By Tadzio Garcia
Paul Gonzales knew at a young age that his life would involve boxing. He was the first Mexican-American to win an Olympic gold medal in 1984 when he was 19 years old.
Gonzales was honored at the football game during halftime at Weingart Stadium on Saturday.
His gold medal bout was a walkover against Salvatore Todisco of Italy. He beat Marcelino Bolivar of Venezuela 5-0 in the semifinals.
He won Olympic bouts 5-0, over boxers from South Korea, Uganda in the first round, followed by a 4-1 win over John Lyons of Great Britain in the quarterfinals.
He began classes at East Los Angeles College while training for boxing after graduating from Roosevelt High School in the ‘80s. He graduated from ELAC in 2009.
“He was my student and very polite, but I did not know he was a boxer,” ELAC English instructor Dennis Sanchez said.
Gonzales was an up and coming boxer while attending ELAC. “ I had to win to qualify for the Olympics. There was no doubt that I was to going to go to the Olympics,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales advanced to the gold medal bout in the 1983 Pan American Games. “I won silver on a controversial decision. I gave it my all no matter what country I was in,” Gonzales said.
“I told (American sports journalist) Howard Cosell I wanted to give everyone a boxing lesson,” Gonzales said.
In 1984 Gonzales went to Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he also lived for a while. He began his family a year prior and had a one-year-old son at that time.
The pre-Olympic boxing tournaments included the world’s top boxers. Henry Tillman beat Mike Tyson to make the 1984 Olympic team.
He was at Caesars Palace in his final Olympic trial box-off. “My opponent needed to beat me twice. I only needed to win once and I won,” Gonzales said.
Evander Holyfield joined Gonzales on the U.S.A. 1984 Olympic Boxing Team.
Gonzales is the only American to win a gold medal in the light-flyweight division.
He went pro after winning his gold medal. He beat Bantamweight legend Orlando Canizales for the IBF Bantamweight title in 1986 by an unanimous decision.
“When you are in the ring it’s like a chess game. You out think your opponent, and make them do what you want them to do. It’s the greatest feeling in the ring,” Gonzales said
“My pro career was important, it was all important. I had the greatest feeling in the Olympics. I was representing my country. Millions of people were watching. I had to blank this out and focus.”
Gonzales started boxing when he was 5 years old. He began with trainer at the Hollenbeck Community Police Station’s boxing program, when he was eight.
“Boxing just came natural and when it came to me, I could handle myself. Regardless of where I was boxing or how old I had to stay focused.”
“It didn’t matter if I was nervous. Once I was on the mat, I went on automatic,” Gonzales said.
He was involved in martial arts while boxing, and played football, basketball and volleyball while at Roosevelt.
He still attends the East L.A. Classic, the annual Roosevelt vs. Garfield high school football game played in November at Weingart Stadium.
Gonzales is on the advisory board of the East Side Spirit and Pride Club at ELAC.
“I think it’s important to give back to the community,” Gonzales said.
He works as a motivational speaker and L.A. County Supervisor for the Department of Parks and Recreation where he also teaches boxing.
“Boxing opened many doors for me. I met US presidents, mayors, Congress members and that gave me exposure to many cultures of life,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales ran for the Los Angeles City Council against former ELAC student Antonio Villaraigosa. “I go for the big dogs. I might run in the future,” Gonzales said.