightweight fighters ever Carlos Ortiz stop Elorde in the later rounds.”

“I have dim recollections of Luisito Espinosa fighting in an outdoor venue in Manila in front of hundreds of thousands of people. You called it ‘Battle of Manila Bay’, I believe.”

“So, to me, Manny Pacquiao may have appeared out of nowhere. You know in boxing terms, he came from somewhere. There is a rich history there.”

James “Lights Out” Toney deserves a place in any boxing hall of fame. Born August 24,1968), he grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and lived in the rough and tumble neighborhood, prerequisites to success in boxing, where Floyd Mayweather Jr. Buster Mathis, Jr. grew up.

In 92 fights, he won 77 (47 by KO), lost 10, drew 3, with 2 no-contests, and was never stopped in his 29-years atop the roped square.

From 1988 to 2917, Toney held multiple world championships in three weight classes, including the IBF and lineal middleweight crowns. He had fast hands and great counterpunching skills. He applied pressure on his opponent by setting inescapable traps. He used old-school techniques to go with his mercurial reflexes that made opponents pay dearly. Long before FMJ made the shoulder roll technique famous, Toney was already using the defensive move taught by his veteran coach Bill Miller, who had once trained heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles.

At 5-foot-9, Toney, aka ‘The Dark Emperor’, fought the best from middleweight to the heavyweight ranks, including a faded Evander Holyfield.

In May 1991, Toney won the IBF and lineal middleweight titles by knocking out Michael Nunn in eleven rounds.

In 1991 and 2003, Toney was voted Fighter of the Year by Nat Fleischer’s The Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America. In 2011, The Ring rated him as tenth on their list of the "10 best middleweight titlists of the last 50 years." In 2001, Toney dabbled in acting and played the role of Joe Frazier in the movie Ali.

Carlos Zárate Serna was born on May 23, 1951 in Mexico City. He fought from 1970 to 1988 and compiled one of the scariest records in boxing history capped by a WBC bantamweight title reign from 1976 to 1979. In 70 fights, he won 66 (63 by KO) and only lost 4.

Tall for a bantamweight at five-foot 8 inches, he used his range to unload his dynamite fists. In a career that spanned 4 weight classes— the 118, 122, 126 and 130-pound division— he compiled 2 separate knockout streaks of 20 or more fights in a row, a record he shares with fellow Mexican great Rubén Olivares.

Listed as Zárate’s honors are Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine in

1977, the #1 bantamweight (along with Rubén Olivares) of the 20th century by the Associated Press in 1999. In 1994, Zárate, nicknamed Cañas (‘White Hair’), was inducted to the International

Boxing Hall of Fame. He is #21 in Nat Fleischer’s The Ring's list of 100 Greatest Punchers of All-time.

(L-R, Carlos Ortiz and Rick Farris)
Carlos Ortiz (September 9, 1936 – June 13, 2022) alongside Rick Farris, Founder of the prestigious West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame.

Considered as one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport, Carlos Ortiz held world titles in lightweight (135 lb.) and light-welterweight (140 lb.) divisions.

Born on September 9, 1936, he grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico and created a legendary boxing career that paved the way for fellow Latin legends like Félix Trinidad, Miguel Cotto, Wilfredo Gómez, Héctor Camacho, José Torres, Edwin Rosario and Wilfred Benítez.

He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991, was voted as the 60th greatest fighter of the last 80 years by Nat Fleischer’s The Ring magazine in 2002, and is the #21 greatest pound-for-pound all-time according to

Ortiz still holds the record for the most wins in unified lightweight title bouts in at 10. He is known as the only man to beat the great Filipino boxer and West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame enshrinee Gabriel “Flash” Elorde twice at the lightweight division.

He packed a mean wallop to complement his adroit skills winning 60 fights (30 KO’s), lost 7, drew one and 1 no-contest in 70 fights.

He passed away at age 85 in New York City, last June 13, 2022

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Emmanuel Rivera, RRT.

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