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Dec 02nd
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Home Boxing The El Paso Golden Gloves Dedicates Its 68th Annual Tournament to the Memory of Pete Melendez (1933-2009)
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The El Paso Golden Gloves Dedicates Its 68th Annual Tournament to the Memory of Pete Melendez (1933-2009)

pete_melendezAward winning sports journalist Ray Sanchez wrote in his column back in 1996 the following: “Every time I think of Pete Melendez I think of electricity. When he was boxing, he was taut as a wire, quick as the speed of light, explosive as a lightning bolt.” Ray was correct as Pete’s record is absolute proof that the truth is better than fiction. From his first fight in 1949 at the CYO in downtown El Paso to his last fight in 1956 Pete would establish a record fit for a king. And a king he was. Fighting at 112 pounds he established one of the most improbable amateur records in history ringing up 372 wins against only eight losses. Along his magnificent and fabled journey he captured four Regional Golden Gloves Championships, two Texas Golden Gloves State Championships, two National Golden Gloves Championships (1953, 1956) and in 1956 he was the Flyweight victor for the Chicago Golden Gloves Champions versus the New York Champions in the annual inter-city duel. He really was electric and he is an El Paso ‘Hero’.
Pete’s legendary status was hard-earned. He was a skinny non athletic looking barrio kid when he first entered the CYO back in 1949. He was obviously nervous but his expectations were high. If it hadn’t been for a serious accident while riding his bicycle we can’t say with certainty that Pete would have become El Paso’s most celebrated amateur boxer. We can say that because he received two broken arms and his attending physician recommended he try a sport to rehabilitate them that Pete chose boxing and certainty was on a par with destiny. Important too was trainer Jesus ‘Chuy’ Romo, who took immediate notice of young Pete who was banging away on a heavy bag, brisk and lively though evidently unstylish.
Romo undertook the task of turning the raw but piston-fast kid into a boxer. Pete welcomed his first trainer’s wealth of pugilistic knowledge and in short order, Pete was a model student, perfecting the bob and weaves, fighting inside and opening an opponent up, tying up adversaries, and banging the body. Soon Pete was sparring in the squared circle and thrashing and smothering  many of his talented sparring partners. That wasn’t the case against another El Paso champion boxer to be, one Ruben Flores. In Pete’s very first boxing match, Ruben gave Pete a look at a classic boxer, one who knew how to use boxing skills, finesse, and ring knowledge to the hilt.  From that moment on Pete decided that he desperately wanted those skills added to his arsenal. Though he captured his first Regional win in 1950, he was soon to learn that an all out attack wasn’t always the best strategy. Knowing he would have future epic battles with Flores, he would ultimately change trainers.
      1951 proved Pete correct and he was badgered about having to stay home and miss out on the state championships. He eventually turned to trainer Frankie DeMarco who taught him the nuances of how to box and who developed his lightning fast jabs. It would be another year before he would win Regional’s again and make it to Ft. Worth where he was superb in boxing his way to the finals before losing a close decision. He wasn’t about to get outpointed again and after winning Regional’s in 1953 he sauntered up to his opponents at state and then poured on his jets to completely outclass and outbox them right into the finals. Waiting for him was heavy favorite Tony Ramirez of San Antonio. This time around the boxing lesson was given by Pete and he earned his first trip to the Chicago Golden Gloves National Championships.
Pete was fine-tuned for a run in Chicago and he charged out in his first bout against Chicago’s own Robert McGee blasting him at will. Next up was Irving Tucker of Nashville, Tennessee and he too was baffled by the electric express that lit him up and sent him back to Music City.  Cleveland Champion Freddie Brooke was next to take on the lightning wizard but   Pete just cut and mangled him. Next up was the semi-finals and KO artist Joe DeMeyer of Detroit, the tournament favorite, seemed ready to dispose of the brash newcomer. Pete hardly blinked an eyelash as he thoroughly jabbed and counter-punched the Motor City Champion into a pulp earning his right to the championship final. It was against Manny Moreno of Pueblo, Colorado who used his head as much as his hands in the bout. Pete was butted and cut in the forehead but the injury only spurred him into a blitzkrieg of punitive action and his victory eminent. Pete received a diamond ring for his triumphs and El Paso had its very own national champion…for the community and Pete, life was good.
Back home in El Paso Pete’s accomplishments were heralded all over the county. He had been labeled the classiest boxer at Ft. Worth and the El Paso news media characterized his as, “The Pride of The Southside.” Then suddenly he was on a near three year hiatus due to a lack of opponents. By 1956 he knew he couldn’t tolerate missing boxing and back he came to win the Regional’s and then off to state where DeMarco had him in peak condition for a run to the finals where he once again disposed of favorite Tony Ramirez. However, he was considered a huge long shot to have a chance at the National title. Pete didn’t fret or sweat what the odds makers had to say; in Chicago It was Charlie Brown of Cincinatti, Ohio who crumbled first, Reggie Davis from Oklahoma next, Don Eddington from Missouri, the ‘Show Me’ state and Pete obliged, Tony Herrera of Denver demolished, and finally Jerry Morales of St. Louis, Missouri, shown up by Pete before 20,000 screaming fans. Pete now had two diamond rings.
       El Paso mayor Tom Rogers congratulated Pete and Bishop Metzger threw him a banquet. Pete turned pro for a spell and then became a barber. He was elected to the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Boxing/Karate Hall in 1993. He served as a judge and referee for years.
He affectionately became known as the ‘King of Boxing’ in El Paso. May the King rest in peace. 

Tom McKay

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