Tell the story how you got into boxing.
My father Sammy Burke was a coach, so my brother Rocky and I Grew up in the gym. My earliest memories were of the boxing gym. The first gym I remembered was the Boys Club gym in the 60's and early 70's and then the PAL gym in the mid 70's and 80's. My Dad passed away in 1984, but my family including my mother kept the PAL gym running through the 80's. My brother and I, coaching and managing fighters and my mother promoting boxing events. In the 90's the City of Las Cruces let us use the National Guard Armory which the city acquired for the use of a gym, in which is currently the PAL gym in use now.
Who was your trainer?
My first trainers were of course my father, who fought as an amateur in his teens while in the Marine Corps until he was severely wounded in the Korean War. My other trainer was a Hawaiian man by the name of Larry Renio, who was a great coach and underestimated by me until I had a chance to go out and work with some of the best in the world, like Jesse Reid and Angelo Dundee. That's when I understood the Talent my first coaches had, that being my father and Larry Renio.
Did you train at the main street gym?
By the time I was training with Angelo, the Main Street Gym had closed down. At the time we trained at a community center in N. Miami Beach.
Who were your influences?
My biggest influences were of course my father and Larry Renio for teaching me the basics and encouraging me to always do my best. My Brother Rocky and Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, who I considered one of my best friends since we were 17 years old. Ray taught me what work ethic is all about. Angelo Dundee and Jesse Reid, for their wisdom and the ability to train fighters and get the best out of them. Last but not least would be my mother and sister for the support and encouragement that was given to me during and after my boxing career and carried on through to my coaching endeavours.
What weight class did you mainly fight under? Talk about your amateur career and the transition into the pros.
I fought in the junior lightweight class in the pros, but I outgrew it and struggled in the later 3 years of my career. In retrospect I strongly feel I should have gone up in weight to 135 and 140, but it was a mental thing for me, something I wish I would have known now, but my last fight I almost died due to dehydration. I collapsed in the ring and was taken to the hospital where my heartbeat had dropped to 12 beats per minute. I had uremic poisoning because my kidneys were shutting down and had a zero potassium level, which is the electrolyte that makes your muscles work. Being that the heart is a muscle it was shutting down. I was given my last rites by Catholic Bishop Ricardo Ramirez that night. So I was lucky to pull through. After that I had retired and till this day I strongly discourage (young kids and the pros that I work with) to lose weight at an extreme extent.
I really don't remember how many amateur fights I had, not too many, probably around 50 or 60. Making the transition into the pros was easy, I always had a lot of endurance in the sports I played, including boxing. I was barely warming up by the 3rd round, many times coming back from behind to win. So the pros was right up the alley for me.
Talk about your two battles with Freddie Roach. Explain what the ESPN title is.
Back in the early 80's when ESPN was just getting off the ground, they held tournaments that was of course on ESPN and were nationally televised. The winner of the tournament was ranked in the top 10 and it opened up a lot of opportunities and gave exposure for young fighters like myself. What was ironic about fighting Freddie is that about 6 months before I fought him a friend of mine told me "I saw this kid on TV last night and man he was fast and he beat the hell outta the guy! Whatever you do never fight this guy. They called him "Fast" Freddie Roach." MAN, HE WAS! Little did I know I was going to fight him 6 months later.
One day Jimmy Montoya who I also trained with in Los Angeles called and told me, "I have you a fight on ESPN and it's for the ESPN title against a kid named Freddie Roach!" I remember thinking to myself "this is the time I get the chance to prove myself." Wow! What an opportunity to fight "Fast Freddie". Needless to say, I immediately went into some very intense training and glad I did because both fights with Freddie were no picnics.
The first was in Las Vegas at the Showboat. It was a 12 round ESPN title fight. It was a battle, a very tough fight between two Irish kids trying to make a name for themselves. Freddie already had a name and had been on TV a few times before, but we both fought very hard till the end of the 12 rounds. I won a very close decision and it was listed as one of the better fights of '83. The second fight was in Vegas again, but this time at Caesars Palace. This fight was also on the under-card of the Roberto Duran/ Marvin Hagler fight. I Idolized both of them at the time and still do! It was a dream come true for me to fight on this card. I was in Awe! Well the fight was a continuance of the first one. A hard-fought battle in which I won a very close decision, but not after receiving 16 stitches over my right eye. Again, we both fought our hearts out. I've always had great respect for Freddie as a fighter, a trainer, a friend and a great human being that is a super ambassador for the sport of boxing.
Share your experiences with the Hector Camacho fight.
After the Roach fights I had a couple more, but then a rumor came up that I might be fighting Hector "Macho" Camacho for the world junior light-weight title, as the rumor became reality I started trying to train for a super fast southpaw, boy talking about having a difficult time finding sparring partners to emulate the speed of a south paw style. It was hard but we did the best we could and the sparring I did have were great guys that tried as hard as they could to imitate Hector, but there was only one Hector at the time and nobody could throw as fast as he could.
Never the less, I went into the fight very confident I could wear him out, if I went to the body early and smothered him with relentless pressure. I see now that I probably put on too much pressure and was running into a lot of shots, instead of being a little more patient. I felt I gave him my best and did put him through a hell of a fight for the rounds that it lasted, being stopped on a swollen eye. I didn't want the fight stopped. I felt I could see ok, but the ref and doctor felt that wasn't the case, so I lost. The first time I was stopped and it was a huge disappointment for me. Hector was a machine and had very rare natural abilities like Ali, like his blinding speed and ring generalship that gave him such an edge in his competition. I felt I had the right strategy minus being too overly aggressive, but he was just the superior fighter. In my books one of the best!
Talk about that story how you were picked from the audience to fight.
In 2001 I was asked to report on a fight that was being unsanctioned on one of the Indian Reservations in New Mexico. After having a dinner of chili stew and a couple of beers we went to the fights. After a very long delay of an hour, I was approached by the promoter and asked if I would fight one of the guys fighting the main event due to the opponent pulling out last minute. The promoter knew I had fought professional and begged me to take the fight so he wouldn't have to refund the money. I agreed to the fight if it was reduced from 10 to 4 rounds. I hadn't been training for a fight in over 10 years, but I had made plans to take my 6 year old daughter to Disneyland a couple of days later and knew I could use an extra $1,000 bucks to take on our vacation. I went ahead a took the fight, knowing my opponent started very slow, after seeing him on several pro shows. My strategy was to start fast, throw fast combos then hold and move, not letting him get a chance to set. I won the first two rounds and he won the third, and I out hustled him the fourth. I ended up winning the fight and for not training one minute, I walked away with money for a memorable vacation with my daughter. I guess you can say that was my last hurrah, but you wont find it on any records since it was non sanctioned.
Talk about your retirement from fighting and why?
I retired after losing the fight to "Rocky" Alonzo. That was the fight I almost died of dehydration. On top of that I had surgery after the fight to repair a fractured orbital in my right eye, that was the second eye operation I had and I was just tired of getting hurt. I never could put in the same effort into training as I did before I was injured, so I decided to quit before I was injured more seriously. I went back to school, New Mexico State University, and got an associates degree. I am currently with the Las Cruces Fire Dept. and have been a firefighter for the last 14 years and on my days off, I train the "kids".
Any champions or prospects under your guidance?
One of the kids I started working with (as a kid) is the current WBA Super welter-weight Champion Austin Trout. I remember like yesterday when he walked into the gym as a 10 year old youngster looking to learn how to box. He was a shy and quiet kid and had to be coaxed a little to mingle with the other kids. Abraham "Abie" Han is another pro boxer that I've had as an amateur. Abie is 14-0 as a pro and I feel he's just about ready to make a name for himself in the near future. Abie came to me after his old coach, a very good friend of mine, Jerry Wright passed away. Abie was still an amateur and the year he was with me, he won the Eastern Olympic Trials before turning pro. I've also trained Siju Shibazz, who was the Olympic Alternate for the 2008 Olympics and just lost out on a very close decision to go to the 2012 Olympics. I've worked with many more, but these kids I've seen grow up in the gym.
Talk about your induction into the California Boxing Hall of Fame.
The induction into the California Boxing Hall of Fame was a very special moment. A memory I'm going to cherish for the rest of my life. I was surprised! I've always felt that the best fighters had come out of the California area and to be honored with the same guys I've idolized all my life. I can't find the words to describe how lucky I felt when I went up for the award. What also made it so special is that my family was there, my Mom Elba, my Sister Shelly, Brother Rocky and my two kids Samantha and Vicente. My cousins Randy and Dennis De La O were there as well with their families and friends. It was a surreal moment for me, and one I hope to preserve in my battered memory till I die.
How do you want to be remembered in the boxing world?
Just as someone who had a great passion for the sport. A sport that molded me and made me who I am. Someone that gave his all to make a better life for himself and others through boxing.