By Francisco Salazar
My father gave me many gifts throughout my life, some directly and some indirectly.
My Dad taught me to always do things correctly and do the best one could and he put me to work in the agricultural fields of the Oxnard (California) Plains as a boy to teach me the value of a dollar.
I never would have thought his love for boxing would transcend with me to the point I cover the sport. But little did I know the seed he planted in me as a boy would blossom to what it is today.
I lost my father on June 9 at the age of 90 so this Father’s Day will feel a little empty. I could call my Dad, but I know he will not say “Gracias” when I tell him “Happy Father’s Day.”
I have to admit that will be a tough pill to swallow.
My father worked in the agricultural fields, on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Whether it was in his home state of Jalisco or in and around Saginaw, Michigan, there was no vegetable or fruit my Dad was not familiar with. My Dad ended up in California and, other than returning to Mexico numerous times over the years, the ‘Golden State’ became his second home.
It was not a surprise learning my Dad was a fan of Salvador Sanchez, Daniel Zaragoza, Ricardo ‘Finito’ Lopez, Gerardo ‘Pipino’ Cuevas, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Ruben ‘El Puas’ Olivares, talented Mexican fighters. He was also enjoyed watching Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, ’Sugar’ Ray Leonard, and Evander Holyfield.
The first fight I ever watched with my Dad was the Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi on July 12, 1986. It was on ‘free TV’ as the fight aired on ABC’s ‘Wide World of Sports.’ It was a rarity watching the fight because my Dad would normally work in the fields on a Saturday, but he did not work that day, so it was a treat watching the fight.
I guess you can say that fight laid the foundation for my interest in boxing, but what made me love the sport of boxing was what happened on Feb. 11, 1990 (Feb. 10 on the West Coast). It was the day James ‘Buster’ Douglas shocked the world when he knocked out Mike Tyson, who was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and was described as ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet.’
I remember helping my Dad work in the fields on that Saturday and when I say worked in the fields, I mean digging ditches or helping my Dad shut off water mains. It was around 4:30, maybe close to 5 p.m. and I remember saying in Spanish, “Dad, the Tyson fight.”
“Oh yeah, help me shut off this main and we’ll go home,” was what my Dad responded in Spanish.
The fight was held in Tokyo, Japan on a Sunday (midday), which meant the fight aired on HBO in the evening and around 6 p.m. (if I recall) West Coast time. We did make it home to watch the pre-fight coverage and then the fight.
My Dad and I and practically everybody (except for ‘Buster’ Douglas and his handlers) thought the fight was going to be one-sided for Tyson. By the end of round four, I told my Dad, “I don’t think Tyson is going to win tonight.” My Dad didn’t say a whole lot. He rarely gave an opinion during a fight, only afterwards.
Tyson scored the knockdown in round eight, but, of course, the shocking moment when Douglas knocked out Tyson would be engraved in my memory, my father’s and every boxing fan who watched the fight live.
“Hoy le toco a Tyson perder (Today was Tyson’s turn to lose),” was what my Dad said as he removed himself from the living room to take a shower to remove dirt and dust he had accumulated from working in the fields that day.
And there you have it. The fight that brought my love for boxing to the extreme. But it was boxing that also brought an ominous turn.
It was February of 1995 when my Dad and I were watching ‘Tuesday Night Fights’ on the USA Network, a weekly tradition we had. Right before the main event began, my Dad said, “Let’s go to bed. Your mother is going to get mad.”
It was 10 p.m. and I thought, “Uh, okay. What did you do with my real Dad?” While I was wondering why my Dad said that, I didn’t realize my Dad was beginning to have a heart attack. He woke up at his normal time of 5 A.M., went to work in the fields, jogged/ walked afterwards, went home, all the while complaining of tingling in his left arm and soreness in his left shoulder. My family went to the hospital and it was weird seeing my Dad in a hospital bed with a tube near his nose. No longer did I think of my Dad was his Herculean man because a heart attack weakened him.
At this point, Dad was 66 and starting to slow down, but his love for boxing did not.
Before and after his heart attack, we would drive to his friend’s (Moises) house in South Oxnard to watch the pay-per-views. Whether it was Mike Tyson (after getting out of prison) or Julio Cesar Chavez, we would watch those telecasts. My Dad, of course, would bring beer or tequila, sometime nothing because Moises or another person would bring the alcohol.
Then I started writing for Fightnews in 2000 (It is a long story), then switched to Boxingscene in September of 2012, the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper that same year, and RingTV a year later. During that time, I kept my Dad updated on what was happening with boxing. He and my Mom relied on my more for boxing news than Univision or Telemundo.
Then there were the times I would take my Dad to the fights in Southern California, club shows or big-production fight cards. I never took advantage of this, as this was a ’sometimes’ occurrence. I always asked promoters ahead of time and if they could not accommodate, no big deal.
I would take my Dad to fights as a peace of mind to my family as he would keep me awake on long trips, especially to Indio, Ontario, or Santa Ynez Chumash Casino). I’m grateful to promoters Top Rank, Golden Boy, Gary Shaw, Lou DiBella, Thompson Boxing, Roy Englebrecht, Ed Holmes, Premier Boxing Champion (PBC), and everyone I cannot think of. They could all tell you I never took advantage of their generosity.
I never realized some of the publicists, television people, boxing writers or promoters themselves always got a kick out of seeing my Dad. Whether it was David Avila or Dougie Fischer, Alex Camponovo or Eric Gomez, or Bernardo Osuna or Ricardo Jimenez, everyone made my Dad feel welcome.
One of my Dad’s fond memories was meeting and taking a picture with Oscar De La Hoya. On two different occasions.
I think my Dad was just glad to be out of the house and spending time with me. One of the last times my Dad came with me to the fights was the long drive to Fresno to watch a Top Rank card on May 26 of last year. He finally admitted to me he was this close to planting down roots in the Fresno-Madera-Tracy area of the Central (San Joaquin) Valley of California, but settled in Oxnard because he was done working in the hot weather and preferred the breeze from the Pacific Ocean in the months of July and August.
I completed my Bachelors degree in History at CSU, Northridge in 2001 and received my teaching license in 2004. I went from working for the County of Ventura (the Camarillo Library) to becoming a Social Science teacher at Channel Islands High School in Oxnard on Mar. 1, 2004. It is the same high school that produced Fernando Vargas, Robert Garcia, Jose Aguiniga, David Rodela, and a few others.
My Dad, who first arrived to Oxnard in 1956 before going all over California and Mexico, told me he used to pick tomatoes and lettuce on the site where the high school was built in 1965.
As my Dad grew older, I knew he was starting to slow down. Even after his heart attack, he would walk all over Camarillo with my Mom. So many people who knew me would tell me, “Oh, I saw your parents walking the other day. Don’t they live on the other side of town (Camarillo)?”
My Dad would make his annual visit to my classroom when I would teach about Cesar Chavez in my history classes. He would be able to tell you the working conditions and pay fieldworkers (campesinos) would receive before Cesar Chavez. My students listened intently, including when my Dad met Cesar Chavez at a rally where he spoke in Northern California during the late 1960s (The Grape Boycott in California).
This year, my Dad didn’t want to go to my classroom.
“I’m too tired and my body aches. My feet hurt,” was what my Dad told me less than a month ago.
I won’t have my Dad next to me as I continue to cover fight cards. Or when I would bring him over to my house to watch the fights on HBO or Showtime. But that is fine. I know my Dad is in a better place.
I’m going to continue to work hard as a teacher, a soccer coach (at Hueneme High School and Oxnard College), and as a boxing scribe. I have a 20-month-old to provide for and to model to be the best he could possibly be.
Sometimes I’m going to wonder whether I will have to catch myself from calling my Dad or driving to my parents’ house just to see him. The best I can do is picture and remember the good times we had, whether it was talking about life on those trips to and from boxing or him buying me a candy bar or a Martinelli’s apple juice when I was a boy.
“No le digas a tu Mama (Do not tell your mother),” was what my Dad said as he paid for that and other things at the old Chase Brothers store at the corner of Rice and 5th Street in Oxnard.
I know it is cliche to say or think my Dad is with me or that is spirit is with me. All I know is that I will continue to do my best to carry on the Salazar name. The gifts my Dad gave me of working hard and being responsible is something that I do not take for granted as I combine that with attempting to be the best teacher, coach, and boxing writer I can be, including a spouse and father.
But the love for boxing was something that I did not expect. And now it is something I cherish more with each passing day and fight card I cover or watch on TV.
Thanks to my Dad. Gracias, papa.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing