It’s “Bout” Time
Boxing in New Orleans
CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPH
“Willie Pastrano, he wasn’t just a world champion, he was a legend in New Orleans,” recalls Glen Laborde. “Even the tough guys on Bourbon Street deferred to him.”
Pastrano was a New Orleans boxer who held the Light Heavyweight crown 1963-’65. Pastrano, Ralph Dupas (onetime world light middleweight champ), Jerry Pellegrini (a welterweight, also known as “The Battling Barber from St. Bernard”) and other veterans of the ring are part of a long-lived local tradition that’s still going strong.
Boxing includes both public prize fighting contests and intense physical training. The training program can benefit anyone, not just skilled athletes.
Laborde didn’t box (“I was a weight lifter”) but had friends who fought as teenagers at the St. Mary’s Catholic Youth Organization gym in the French Quarter. Why boxing? “It was one of those things to keep the boys straight,” Laborde says.
Catholic boys’ schools often had boxing programs: Fernand Willoz, an alumni of St. Aloysius High School, recalls that his brother-in-law, Martin Koch, boxed at St. Stanislaus School in Bay St. Louis (where many New Orleanians were boarding students).
Boxing tournaments for St. Stanislaus in the 1940s and ’50s were international events, with a Catholic school in Cuba as a regular participant. “Martin knocked out Fidel Castro in one match,” Willoz remembers.
That Catholic school boxing tradition continues at Loyola University, where president Fr. Kevin Wildes began boxing in college and continues today. A history of boxing at the school was compiled by boxing historian Don Landry, and tracks the school’s involvement with the sport to the 1930s team started by coach Tad Gormley (who also coached basketball and track there, and later track at LSU and Tulane). Gormley, inducted into Loyola’s Hall of Fame in ’64, sent two Loyola boxers, brothers Dennis and Eddie Flynn, to the ’32 Olympics.
Appropriately, sculptor Enrique Alferez created an image of a boxer in the fencing around Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park.
According to a 2013 Loyola press release, Loyola Law School student (and graduate) Annie McBride was continuing as a competitive boxer, an avocation she acquired while teaching high school. Like many other local boxers, McBride began at a private boxing gym.
Mike Tata, a New Yorker, came to New Orleans and opened a boxing gym in January of 2005. He continued after Katrina with the Friday Night Fights gym on Freret Street and has since moved to his current location, 1632 O.C. Haley Blvd. “We train everybody – all by the hour. You pay the trainers by the hour,” Tata says. Besides the training venue, Tata focuses on his boxing shows. “I’m a promoter,” he insists.
Tata’s “Friday Night Fights” offer wide-ranging entertainment: “It’s a springboard for fighters and entertainers – hopefully they can move on to bigger things,” he says. “We pick the Round Card girls from the audience: Whoever gets the most applause gets to hold a card. Gender doesn’t matter.” He has been staging his events (37 so far) in a roped-off area at St. Charles Avenue and Euterpe Street, but hopes to add the Civic Theatre on O’Keefe Avenue as a location. Tata was featured in a Sports Illustrated article in August 2014 and already has done a pilot for a television show.
Daniel Massicot, whose UNO degree is in Marketing and Management, is one of the owners, along with trainer Chase Dixon, of the New Orleans Boxing Club, 2836 Conti St. in Mid-City. Massicot will soon be able to offer boxing training to youngsters through a nonprofit, the New Orleans Boxing Institute (TheBoxingInstitute.org). Meanwhile, his facility has a full gym, professional trainers, ample equipment (“you’re never waiting for a bag,”) and boasts a 24-foot-square ring. “Our ring has had some historic fights: Mike Tyson knocked out Clifford Etienne there,” he says. (That bout was in Memphis.)
Boxing trainers also work in other gyms around town. Terrence Allen, a personal trainer at Elmwood Fitness Center at Heritage Plaza on Veterans Boulevard, is also a trainer at the Title Boxing Club at 5029 Veterans Blvd. Allen says that he, “stays in pretty good shape. Boxing is just a different level of ‘in shape.’ It’s totally different.”
“At first, I just wanted to have that skill, to defend myself,” says Allen. “I ended up growing a love for it.”
Those determined New Orleanians in the ring today would agree with him.