The gym--tattered, cramped and smelling of sweat--is filled with young boxers. Some are jumping rope. Others are pounding on punching bags. Two others are in the ring, trading jabs.
Amid it all stands Canto Robledo, owner, manager and trainer of Crown City Stables, who is shouting out instructions to the fighters in the ring. Robledo is intense. This is his gym. These are his fighters. This is his life.
"My dream is to get a champion of the world," said Robledo, 72. "If I had a world champion, I would have quit already."
It has been the same dream for almost 50 years, ever since a series of boxing injuries blinded Robledo, a one-time bantamweight champion of the Pacific Coast. Ironically, Robledo said, the sport that cost him his sight is the very thing that keeps him motivated today.
"I got into boxing and I love it very much," Robledo said. "The gym's kept me going."
At last count, Robledo said, he had trained about 500 fighters, including 200 professional boxers--all in backyard gyms that Robledo has had built as he moved from home to home in Pasadena over the years.
Today, the gym sits behind the Robledo home near Fair Oaks Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard. About 20 young boxers are in training. They range in age from 12 to 25--youths off the street who aspire to either boxing fame or better self-defense. Three have had professional fights. Others have had amateur bouts. All mix easily with older men who visit the gym to keep themselves in shape.
"There's a bond," said Robledo's son Joe, who helps with the training. "My father may not see with his eyes but he has inner vision. He has insight. My dad can, and does, teach boxing.
"I think these guys (Robledo's professional boxers) have a shot. I want to get a world title for him. I would like to put the gold belt around his waist."
The elder Robledo said the closest he has come to a world champion was in the 1940s, when he trained his two brothers, Joe and Seferino. Joe fought for the bantamweight world championship in 1943, but lost. Seferino was the bantamweight champion of California in 1945, but never fought for the world title.
Robledo said he treats all his fighters like family. He clowns and jokes and scolds and tells them not to give up on their dreams. And if he thinks a boxer is good, he heaps encouragement.
"We're good friends," said Joey Olivera, a seven-year Robledo protege who is fighting professionally in the lightweight division. "He taught me everything. He got me out of the north side (Pasadena) gangs. He even calls me at night to make sure I'm not out on the streets."
Olivera, 21, is known professionally as "The Pasadena Kid." He has won 13 of his 17 bouts. Robledo said he trained Olivera the same way he teaches all his fighters--he starts with the art of self-defense, jabbing and balance.
While a fighter is shadowboxing, Robledo will grab the youth's shoulder, and judging from the fighter's movements, will correct his routine. Robledo said he teaches by intuition, from experience and by the balance of the fighter.
Scrappy in Childhood
A boxer with proper balance, Robledo said, will have more powerful and speedier punches. Robledo applies this same method when he has fighters throw punches at his padded hands in the ring.
Robledo said he loves working with kids from the street because it takes him back to his own youth. He said that growing up near Santa Fe, N. M., he was continually in one scrape or another. When his family moved to Pasadena in 1922, Robledo said, he just naturally found his way to a neighborhood gym and started to box.
At 16, he said, he was so good at boxing that he turned professional, even though it meant telling boxing officials he was 18 and legally old enough to fight. Robledo was nicknamed "TNT" in reference to the explosiveness of his punches. His style not only earned him a dynamite nickname, but also made him a dynamite attraction. Robledo fought 44 fights in six years, winning 33, losing 8 and battling to a draw 3 times.
"I went in throwing punches--boom, boom, boom. I didn't stop," Robledo said.
Founder and columnist of Ring Magazine, Nat Fleischer, writing in a 1931 edition, called Robledo "a two-fisted puncher who takes a punch to give one." Luis Magana, an official of the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, said that he remembers Robledo as a bruiser.
'A Real Crowd Pleaser'
"If the going got tough," Magana said in an interview, "Robledo forgot boxing and he would slug it out. He was a real crowd pleaser."
Robledo speaks of his fighting years--1929 to 1935--with panache, recounting his first eight-round fight against Foster Manila in the Pasadena Arena; his 1931 bout with Chalky Wright, who later became featherweight world champion, and his match against one-time flyweight world champion Midget Wolgast. Of those three fights, Robledo won the first two and lost the third.