Enrique Bolanos was a top draw at L.A. venues in the 1940s.
Enrique Bolanos, a Mexican boxer who three times fought for and lost the world lightweight title in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, died Monday. He was 87.
Bolanos died of heart failure at a convalescent facility near his Pasadena home, said his wife of 64 years, Ruby.
The boxer's soft-spoken demeanor and ring skill made him the most popular Mexican fighter in Southern California during the height of his career, which closed in 1952 with a 79-22-5 record and 44 knockouts.
"Good looking guy, charming, very crowd-friendly style," longtime boxing publicist Bill Caplan said. "They loved him to pieces."
Bolanos, born Aug. 24, 1924, in Mexico, came to the United States at 17 and engaged in three world lightweight title bouts at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles against ferocious Ike Williams between 1946 and 1949.
Bolanos lost the first bout by eighth-round technical knockout, the second in a thrilling split decision in 1948, and the third by fourth-round TKO, again at Wrigley, with 18,999 watching.
Bolanos was otherwise unbeaten with just one draw in 31 other bouts during that three-year stretch in the late '40s.
"Enrique's dream — his whole purpose in life – was to be champion of the world," Ruby Bolanos said. "He was groomed for it. When it didn't happen after the third fight, he lost his spirit. It was very sad. And his heart truly wasn't in it again."
Yet, Bolanos went on to major fights, particularly a pair of TKO losses in 1950 to Art Aragon at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.
"Aragon felt he'd be the crowd favorite, but the fans booed him after each win," Caplan said. "Aragon thumbed his nose at the crowd after the second one. Why were they booing? Because he beat their beloved Bolanos."
In a 1992 interview with The Times' longtime boxing writer Earl Gustkey while watching an Oscar De La Hoya workout, Bolanos reflected, "You know, I'll never forget arriving at the Olympic … and seeing those long, long lines of people waiting to buy tickets to watch me fight. I remember that as well as I remember the fights, the fact that people enjoyed watching me fight."
Bolanos moved on from boxing to a career in sales, for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and at Central Electric in Los Angeles, his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Bolanos is survived by sons Rick, Chris and Brandon, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held Tuesday at Holy Family Church, 1527 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena.