Destructive West Coast bomber Tony “The Tiger” Baltazar was a fixture on network television during the early 1980s. Best known for his 1983 Pier Sixer against streaking lightweight Robin Blake, Baltazar, who first donned gloves as a small child, also made the ring uncomfortable for Howard Davis, Jr., Miguel Angel Dominguez, and Pedro Laza. Armed with a short left hook as hard as a swinging derrick, Baltazar was a feared contender for years. Not long after scoring the biggest win of his career, however—a decision over Roger Mayweather—Baltazar was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. In 1985, Baltazar, who had been drinking, lost control of his car in Baldwin Park, California, killing his friend, Daryl Rogers, and a two-year old passenger, Timothy Duran, in the car with which he collided. After serving two and a half years in prison, Baltazar mounted a comeback in late 1988. Although his explosive left hook nearly decapitated Buddy McGirt in 1989, Baltazar was never the same fighter again. In 1990, he finally got a title shot—for the nascent WBO junior welterweight championship—but lost a lopsided decision to fleet-footed Hector Camacho. Dan Hanley spoke to Baltazar about the ups and downs of his life and his career.
HANLEY: Tony, where did you first see the light of day?
BALTAZAR: Well, I was actually born in East L.A., but grew up in La Puente, California.
HANLEY: Growing up in California during the ’60s and ’70s, you must have had an incredible exposure to the game.
BALTAZAR: Oh, I did (laughing), from a very early age. My Dad, Frank, Sr., was always training fighters and he would babysit my brother Frankie and I by bringing us to the gym with him. I was three years old putting on gloves that were bigger than I was. Then, it was called babysitting and boxing. Today (laughing), it’s probably called child abuse.
HANLEY: How old were you when you actually started?
BALTAZAR: (laughing) Three years old. See, they always had tournaments for the little guys and it really inspired us when we started bringing home trophies and jackets. I was so into the game back then, and of course, I was training alongside my idols Mando Ramos and Ruben Navarro.
HANLEY: How far did you go in the amateur program?
BALTAZAR: I won 5 Junior Golden Glove titles, 2 Open Golden Glove titles and the 1978 National AAU title.
HANLEY: Did you get any international experience in the amateurs?
BALTAZAR: I did, but I never fought abroad. However, I did fight the Irish and Polish teams in international competition in Las Vegas.
HANLEY: You turned pro at the age of 18 in 1979, a year before the U.S. boycotted the Olympics. Was there any desire or push to hold off and try out for the Games?
BALTAZAR: I wanted to go pro and that decision turned out to be very lucky for me. Remember the plane crash in Warsaw that took the lives of the U.S. amateur boxing team? Well, that was my team. Coach Junior Robles, Carlos Palomino’s kid brother Paul – a great kid – and so many more I trained with. I would have been on that plane.
HANLEY: By the time you turned pro, how many amateur fights had you fought?
BALTAZAR: Oh, man! (laughing) Are you ready for this? 408 amateur fights and I only lost six.
HANLEY: Whoa! Time to get paid for slinging leather, dude. Who did you turn pro with?
BALTAZAR: Well, of course my Dad, Frank, was my manager and my trainers were John Martinez and former middleweight contender Dub Huntley.
HANLEY: You turned pro at the Olympic Auditorium. Was Aileen Eaton still promoting then?
BALTAZAR: Yes, she was.
HANLEY: What was she like to deal with?
BALTAZAR: To be honest, I never had any dealings with her formally. My Dad took care of those things. But personally, she was always very nice to me.
HANLEY: You ran off a record of 23-0 and built up quite a reputation with that left hook of yours before being matched with #1 contender Howard Davis in Atlantic City. You suddenly went from club fights to the world stage. Tell me about that fight.
BALTAZAR: Well, you say they were club fights, and they were, but what a lot of people don’t know is that I had been working with Lupe Pintor, Ruben Olivares, Albert Davila, Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez and ‘Superfly’ Sandoval since I was 15. I was sparring with better fighters than Howard Davis would ever be. So this was no jump in talent to me. Howard had very fast hands, but I was all over him. I decked him twice and won 9 out of 10 rounds only for them to give him the fight.
HANLEY: With that showing against Davis, you proved that you had arrived. There would be no more club fights. You next took on Mexican hotshot Rocky Montoya. This was a brilliant win. Tell me about it.
BALTAZAR: This was simply supposed to be a tuneup for Robin Blake. I didn’t know anything about Montoya and never went into a fight thinking I would lose. It was a good win but I was not overconfident. I was wary and sometimes a little fear goes a long way.
HANLEY: Everyone on the boxing planet was tuned in to CBS for your fight with Robin Blake. This was a war. Tell me about it.
BALTAZAR: Dan, I had no idea who Rockin’ Robin Blake was or how he fought because I never watched films of my opponent. You’re right, it really was a war. I almost had him in the 7th round, but I had lost a lot of blood from a 3rd round cut on my right eye that my corner couldn’t close. I had nothing left when it was stopped in the 9th. I wound up with 18 stitches over the eye after that fight.
HANLEY: Did Blake’s southpaw style throw you?
BALTAZAR: Not at all. I grew up sparring with my brother Frankie who was a southpaw. And to tell you a little secret, I’m left-handed as well. Dad wanted one of us rightie and one leftie when we started out and trained us accordingly. The only thing I do right-handed is fight.
HANLEY: You took a breather after that before taking on Roger Mayweather the following year for your career best win. Tell me about that fight.
BALTAZAR: Roger Mayweather could really hit with the right hand but was a bit lazy. He liked to hold. I just pressed him for 10 rounds.
HANLEY: You had three fights on the trot on CBS. Were you seeing some decent coin with the TV monies?
BALTAZAR: I was seeing decent money but, I don’t know if I was seeing it all. No (laughing), I’m just kidding. My Dad took care of everything very well with the purse.
HANLEY: After the Mayweather fight you had to have been looking in the face of a title shot, however, things got derailed. In your own words, tell me about the events that took place in your life at this time.
BALTAZAR: Around this time I had begun hanging with the movie stars and celebrities. Suddenly, booze and cocaine became a part of my life. I was involved in a car accident that took the life of my best friend, Daryl Rogers, and I was convicted of involuntary vehicular manslaughter. I was sentenced to 56 months in prison, first, in Chino and then in Susanville. I would eventually serve two and a half years, the last year at a Fire Camp, putting out forest fires.
HANLEY: What was it like for a fighter in prison? Was there a measure of respect or were you a target?
BALTAZAR: There was different factions in prison. There were Northern Mexicans and Southern Mexicans and such. And they would always keep an eye out. I was only involved in two fights in prison. And I settled things very quickly.
HANLEY: You resumed your career in October of ‘88 and you were thrown in hard against Miguel Dominguez. I think you could have used a few fights under your belt before meeting this kind of an opponent.
BALTAZAR: Oh, absolutely! You know, I was allowed to train in a gym my last year in prison, but that wasn’t the same as taking on someone like Dominguez. He was a lot tougher than I expected. I ended up stopping him but wound up with my eyes practically closed.
HANLEY: When did Jimmy Montoya enter the picture?
BALTAZAR: That first fight out of prison. Jimmy was a character, but he knew what he was doing.
HANLEY: You ran off five straight wins before being matched with former and future world champ, Buddy McGirt. Tell me about that fight.
BALTAZAR: Buddy McGirt was such a clever fighter. In the 2nd round I caught him solid with a left hook and down he went. It was such a solid shot I remember thinking as I went to a neutral corner, “Oh, my God, he’s not gonna get up!” But he did. I can’t take anything from Buddy. He outboxed me good.
HANLEY: When did you relocate to Arizona?
BALTAZAR: I got an opportunity to spar in Reno with Hector Camacho, who had a title fight upcoming. While there I met a reHANLEYead and relocated to Phoenix after eventually getting married and stayed on after eventually getting divorced.
HANLEY: Around this time you stopped Pedro Laza in 3 rounds. Laza was a very nice boxer with a tight defense and it was a terrific win for you. But you were originally supposed to fight Sammy Fuentes, who was coming off of a world title fight with Julio Cesar Chavez. Why the sub?
BALTAZAR: As near as I can remember, Fuentes pulled out with an injury. This took place over the old USA Thursday night fights.
HANLEY: You know, regarding the Laza fight, I’ll refrain from writing something really cliché about you like, “…he threw a left hook as big as his mullet.” I mean, Holy Jesus, Tony, that hair needed its own zip code.
BALTAZAR: (laughing) Come on, it was the ’80s, what can I say?
HANLEY: You finally got your shot at the brass ring. The WBO junior welterweight title held by Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho. Tell me about the fight.
BALTAZAR: I had been bugging my Dad for that title fight for some time and finally Jimmy Montoya was able to make the fight. Hector and I knew each other’s style well and we had become friends. But Hector was a little too much. I hurt him to the body a couple of times, but he won on points.
HANLEY: Was the Camacho fight your career-high purse?
BALTAZAR: Yes it was. I received $75,000 for that one, but Hector received $1,000,000.
HANLEY: Shortly after this you headed out to Philadelphia and fought Rodney Moore. Tell me about that one.
BALTAZAR: Dan, I beat his ass good and they gave him the fight. They were promoting him in Philly as “the next champion of the world.” I was getting a little tired of the politics in the game.
HANLEY: Evidently somebody was thinking straight on this one since it was you who received the title shot against new 140-pound champ ‘Bolillo’ Gonzalez. But you know, two KO artists going head to head does not bode well for a long fight.
BALTAZAR: It wasn’t. I wobbled Gonzalez in the 1st round with a left hook, but then he caught me with a rabbit punch. My equilibrium was gone and the ref didn’t say a word to him. I lost on the three-knockdown rule.
HANLEY: After retiring you made a brief comeback in 2002 at the age of 41 for one more fight. Was this just a lark?
BALTAZAR: No, I trained very hard for it. It was just something I had to get out of me. I just wanted to make sure I was done with it.
HANLEY: Over the span of your career, was there any fight you wanted that you just could not get a signature on a contract?
BALTAZAR: Oh, yeah! I wanted ‘Boom-Boom’ Mancini so bad. We both had similar styles and I thought it would have been a great fight. But we just couldn’t make it.
HANLEY: Tony, what have you been doing with yourself since the career ended?
BALTAZAR: I’m a salesman. I sell automotive glass. I also do some boxing instruction in my spare time. But I’m very excited about something I’ll be tackling up in Winnipeg. I was contacted by the Canadian government to talk to kids on a government Indian Reservation on the perils of drugs and gangs. The way I look at this is, if I can save one life, I’ll have accomplished something.
This interview originally appeared in The Cyber Boxing Zone. Special thanks to Dan Hanley and Stephen Gordon for permission to reprint it. The Cyber Boxing Zone is the place to go to get your boxing history fix.