Sports of Hard Knocks
El Paso’s hardest hitting sports include boxing, lucha libre & roller derby
Story by Lisa Kay Tate
Sometimes in sports you just have to get your hands dirty. Beyond the ball, puck or bat, there are those who compete with their fists, feet and wit. They grapple, bout and brawl, all in the name of victory.
These are the sports of hard knocks, like boxing and mixed martial arts, roller derby, lucha libre and professional wrestling.
For those who love their competitions with a little more grit, the borderland has its share of “down and dirty” sports, not just for those interested in cheering on their teams in the spectator seat, but for those who want to participate.
‘Hard Hits, Big Falls’
El Paso’s ladies of roller derby are known for their rough and rowdy bouts, as well as their propensity for providing a thorough night of entertainment.
There are currently two prominent leagues in the city, one offering banked track bouts, and one with flat track action, both with high speed and high energy. Both leagues may also have big battles on the track but they have big hearts as well by supporting regional nonprofits and charities.
El Paso’s first official roller derby league, Sun City Roller Girls, was founded in June of 2008 with their first bout in February 2009. The league still maintains a popular following and in 2014 purchased a 15-piece banked track they call “La Llorona.”
“There are only 25 leagues in the United States that have banked tracks,” Sun City Roller Girls spokesperson Frida Krueger said. “Five of those leagues are in Texas.”
Krueger said the Roller Girls cover a diverse age range.
“Members range from the ages 18, to our oldest player which is 47, and happens to be a kick-butt grandmother,” she said. “We are comprised of five teams: Chuco Town Chulas, Las Catrinas, Las Viudas Negras, Las Diablas, and the Sexecutioners. Each team right now is averaging 11 to 12 girls per team.”
This age range is especially impressive as Krueger explained roller derby is a contact sport played on a banked track by 10 players on quad roller skates.
Roller derby is straightforward to learn, but hard to play. Both flat track and banked track games consist of “jammers” (with stars on their helmets), who score points getting around the track and lapping opponents. Other players include “pivots,” known by the stripe on their helmets, who work to keep their pack together. “Blockers,” of course, block the opponents, and stick together in a group called “the pack.”
“During a jam, both teams have the opportunity to score points by having one player on each team race each other in an attempt to repeatedly lap everyone on the other team, while the remaining players attempt to stop the other team’s scoring player and assist their own,” she said.
Many of the bouts are comprised of the different teams in the league taking on each other, but there’s also a league “travel team,” which Krueger said will head to Phoenix in May for the “Battle on the Banked” tournament.
Krueger said patrons can certain expect to see some action at these bouts.
“Expect hard hits, big falls, pushing, tripping, forearms, and unnecessary roughness, to name a few penalties that may land you in the penalty box.”
The Sun City Roller Girls are now in their ninth season, which runs February through November at El Paso County Coliseum’s Judging Arena.
Krueger encourages people to attend their family-friendly bouts not only for the action, but also for other features like life halftime bands and raffles, the proceeds of which go towards a different nonprofit organization each month.
Krueger noted that roller derby is accepting to all body types, and ages. The players have weekly training and muscle building along with the endurance it takes to skate on the league’s banked track.
“The beauty of roller derby is you will find all walks of life,” she said. “Sixty women varying in ages and jobs coming together.”
El Paso Roller Derby is El Paso’s only Women’s Flat Track Derby Association that competes on a national level, with their A Team, Tex Pistols, B Team Pistol WhipHers, and two home teams, the Hooligans and Beast Mode.
El Paso Roller Derby Board President Bonnie “Mono Bono” Barrera describes the sport as a fast action, heavy hitting, cardio intensive sport; something she said is particularly true with flat track.
“Basically, that means the hits are more aggressive and the falls hurt even more because we play on hard concrete or wood, unlike our banked track sisters,” she said. “At one point, we actually were a part of the other roller derby league here in town. However, in September of 2010, we decided that we wanted to be the ‘bad girls,’ which we are and broke off from that league. Now we are our own independent league and play competitively against other teams around the Southwest region.”
Barrera said they are always recruiting skaters and volunteers. No experience or previously derby knowledge is necessary.
As a non-profit organization themselves, she said, El Paso Roller Derby loves helping out with community events, school programs, or charities.
This year’s bouts begin in June with travels to San Antonio, but there will also be home and away games this fall against teams from Juarez and Colorado.
Barrera said flat track roller derby can set up a track anywhere.
“If we get hit out, we are more than likely to land in a fan’s lap,” she warned. “That to me is pretty exciting and it’s also more interactive and personal.”
Although their flat track bouts differ greatly from Sun City Roller Derby’s banked bouts, both leagues are made up of members from all walks of life.
“El Paso Roller Derby is made up of members from different backgrounds with a variety of occupations and skills,” Barrera said. “Not one member in the league is the same as the other.”
She emphasized the league isn’t just about the sport.
“When we have bouts, we invite local vendors to come display their work and have food, beer, games, music, prizes, and an after party for everyone to enjoy,” she said. “In a way, it’s like bringing the El Paso community together, which is the best part.”
Battling at the Border
Lucha libre style wrestling has always been a favorite sport along the border.
“Luchadors” adorn souvenir t-shirts and make appearances at events like the upcoming Tequila, Taco & Cerveza Festival May 21. Even the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball team celebrated the sport by giving out lucha libre masks to fans during one home game last year, and is planning another Lucha Libre Night Aug. 24.
Lucha libre, Spanish for “free fighting,” is a freestyle form or professional wrestling. National and internationally known luchadors not only host matches in the area regularly, they often make public appearances for charitable and publicity purposes. Los Angeles-based lucha libre and burlesque group Lucha VaVoom has visited youth at Providence Children’s Hospital. When the feature documentary “Lucha Mexico” was screened in El Paso last July, father and son Mexican legends Blue Demon and Blue Demon Jr., met with wrestling fans at Alamo Drafthouse.
In the past, only the most avid fans knew where to catch matches. Today, a new generation of Lucha Libre fans are joining in, and bringing the sport to more and more of the community.
One of the easiest ways to enjoy it by attending weekly tapings of “Lucha Frontera,” featuring the New Era Wrestling, a weekly wrestling cable television show featuring elite wrestlers battling at the border. The program airs at 10 a.m. Sundays on Estrella TV El Paso 9.2 or 811 on Spectrum Digital Cable. Those who would rather see the events in person can attend a taping of the show every other Friday including April 7 and 21 at 8 p.m. at their ring at 10400 Dyer.
New Era Wrestling, founded by Jose Ontiveros, features both male and female wrestlers including fan favorites like Delilah, The Patriot and El Tirano.
Peter Gonzalez of Empty Pockets Entertainment, which produces the show, said the sport is colorful and entertaining, but still intensively competitive.
“Yes, there is a pageantry of costumes, lights and story lines, but there is also an athletic prowess to perform the moves that these wrestlers do everyday in practice and during the events,” Gonzalez said. “Since the show has been airing on Feb. 19, I have witnessed two broken clavicles, a broken ankle, a cracked tailbone, and many sprains. If this is not down and dirty I don’t know what is!”
Gonzalez encourages attendance, as well as tuning in, because the sport is always fast paced and unpredictable.
“This is highflying nonstop action where anything can happen,” he said. “These athletes use every part of the ring and at times the action spills outside the ring, so there is never a dull moment.”
Nationally touring shows like (pro wrestling’s) WWE are still big draws in the area.
Kyle Pierson of New Mexico State University Auxiliary Administration helps promote a myriad of entertainment, from music to comedy. He said WWE is definitely one of the most popular events.
“The audience reaction is always tremendous, which is why they make Pan American Center a regular stop,” he said. “Some shows that return annually show signs of wear. That’s not the case with WWE. They return about every 10 months or so, and our last show was a sellout
“WWE even encountered a conflict with their TV schedule and made a shift in order to make sure that Las Cruces remained on the tour, because we bring in such large crowds,” Pierson said.
Like other “down and dirty’ sports, Pierson said WWE’s “Superstars” may be a rough bunch in the ring, but he feels it’s their personas outside of the arena that keep fans coming back.
“They are engaged in charitable work, pop up in movies, and often take time to sign autographs and take selfies with fans before the show,” he said.
Boxing is life!
For those wanting to hop in the ring, El Paso has several boxing clubs, coaches and trainers ready to help them out. These include Borderland Brawlers Boxing Club, Backstreet Gym, Fighter Physique, Border Association Amateur Boxing, and others.
“Boxing is life,” says Borderland Brawlers Boxing Club coach Gerardo Hernandez, “so much so you can see it in a bout.”
Maintaining this attitude is one way to keep focused, he explained.
“You work and work to try to move forward and there is always an obstacle in front of you, whether it’s your opponent our your own self and at the end you see the outcome, if your work pays off or if you have to work harder and sometimes you may even get robbed,” Hernandez said. “But that’s life. You have to overcome all these obstacles and reap its rewards.”
The boxing club is located downtown in the Lion’s Den Total Fitness, which hosts one-on-one boxing lessons by certified coaches for any fitness level, sparring, and various bouts for both male and female boxers.
Hernandez said he encourages people to experience how much effort, hard work and time goes into each bout, no matter the age of the participant.
“I ask people to come to the bouts and see the hard work these kids and young adults put in, and support these coaches and official judges who volunteer their time for these kids and young adults who sacrifice their time of play,” he said. “Hopefully (they can) obtain the ultimate goal of achievement, and maybe just maybe greatness and financial freedom.”
He admitted not everyone can make it all way in boxing, but he feels there is always a victorious feel to just being able to participate and work towards success.
“To come from the ashes and make a mark for their kids and grandkids to talk about,” Hernandez said. “Boxing is my passion and the passion of so many others, but only a few can break through. As fighters we see that the fight is always worth struggle.”
Two 18-year-old fighters, Victor Aranda and Jorge Tovar, both members of El Paso Regional Golden Gloves, earned El Paso its first two state boxing championships this year, the first for the city since 2005.
Golden Gloves hosts Olympic-style boxing tournament every February. Both Aranda and Tovar are now eligible for the National Golden Gloves competition in Louisiana in May.
El Paso is also home to Rafael García’s Boxing Museum, 6519 N. Mesa. The museum showcases the achievements of “The Legend” Rafael García, as well as those of other boxing and Lucha Libre greats, along with art and other exhibits. Information, hours: 346-5085.
Having worked with the greatest legendary fighters such as Roberto Durán, Alexis Arguello, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and more than a dozen other champions, García is considered the best cut-man in the history of the sport of boxing.
El Paso’s best boxers — including female featherweight champion Jennifer Han — are often on the card of major professional matches hosted at the El Paso County Coliseum and the Don Haskins Center.
Find the fight
Want to learn more about the next bout? Here are where to get a hold on these down and dirty sports groups:
El Paso Roller Derby
Bouts are selected Saturdays at Nations Tobin Recreation Center, 8831 Railroad. Next announced home game is Sept. 16. Tickets: $8 in advance; $10 at the door; military discounts available; free for kids 10 and younger with paying adult.
Sun City Roller Girls
Games are at El Paso County Coliseum Judging Arena, 4100 E. Paisano. Tickets: $7 in advance; $10 at the door; military discounts available; free for age 10 and younger. Advance tickets at Pershing Inn, All That Music, Blue Panda, or any roller girl.
Facebook at scrgbankedtrack
Tapings are 8 p.m. every other Friday at 10400 Dyer; doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets start at $7 at the door; military discounts. Show airs at 10 a.m. Sundays on Estrella TV El Paso 9.2 or 811 on Spectrum Digital Cable
Facebook at LuchaFrontera
YouTube Channel at Lucha Frontera
Boxing venues and classes:
• Borderland Brawlers Boxing Club
The Lion’s Den, 209 Texas, 626-8682
Facebook at BorderlandBrawlers
• Backstreet Gym
4798 N Mesa
Facebook at BackStreetGymEP
• Fighter Physique
Facebook at FighterPhysique Gym
• Border Association Amateur Boxing
(Far West Texas local subordinate to
USA Boxing, covers boxing Anthony
Facebook at BorderBoxing
Boxing mentor McKay still going strong at 82
Boxing and kickboxing coach Tim McKay has been involved in the sport for several decades, and in 2010 was given the first El Paso Golden Gloves Lifetime Achievement Award.
Despite battling health issues including cancer and heart disease, McKay is still giving lessons at age 82.
“I practiced boxing since I was 13, but rarely, because I was always working, and could only get to a boxing gym once a week,” McKay said. “Still, I loved the violent sport, as I was in street fights very often and wanted desperately to become more skilled. And I did. I have to give (boxing mentor) Santos Quijano so much credit for teaching me boxing skills and later in life, training skills.”
McKay, who served in the U.S. Marines and the El Paso Police Department, and worked at jobs ranging from shoeshine boy at San Jacinto Plaza and horse groomer in Tijuana, ran two gyms including Eastside Boxing Gym,
In the boxing world, he has also served as an official of the Golden Gloves, and served as a principal promoter of the first-ever “Full Contact Boxing and Martial Arts Fights” in El Paso in 1975. He also penned a book on the history of celebrated El Paso boxer Cliff “Magic” Thomas, the first El Paso athlete to win a World Combat Championship.
“It was a PKA Featherweight title in March of 1980,” McKay said. “He was not only the first native to win a title, but he did it four more times before retiring and two more times with comebacks in his 40s. Such a remarkable athlete.”
McKay is in the process of turning his booklet on “El Paso Boxing Legends” into a full manuscript due out this summer.
McKay has been in the sport so long, he has also amassed a collection of personal boxing stories, including a favorite about a hardworking “youngster with a ‘Superman Bod’” whom McKay refers to as “J.” The young boxer was trained by the late Mauricio ‘Chito’ Barragan.
“After a few months of training, and J looking fast and ferocious, Chito arranged his first bout, a smoker at the old ‘Cowbarn’ on Paisano by the Coliseum,” McKay recalled. “When it was ‘bell time’, J appeared fit and ready and full of confidence. However, he showed little will to mix it up in the first round. More worrisome, he just ran around in circles not willing to get ‘down and dirty.’ Near the end of the round, his opponent closed the gap on J and caught him with a one-two along the ropes. Believe it or not, J screamed and started yelling at the referee that his opponent had something sharp in his gloves.”
McKay said the referee stopped the bout to look in the opponent’s glove, but didn’t find anything. Barrigan then jumped in the ring, pushed the referee aside, and said, “let me look.”
“Chito used both of his thumbs to spread ‘J’s eye’s and then said, ‘aha,’” McKay said. “Sort of confused, J said, ‘what do you see coach?’ Chito replied, ‘Easy, it is spelled ‘F-E-A-R.’”
One of the ways McKay has helped recognize others in the sports of boxing and martial arts is serving in 1996 as one of the founders of the El Paso Boxing/
Martial Arts Hall of Fame. The annual banquet is usually held in June.
“I served as the ‘First President’ and again as president in 2000, and executive director ever since,” he said. “I have the distinct honor of being inducted twice in the Hall of Fames. In 1997 I was inducted into the Administration Category for the El Paso Boxing/Martial Arts Hall of Fames and in 2013 I was inducted as a boxing trainer in the El Paso Boxing Hall of Fame.”
Although he never fought in an official match, McKay has participated in boxing smokers (unsanctioned fights), served as a respected sparring partner for others and even helped trained boxer-cum-actor Randall “Tex” Cobb.
Despite spending five days a week in chemotherapy, McKay said his motto in life remains, “Do something every day that makes you happy.”
This is one reason he’s still fighting:
“At 82 I still refuse to go down.”
Copyright 2017 by Cristo Rey Communications