West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame: 2021 Awards!
Exclusive Interview with President/Founder Rick Farris
By Michele Chong

As the pandemic continues to change the way we all work and live, the sport of boxing is slowly coming back to life with live fights (no audience) beginning to air again since June. All large in-person gatherings have been temporarily put on hold though, with many events postponed or canceled.

But the coronavirus has definitely NOT knocked out the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame's (WCBHOF) annual Banquet of Champions. Never down for the count, the WCBHOF's ceremony will now take place next year.

Founded by Rick Farris and Dan Hanley, their yearly gala was originally slated for October 4, 2020 but due to the COVID-19 shutdown, it had to be rescheduled for March 14, 2021. The Southern California event will now be even more highly anticipated as the countdown to the Class of 2021 inductions starts now.

Not only is there a new date for the event, there is also a brand new location (LOEWS Hollywood) for the awards ceremony. And this boxing bash has already SOLD OUT! The lucky ticket holders will get to witness a pound-for-pound group of inductees including Oscar De La Hoya, Eder Jofre, Ceferino Garcia, Michael Nunn, Gabriel Ruelas, Rafael Ruelas, Johnny Tapia, Adrian Arreola, Sue "Tiger Lilly" Fox, Art Hafey, Richard Steele, Robert Diaz, Roy Englebrecht, Lee Espinoza, Douglass Fischer and Alberto Reyes.

I caught up with former fighter, boxing veteran and noted historian Rick Farris to hear all about his 2021 event. His career has taken him from a young boy in famed boxing gyms (that no longer exist) to the storied Olympic Auditorium to the Hollywood sound stages and exotic locations around the globe while working in the lighting department on movie sets and TV shows.

If you ever get a chance to talk to him, it is like opening up a virtual time capsule into the sweet science. The ex-pugilist provides vivid and colorful recollections of the amazing glory days in the fight game. He was there in person as countless contenders and champions traded leather in some of the most revered arenas in the Southland. He trained with and worked with so many heavy hitters in their prime. Rick is known as one of the most valued historians in the biz and his love for boxing has not waned.

I've been fortunate to have attended all of his WCBHOF banquets since its inception in 2015. Farris' signature style is to present classy, unique, entertaining and memorable events with all the attention going to the chosen inductees. Combining his Tinseltown experience with his boxing knowledge is a one-two punch for these WCBHOF awards ceremonies. His attention to detail and his undying passion to honor the legends is what drives his productions. And even though there are hundreds of spectators in attendance, the WCBHOF festivities feel like a very intimate affair. There are highlight reels, award-winning art, boxing memorabilia on display and legendary heroes sprinkled throughout the room, dining right next to you. Rick and his Board of Directors do a bang-up job making sure all goes well.

In our exclusive chat, listen as Rick describes what being ringside was like in earlier decades, why he wants to pay tribute to the kings of the sport, and which superstar guests will be in attendance!

Michele Chong: 

Hi Rick, tell me about your original event and how the pandemic has altered everyone’s plans? 

Rick Farris:

Michele, I began planning this about a year before our last event in 2018. It was going to be held in the Fall of 2019, in a new venue, the LOEWS Hollywood Hotel which is in the heart of Hollywood, Highland Avenue at Hollywood Blvd. The LOEWS Hotel owns the Dolby Theatre, which is next door and the home of the annual Academy Awards. 

Our WCBHOF event coordinator, Dimas Hern, has a strong relationship with the venue and handles much of their business related to the Oscars, etc. However, a health issue I had to deal with put the event on hold until October 2020. The event was well underway and tickets sold (nearly sold out) and then came COVID-19, and when it was clear that I would not be able to put 550 into the LOEWS ballroom in October, we cut our table count and rescheduled to March 14, 2020. 

MC: What can you share about your upcoming 2021 awards banquet? 

RF: I've always liked to blend a little of the entertainment industry with our boxing events as that is exactly what Aileen Eaton and Don Chargin did in the 1960s-70s. When I fought at the Olympic Auditorium on Thursday nights I'd see a "Who's Who" of the entertainment industry sitting ringside. My manager Johnny Flores would point out stars at ringside as we waited for Jimmy Lennon to introduce us. Connie Stevens, Ryan O'Neal, Burt Reynolds, Chuck Connors, Bill Cosby, Mickey Cohen with Edie Williams, Joey Bishop, and many more. 

That was 50 years ago. Look who is "stage side" for our WCBHOF events, Ryan O'Neal. Ryan also brings the coolest of guests, his friends and family, world champions and boxing Hall of Famers. And there are many more. 

Actor Mickey Rourke (who also had a brief pro boxing career) will induct Johnny Tapia. Mickey worked as a cornerman for Tapia in a title fight back in the day and was a trusted friend of the champ.

And there is more in the works. A good omen is that Muhammad Ali's Star on the Hollywood "Walk of Fame" is located on a wall in front of the DOLBY Theatre, about 100 steps from the LOEWS Hotel front entrance. We will be about one block down Hollywood Blvd. from the legendary Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where former heavyweight champ Max Baer died of a massive heart attack in 1959 at age 50. It was also the home of the first Academy Award event in 1927.

MC: What motivates you to give your heart and soul to honor those in boxing? 

RF: I have a lot of time and a lot of energy. I get bored very easily. I still workout boxing style several times a week, still work as an "Active Retiree" in the film industry when the CBS Studio Center calls (I live 1/2 block from the Studio), I write my memories of boxing, which are crystal clear. I know that if I don't share a story about a legend that did something before my eyes that I'll never forget, nobody else can or will. It's those unexpected "Day in the Life" things I stumbled upon that best define the world of boxing. 

MC: After all you’ve been through in boxing, how do you stay positive and so passionate about the fight game? You know I’ve seen many people become bitter as the years go on. Boxing is a tough sport! 

RF: If I don't like something related to boxing today, it just makes me appreciate the way it was in the past. And the way it was is the way it has always been, a very tough, cold blooded crooked world, that I am so grateful to have been a part of. It's like an unforgettable love affair with the wrong woman!

MC: (Laughs) Thanks for all you do, Rick. Looking forward to your 2021 awards show.

RF: You are one of the most dedicated people in boxing who chooses to honor and respect both the glory days and current times in the sport. 

MC: Thank you! I really love hearing about the past days of prizefighting as much as I enjoy watching current fighters. Nothing beats the sport of boxing.

The 2021 West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame is now just seven months away. Proof that the pandemic has not claimed victory. This upcoming fiesta is sure to be a KO day for all. There will be hundreds of familiar faces and boxing luminaries coming from all over the map from Michael Nunn (coming from Davenport Iowa) to Eder Jofre (traveling from Brazil).

Congratulations to all of the new Inductees and I hope everyone stays safe and healthy till we meet again!

Photos by Michele Chong/Flier courtesy of Rick Farris