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BOXING / THERESA SMITH MUNOZ : Tonks Attracts Admirers by the Busload


Three double-decker busloads of British boxing fans will leave Canoga Park and Santa Monica on Wednesday, bound for the Hollywood Palladium and Lee Tonks' welterweight bout against Misael Espino.

Tonks, a British transplant who lives in North Hills, has developed a large following since he began boxing in the Valley five months ago.

"British people are good sports, anyhow, and then, being as we're in a different country, they tend to stick together," Tonks said. "It means more when you're away from home and someone from your country is fighting."

Tonks (5-feet-9, 140 pounds) built his fan base by developing an association with the Union Jack, a newspaper for Brits living in the United States.

Tonks wears trunks with "Union Jack" embroidered on them, and the paper advertises his fights and prints articles before and after each bout.

Tonks' style is European, a stand-up method featuring combination punching. But he also adapts to opponents, taking on a more aggressive approach with his shoulders hunched forward.

"I have the best of all worlds--the European style, the Mexican style and the American style," he said. "I can get inside and fight American style with uppercuts to the body or I can fight with the hooks and uppercuts of Mexican fighters."

Tonks, 23, grew up in Farnborough, a blue-collar town 20 miles southwest of London. His parents divorced when he was a toddler, and he and his brothers Shane and Grant were raised by their mother.

His father, a boxer who was in and out of jail, was not involved in his sons' lives with the notable exception of boxing.

Lee was given his first pair of gloves at age 3, and he started boxing in a club at 6. He made his amateur debut at 11, the earliest age allowable in Great Britain.

"I didn't miss a day in the gym for the next 10 years," he said.

Tonks fought 87 times as an amateur, including 10 bouts in Southern California from 1990 to 1992.

"I'd seen lots of European boxers come over here and do well, and I decided to come here and make a name for myself," said Tonks, who turned pro last August and is 5-2 with one knockout.

The mild-mannered Tonks, who wears a ponytail, does not seem suited for the brutality of boxing, an aspect of the sport he downplays.

"For a lot of people, boxing is two people standing in the middle of a ring and trying to beat someone up," he said. "For me, it's the art of boxing, hitting someone and not letting them hit you."

In his lengthy career, Tonks has suffered only one injury, a broken rib. He has not been as fortunate playing other sports. On the tennis court, he slipped, hit himself with a racket and broke his nose. While Tonks was horseback riding, he was thrown and suffered a concussion.

"I'm actually safer in the ring," Tonks said.


Rafael Ruelas' International Boxing Federation title fight against Freddie Pendleton has been set for Dec. 30 in conjunction with the opening of the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas. Ruelas, 22, of Sylmar, has been waiting for more than a year for a shot at the lightweight title.

Ruelas (38-1) scored his 30th knockout Thursday in Irvine against Mexico's Conny Lopez. Ruelas knocked down Lopez three times. His left-handed knockout blow 1 minute 45 seconds into the first round ended the fight.

Gabriel Ruelas, Rafael's brother and the WBC's No. 1-ranked junior lightweight, has recovered from a lingering wrist injury and will face Ben Lopez (20-11-1, 14 KOs) Aug. 28 at the Forum. Gabriel (33-2, 16 KOs) is coming off a Feb. 28 defeat to WBC champion Azumah Nelson.

Another Ten Goose boxer, World Boxing Assn. middleweight champion Reggie Johnson, is mandated to fight John David Jackson (29-0, 16 KOs) in early October at a site to be determined, possibly in Argentina.

Johnson (34-2-1, 21 KOs) hopes to face Julian Jackson next winter, with the winner taking on former Ten Goose boxer Terry Norris.

Boxing Notes

The next card at the Country Club in Reseda is up in the air. Tony Longval of the Country Club expected to host a card in late August, but it fell through when Iguana Productions put together a card at the Hollywood Palladium. Longval of the Country Club is negotiating with two groups, Iguana and Ten Goose Boxing, which promoted fights at the club for 10 years, ending last spring. . . . In an attempt to attract title fights, the California Athletic Commission voted Friday to allow out-of-state and foreign boxers an exemption. "There's no need to ding them 3% of the purse if we're never going to see them again," said Richard DeCuir, CAC executive officer. "We're trying to make California more competitive. California is not competitive because it costs too much to fight in California."

DeCuir is also working on a way to help small promoters like Iguana. Currently, the state takes from the promoter 15% of each purse.

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