Convicted Artist Magazine

Feb 25th
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Home MMA Pioneer Martial Arts Promoter Hilary Sandoval
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Pioneer Martial Arts Promoter Hilary Sandoval


hilary-sandovalThe “Greatest Show on Earth” for El Paso, Texas was Hilary and Tony Sandoval’s “Battlestar Karatica.” As teenagers, Hilary and Tony would enter the dynamic sport of kickboxing as promoters, managers, mentors, and even coaches. From those early beginnings in the 1970’s to a mature and older businessman who now owns AB Karate and a Blackbelt holder in Kempo Karate, it has been a sensational career for Hilary beginning with the brothers bringing El Paso, Texas  its first world championship in any combat sport. That event unfolded at the El Paso Civic Center when their fighter, Clifton ‘Magic’ Thomas, won the PKA World Super Lightweight title over undefeated Gordon Franks on August 9th, 1980 by TKO in the 3rd round. That stunning victory was a shot heard round the martial arts world. Contenders and their managers figured that it must have been a fluke victory what with Cliff a 20 - 1 underdog and managed by inexperienced teenagers. Consequently, they lined up in droves to challenge the upstart kids. ‘Great’ thought Hilary, he had an ace in the hole to prepare Cliff for any and all challenges; one Demetrius Havanas.

 Hilary, only sixteen, had met ‘The Great Greek’ at the United States Martial Arts Championships in Dallas, Texas. Hilary vowed to be a promoter right then and though clueless about doing same, ramped up his business knowledge with aid from genius like young brother Tony (age 13). And only three months after graduating from Coronado High School, Hilary and thirteen year old Tony, brought the legendary Greek to El Paso to fight in the main event along with two young kickboxers beginning their career under the brothers, Joe Soto and Cliff ‘Magic’ Thomas. The event was a tremendous success and over the next two decades ‘Battlestar Karatica’ would put El Paso, Texas on the nation and world map with Cliff alone amassing seven world titles in five different weight divisions. Joe Soto was a star too and was ranked second in the PKA. Often, The Greek and another world contender, Ishmael Robles, would be on board as coaches and sparring partners for Champion Thomas who would become a fight TV celebrity under deadly devastating circumstances.

After demolishing Gordon Franks, Hilary and Tony took on the naysayers who labeled them as too green and showed their managerial wit with Cliff beating top contender Richard Jackson on January 24th 1981. Three months later he KO’d contender Gary Ortiz in round two. And NBC Sportsworld soon called to ascertain if Thomas could be matched against the ‘King of the Bloodsport’, Paul Vizzio on July 24th, 1981. The deal was done and Hilary and Clifton flew to New Jersey via commercial airlines while D.K. Price piloted Havanas, Tony (now 18), and Karen Ruffin to the site. Sadly, tragedy struck. Over Tennessee, the private plane went down and there were no survivors. The news was devastating to Hilary and Clifton. After a tearful discussion it was decided to go on with the bout and dedicate it to their fallen brethren and comrades.

Choking back tears, Hilary had his charge, ‘Magic’ Thomas, in a battle-ready state of mind and millions of viewers in house and on NBC TV witnessed a brutal carnage executed by Clifton as he dominated Vizzio in all aspects of kickboxing, broke his jaw in three places and took him out by a 9th round TKO. Cliff, born with a hole in his heart and not expected to live past age fourteen, was now a PKA and El Paso Champion to be reckoned with and his mentor, Hilary Sandoval, finally recognized as a brilliant young managerial master.

The heartbreak of losing his brother and dear friends was so devastating that once Hilary and Cliff returned to El Paso, Hilary was in a daze, a fog if you will. He was completely confounded and on the verge of giving up on the dream mission he and Tony, the face of the organization, were on with ‘Battlestar Karatica.’ It took some nine months of soul-searching before he was able to function well enough to pursue the brother’s goals and match Thomas up against top-ranked contender, Tony Lopez, on May 31st, 1982 for a chance to fight for the PKA Lightweight Championship. Hilary, previously introverted and painfully shy, was now promoter, matchmaker, manager and part-time coach for Clifton and the sole Captain of ‘Battlestar Kartica.’ It was teenager Tony who was extroverted and did all the television interviews and was in charge of the press conferences since the organizations inception. Now Hilary had to get out of his ‘Comfort Zone’ and captain the ship. That he did more successfully than any one person in El Paso’s fight history.

Shaking off the jitters at fight time, Hilary sent his charge forward against the formidable Lopez and through twelve withering rounds Thomas emerged supreme with a unanimous decision. A legacy was in the making if Hilary and Cliff could now take the measure of PKA Lightweight Champion, Norris Williams.  It happened. On August 14th, 1982, Cliff Thomas blazed to glory as Cliff manhandled Williams early and finished him off via a 10th round TKO. It was legendary as Cliff was the only PKA fighter to hold two weight division titles simultaneously. Hilary also hired other coaches, including Ishmael Robles to help tune his Magic Man for title defenses against top-rated contenders. First up was Tony Guiterrez on November 22nd, 1982. Cliff disposed of him and was targeting another weight division. Next up was kickboxer, Tony Rosser, a fighter with blazing speed and wicked kicks much like Cliff, a near clone excepting that Cliff had more KO power. Nevertheless, Tony stole a decision over Cliff in March of 1983 but a quick rematch was set for August 27th, 1983. Revenge was Hilary’s and Cliff’s as the champ dominated the bout and decked Rosser three times. Noteworthy was the fact that Cliff now had won three titles in three different weight divisions under the tutelage of Hilary. And the best for Cliff and ‘Battlestar Karatica’ was yet to come.

The future was electric and near omnipotent. Sandoval’s ‘Battlestar Karitica’, Cliff, and more champion team members went forth with Herculean skills with Cliff annihilating foes with robust outings that included a 3rd round knockout of Robert Visitation in early 1984 and a sensational eighth round TKO of World Champion, Tommy Williams, for the PKA Welterweight crown on April 6th, 1984. That made Cliff the first and only PKA fighter to win four world titles. Cliff followed those wins with a smashing 7th round KO of England’s Nick McClellan on August 25th, 1984 and did a scorching number on top challenger, George Sorrell, knocking him out in four rounds on November 3rd, 1984. Those were welterweight title fights because the PKA brass voted to let no fighter hold two titles at the same time. Nonetheless, Hilary sent his charge out on a title defense on March 2nd, 1985 to destroy top-ranked Kevin Hillhouse via a 7th round knockout. The ‘Who’s Who’ of kickboxing was still lining up to challenge the champ and on June 8th, 1985, Cliff knocked out a very rough and talented Gary Garner from Florida in the 7th round. Next up was Byron Robinson and the ‘Magic Man’ was once again dynamic and Robinson hit the canvas for good in round four. Noteworthy too was that Cliff had now defended his title against eight of the top ten rated fighters matched by Hilary...they ducked no contender.

But then there was still more legacy to establish. ISKA’s World Champion Light Welterweight, Thomas Chesterfield, asked Hilary for two bouts with Cliff, one in El Paso and one in his hometown of Murfreesburo, Tennessee. Hilary obliged and on March 14th, 1987, history was once again in the Sandoval Camp as Cliff was relentless in his attack and seemingly impervious to counter shots as he dropped Chesterfield for the count in the ninth round and took his title. More importantly, Sandoval had managed and helped train Cliff to an unprecedented 5th world title. However, Cliff had to honor the two fight clause and so it was off to Murfreesburo a few months later where Cliff again dominated Chesterfield and deposited him on the canvas for an 8th round KO. And all was quiet with the challengers until one Eric Melton signed on for a title fight for August 13th, 1988. It was a long wait but Hilary kept Cliff well prepared, well enough to dispose of Melton by a 4th round KO. But that fight was just a prelude for Cliff to meet ‘The Human Flying Machine,’ Dave Johnston, at the Coors ‘Battle of Champions’ at South Lake Tahoe, Nevada, on October 8th, 1988.  Cliff never flinched as Dave unleashed a variety of well placed kicks from on high but just pressed his man with a furious hand and foot attack of his own, grounding the ‘Flying Machine’ late in the second round and discombobulating him thereafter for a third round TKO. Hilary was ecstatic as expected and the legacy making team came home to announce Cliff’s retirement.

Hilary had that inner gut feeling that Cliff would return for an encore. Yes, after a few years of retirement, Cliff was eager to get under Hilary’s management again. And Hilary had quite an opponent for him, one Canadian Middleweight Champion, Thomas Downing. Up in weight again, Cliff met Downing
for the KICK Middleweight Championship of the World on May 25th, 2002 under Hilary’s ‘Battlestar Karatica’ banner. Though balding with age, Cliff was still cut and fit and he manhandled Downing and put the ‘Coup de Grace’ on him in round five. How unbelievable, how superfluous was that? Cliff was now a six time world champion and Hilary’s’ Battlestar Karatica’ was in need of a wizardly metaphor. That would come soon enough as Hilary matched Cliff up against North American KICK Super Middleweight Champion, Michael Corleone, of New York. The two champions engaged in battle under Hilary’s ‘Battlestar Karatica’ on September 29th, 2002. And once again, 45 year old balding Cliff ‘Magic’ Thomas, rose to the occasion by dropping ‘The Godfather’ eight times to win his unprecedented 7th World Championship title, all under the guidance of his manager, the distinguished Hilary Sandoval.

Overall, Cliff won seven world championships in five different weight divisions. Hilary had also reached the pinnacle of success in his sport and for that he is the ‘Master Galvanizer’ of all whom he commanded. Though Cliff ‘Magic’ Thomas was the biggest bomber of ‘Battlestar Karatica’ and the ‘Champion of Champions’ we who were privy to this over two decades of stunning world championship
victory’s should also remember that Hilary also worked with, managed and promoted and even coached when necessary, some twenty one champions, including world kickboxing and boxing champion, Troy Dorsey, Ishmael Robles, Tony Rosser and Demetrus Havanas to name a few. He was also eminent in promoting his sport in Dallas, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, Midland, Texas and Houston, Texas. Along the way he brought in notable guests such as Chuck Norris, comedians Cheech and Chong, Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb, martial arts film stars, Ernie Reyes Jr. and Cynthia Rothrock and Miss El Paso, Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and Fiesta de la Flores beauty contestants as ring girls. Hilary also used an array of local boxing coaches to enhance Cliff’s skills in the art of fisticuffs. Rocky Galarza was the pre-eminent coach and George S. Villa, Ralph Ruiz and Tom McKay also contributed. And of course, there was his martial arts store, The Gi, and his now 25 year running ‘America’s Best Karate’ Academy which in 1995 was chosen as one of the five best schools in the United States and Canada by the ‘Martial Arts Professional’ the leading trade journal in the industry.

The ‘Master Galvanizer’,   Hilary Sandoval, and his deceased brother, Tony Sandoval, brought El Paso its first world championship in any combat sport. Hilary persevered after the tragic loss of his brother and under the banner of ‘Battlestar Karatica’ brought dozens of world championship bouts and world championships to El Paso, Texas and wowed the martial arts world and television networks with dazzling promotions, infomercials, and championship fighters such as Thomas, Dorsey, Robles, Rosser and Havanas that is visible to this day via the internet and in syndication.

It is with great pleasure that we induct this mighty giant of kickboxing. He has brought more championship bouts, more champions, and more joy to the tens of thousands of both martial arts and boxing fans in El Paso than any other person in our history.   

Thomas W. McKay

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Fe Boelsche  - Pioneer Martial Arts Promoter Hilary Sandoval |
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Agatha Chiles  - Pioneer Martial Arts Promoter Hilary Sandoval |
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Kirby Leland  - Pioneer Martial Arts Promoter Hilary Sandoval |
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Vinita Hochstetter  - Pioneer Martial Arts Promoter Hilary Sandoval |
Hi there, just wanted to let you know that we had a great time at Marina de Bolnuevo in July of this year. We flew into Alicante and hired a car from the airport for the short drive to Bolnuevo. The beaches are clean, most of them awarded the Blue Flag. The restaurents were great, with paella on the beach a must and managed a day on the nudist beach there. Very liberating. We also visited the Big Guns, The Roman Mines and the Sand sculptures. Will be returning there again in 2018. Thanks for reading Tony.
Mark Leibson  - Former El Paso Times Sports Writer |
July 9, 2017

I was just telling my grandchildren about the horrific crash that claimed the lives of three people I knew...Tony, Demetrius and Karen.
I'm hoping to make contact with Hillary and Cliff. It's been 32 years since I've talked to any of them.
What Hillary and Tony did for full contact karate was astonishing. They helped put El Paso on the karate map, and for that we are all grateful.
Leah  - Articles |
Mr. Mckay, I wanted you to know you made my day as I searched for something from the past today. Tony and I dated in HS and I cant forget the day he died. Both the article on Hilary and Tony are amazing. I printed both of them. It is wonderful and amazing to see Hilary continuing the business and being inducted into the Hall of Fame 3 yrs ago. Thank you.
Deals  - Pioneer Martial Arts Promoter Hilary Sandoval |
Eye Opening information on this website. I was just speaking about this subject. Thanks
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