Tacoma staged its first Golden Gloves boxing tournament in 1949, a fact calling for some perspective.
In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was born, composer Richard Strauss died, and the last six survivors of the Civil War met in Indianapolis for a reunion. It was the year the Basketball Association of America merged with the National Basketball League to become the National Basketball Association.
That’s right, the Tacoma Golden Gloves – America’s oldest amateur boxing tournament west of the Mississippi River – has been around longer than the NBA.
The event has bounced around town since its 1949 inception, from the National Guard Armory, to the UPS Fieldhouse, to the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall. The finals are now back at UPS, where bouts are scheduled to begin on Saturday night at 7.
“UPS is kind of home for the Golden Gloves,” Tacoma Boxing Club coach Tom Mustin said Thursday. “It’s a really fun venue, with bleachers upstairs and a ring surrounded by chairs on all four sides.”
Said tournament director Greg Plancich: “UPS has always been a crowd favorite. It feels like a true community event over there. For just about anybody who grew up going to the Golden Gloves, the UPS Fieldhouse pops into their mind. Ringside seats on the floor, with great views from the general admission area in the upper deck. That’s our place.”
Among the standouts expected to advance to the finals card on Saturday night is Bremerton’s Ramel Casablanca, a super heavyweight (201 pounds plus) who recently placed second in the USA Boxing’s national tournament. At the age of 27, Casablanca is something of a big brother at the Tacoma Boxing Club, where kids as young as 7 work out after school.
“He’s a good stand-up boxer with a strong jab, better than most heavyweights,” Mustin said of Casablanca, who established himself as a top novice in the region at the 2011 Tacoma Golden Gloves tournament. Casablanca is back in the Northwest after training at the USA Boxing facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“When he was training in Colorado,” Mustin said, “he faced guys from places like Poland and Great Britain and boxed well. His only problem at the nationals was finding sparring partners. He went to the gym every day for three weeks, and nobody else was there.”
In addition to Casablanca, three others will defend titles from the 2017 Tacoma Golden Gloves: Jeremy Morales, 25, from the R&C Boxing Club in Pasco; Greg Cruz, 25, from Arcaro Boxing in Seattle, and Hector Rendon, 22, from the Tacoma Boxing Club.
Rendon earned the “Golden Boy Belt” as outstanding boxer of last year’s event.
“Just a great amateur fighter who gets better and better,” said Plancich. “I think the competition for the belt this year will be between him and Casablanca, if they perform as they have in the past.”
Should either prevail this weekend, they’ll move on to the Golden Gloves western regionals, set for March 3-4 in Las Vegas. Golden Gloves champs once were awarded an automatic berth in the Olympic Trials, but USA Boxing now holds a separate qualifying tournament.
The stakes may have changed, but the names of Tacoma Golden Gloves alums are permanently etched in local sports lore. The tournament’s first 160-pound champion, the late “Irish” Pat McMurtry, went on to a professional career that peaked, during the 1950s, with his ranking as the world’s No. 5 heavyweight.
After McMurtry, the roster of future national champions who won Golden Gloves titles in Tacoma reads like a Who’s Who: “Sugar” Ray Seales (1972), Leo Randolph (1975), Tom Sullivan (1975), Davey Armstrong (1978), Johnny Bumpus (1979), Les Fabri (1984), Mylon Watkins (1985-86), Frank Vassar (1990) and David Jackson (1996).
Pete Rademacher (1956), Seales (1972) and Randolph (1976) were Olympic gold medalists.
There could be a future gold medalist in the stands. Mustin assures the Tacoma Boxing Club is thriving with a generation of kids whose parents have convinced them that there are better ways to spend their free time than playing video games.
“But boxing is hard work,” said Mustin. “Out of every five kids who come into the club, maybe one stays with it.”
Watching the Golden Gloves could be an inducement for others to stay in the game. The tournament, after all, is a Tacoma tradition. It began during the same 1949 month as the inaugural Emmy Awards, preceded the Grammy Awards by a decade, and figures to be around when the 7-year old kids at the Tacoma Boxing Club are grownups who regard JAY-Z as so yesterday.
When: Preliminary bouts begin at 7 p.m.
Where: The Edison Annex (3109 S. 60th Street, Tacoma)
When: Final bouts begin at 7 p.m.
Where: UPS Fieldhouse, Tacoma
Cost: General admission seats are $16, and ringside seats are $28. A beer garden, also serving wine, will be open.