The 1951 Fight for Life:
Remembering Keeny Teran and Enrique Bolanos
In 1951, when I was a fifteen year old kid, I used to ride the bus and streetcar from the Simons Brickyard to the Teamsters Gym in downtown L.A. to spar with Keeny Teran as he was getting ready for his fight with Gil Cadilli. Keeny and Gil were two hot prospects at the time. Back then prospects didn’t shy away from fighting each other as they were coming up the ranks. Keeny, who was two or three years older than me and a much better fighter, didn’t try to hurt me in our sparring sessions. He would move, jab, move, jab— my job was simply to help him sharpen-up his boxing skills. Of course I was just thrilled to be in the same ring with Keeny. We only sparred a few times because he would go to the Main Street Gym to get in some heavy sparring with local pros.
Keeny was a small guy who at the age of eighteen looked like he was fourteen years old or younger. But if you tried to take advantage of his youthful looks in the ring he would make sure you paid for it.
The Teran vs. Cadilli fight was between two cross-town rivals. Cadilli had an 8-1 record and Keeny was undefeated in six fights. It was a fight that on its own merits would have sold out the Legion. The main-event was Enrique Bolanos and Eddie Chavez in a twelve rounder. The Bolanos vs. Chavez fight was the 1951 “Fight for Life” where some of the gate proceeds would go to the City of Hope Cancer Hospital. Fight for Life was a big yearly event and it was decided by matchmaker Hap Navarro to make the 1951 Fight for Life card the greatest card in the history of the yearly event. In my opinion, he succeeded.
On fight night, June 22, 1951, Tony Ramos and Ray Gonzalez, my uncles, and I jumped in Uncle Ray’s 1948 Chevy coupe to drive to the Hollywood Legion Stadium to see Keeny and Gil fight the six-round semi main. As we walked into the sold-out smoke-filled arena we could feel the electricity in the air. It felt so thick that it seemed like you could have sliced it with a knife. And I felt proud to have been close to Keeny Teran, who played a big part in creating the electricity the fans were feeling that night in the Golden Age of Southern California boxing.
The fight started fast with Keeny having the upper hand in the first four rounds. Cadilli came on strong in the last two rounds to make it a close fight, but not strong enough to win the fight—at least not to my eyes. I thought Keeny had won the fight, but the fight was called a draw. Maybe I was biased.
The Bolanos vs. Chavez match, which was a California State Lightweight Title fight, was an action packed bout, with first one then the other having the upper hand. In the end Enrique Bolanos walked out of the ring with a unanimous decision.
The night of June 22, 1951 was a great fight night.
Enrique Bolanos was my boyhood boxing idol; he was the only boxer I ever idolized. In 1946, when I was ten years old, my dad, Aurelio Baltazar, took me to my first ever live boxing event, and he couldn’t have picked a better card. Along with a couple of my uncles, we to see my idol Enrique Bolanos in a world title fight against none other than the lightweight champion of the world, Ike Williams.
That April night in 1946 was not a happy night for me as my idol fought gallantly for the first seven rounds before getting KO’d in the eighth. Bolanos went on to fight Williams twice more, once in 1948 and again in 1949. I also went to watch those fights live with my dad and uncles. The 1948 fight was close with Enrique losing a fifteen round split decision. The 1949 fight was a lopsided affair with Enrique losing by TKO in the fourth round. The most memorable part of that hot 1949 July night was watching Jack Dempsey refereeing the fight; Jack Dempsey was a great champion, but he was not a good referee.
Enrique went on to fight some great fights in the early 1950s against fighters like Maxie Docusen, Art Aragon, Eddie Chavez, and former lightweight champion Jimmy Carter, among others.
I got to know Enrique in the late 1950s after he had retired from boxing, and in the mid-1960s he helped me train my sons Frankie and Tony at the Teamsters Gym.
Keeny Teran I first met around 1949 at the Teamsters Gym. Working out at the same time, we became good gym friends. Keeny was a great prospect as a very young teenager. He was so good that he was forced to turn pro just after his seventeenth birthday. His true age was discovered about two months before he turned eighteen and he was forced to sit out those two months.
Keeny was on a roll with some good wins and only a draw with cross-town Gil Cadilli to mar his record when he got KO’d by Tommy Umeda at the Olympic Auditorium. We at the arena couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed. The following week the news broke that Keeny was a drug addict. We learned through the newspapers that he had being using heroin since he was about twelve years old. Some Hollywood money backers sent him and his wife Sally to the mountains to try and clean up. Months later he came back to fight some good fights, most of which he won, against fighters like Pappy Gault, Hugh Riley, Johnny Ortega, and Billy Peacock. He also defeated Tommy Uemda in a rematch. Keeny’s last fight was a KO loss to Memo Diaz in 1955. We later found out that he had taken a shot of heroin the afternoon of the fight.
I didn’t see Keeny again till the late 1970s when he showed up one night at the Olympic Auditorium to see my son Frankie fight. We sat for a while and reminisced about the old days at the Teamsters Gym. After that he would show up every time Frankie or Tony were fighting, and we would sit and reminisce some more.
Enrique Bolanos and Keeny Teran were two of the most memorable fighters I’ve ever seen. Bolanos was a tremendous contender who lost three world title fights to Ike Williams, one of the finest lightweight champions in history. As a boxer, Keeny Teran mostly battled his own demons, denying himself a chance to fight for the world title. Whatever else can be said, they were both good men.
My idol Enrique Bolanos died on June 4, 2012; Keeny Teran died from cancer in 1995. I’m proud to have called each of them my friend.
Frank “kiki” Baltazar is a retired boxing manager and trainer and a member of the California Boxing Hall of Fame. More of his writing can be found at From Bricks and Rosin: Stories by Frank “kiki'”Baltazar.