NORWALK – Norwalk recognized Joey Olivo during Tuesday's city council meeting for his immeasurable contributions to the community he has served as a boxing trainer since 1992.
Olivo became the first American to win the WBC Light Flyweight Championship in 1985.
After he retired from boxing with an impressive record of 39 wins and only 8 losses, he began paying back by training up-and-coming fighters from Norwalk and surrounding communities.
Being 5’9” and weighing 108 pounds soaking wet, he had to earn everything he has in life. Nothing came easy for Olivo except maybe keeping off the weight.
As a skinny kid in the barrio, Olivo had to learn to fight early on to be able to survive the mean streets of East Los Angeles. Growing up in the hood blessed Olivo his blue collar work ethic and ultimately his edge.
It made it easy for him to fearlessly travel abroad into hostile environments and fight the local favorites on their own turf.
He knew the scales were tipped in their favor but he didn’t care.
“When I went out of the country, I knew my chances of losing went up. I had to fight their boy, their judges, and their people so it was a mess. But then again, you got to go where you got to go,” said Olivo.
All the best prospects and most valid contenders in his weight class were in Central and South America or somewhere in Asia.
“My first loss was to Martin Vargas in Santiago, Chile. I was 25-0 at the time. I was beating him the whole fight and even afterwards he came up to me and said in spanish, ‘What can I say, you are in my country.’”
He can laugh about it now, as he recalls the exchange in the ring.
Back then, the payouts for his division were about the only thing lighter than Olivo.
In a 1985 article featured in the LA Times, the great Richard Hoffer writes, “Boxing’s junior-flyweight division requires little of its contenders. You can get by with a supersonic metabolism, a tolerance for anonymity and the willingness to work for minimum wages when everybody else in boxing is pulling down million-dollar purses and griping about it.”
Olivo never did it for the money. He did it for the love of the fight. A true fighter’s fighter.
He has shared his passion with the last few generations of pugilists at the Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex for the last 25 years.
“The kids keep me in shape. I enjoy my work. I love what I do. I have been boxing since I was 8 years old and I am still involved with boxing. It is in my blood. I can’t leave it!” exclaimed Olivio in a quick interview following his award reception.
Olivo trained Abner Mares, the current WBA Featherweight Champion, who would come all the way to Norwalk on a bus from Hawaiian Gardens everyday to train with the local legend.
Now Olivo is training Mares’ younger twin brothers who hope to follow in their old brother’s footsteps, though they understand that they have some pretty big shoes to fill.
For more information about joining Olivo in the gym, call the Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex at (562) 929-5566.
By William Odis Martin | Follow him on Twitter here