1977 – The Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas, Nev.
The sign outside the hotel read: “World Championship – Full-Contact Karate – Three Big Matches.”
I signed in at the desk, showing the clerk my press pass. I was there to cover the fight for Black Belt magazine, for which I was a reporter. The main fight on the card was between world middleweight champion Benny “The Jet” Urquidez vs. Howard Jackson – a tough black fighter from back East.
In truth, I was really there to see the second fight on the card, which featured a nine-round match between “Blinky” Rodriguez (Benny’s brother-in-law) and the star of the show – Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. Wallace had earned his nickname because of his ability to kick from virtually any direction. Wallace rarely lost. Typically, his arsenal of kicks left his opponent out cold on the mat.
Once inside, I noticed a strange aura about the hotel. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
I went up to my room and unpacked my bags. The fight wasn’t until the next day, so I lay down to catch a nap.
A bit of background: Blinky and Benny were a part of the Urquidez family – former gang-bangers who’d roamed the streets of the San Fernando Valley since the late ’60s. The Urquidezes were a feared bunch. You didn’t mess with them.
Somewhere in the early ’70s, the Urquidezes had turned their lives over to the Lord. Now, their dojos were taking gangbangers off the streets and winning people over to the Lord, through the discipline of the martial arts. That was 40-some years ago. They still engage in that work today.
Wallace was managed by Don Quine, a wealthy businessman. There was no love lost between Quine’s people and the Urquidezes, who usually took the rap for being “dirty Mexicans” and “stinking Jesus freaks.”
I awoke early the next morning and met with Blinky and Benny in the hotel coffee shop. I remarked to Blinky – with whom I had the closer friendship – of the strange “vibe” I’d picked up on in the hotel.
“Oh yeah,” said Blinky, without batting an eyelash. “It’s evil – that’s what you’re feeling.”
Apparently a good part of the fight crowd was composed of members of the Mexican Mafia (“La Familia”), who were there to see their fighters whip the Urquidez fighters. Blinky said he’d felt the vibe, too. He said his morning prayer over the meal. After eating, Rodriguez retired to his room to get some rest before the fight.
Fight night: Even though it was billed as the main event, Benny’s match against Howard Jackson was the first fight on the card. Benny KO’d Jackson in Round 6 with a spinning back kick, followed by a vicious uppercut to the jaw that left Jackson out cold for three minutes.
The house erupted. Moments later, Blinky Rodriquez climbed through the ropes to a smattering of applause. Cleary the partisan crowd was there to see their boy, Wallace, give Blinky a good beating.
Ding! Round 1.
Blinky and Wallace circle one another. Wallace tags Blinky with one of his famed high kicks, but it misses Blinky by a mile. Blinky returns the blow with a snap kick to the side of Wallace’s leg – a move designed to take power out of the legs.
Each round is the same. Wallace throws dozens of kicks and punches, but most of them miss their mark. Meanwhile, Blinky continues to nail Wallace with every sort of combination possible.
By the end of the ninth round, Wallace’s face is chock bull of bruises. His legs are covered with large purple knots. Blinky is unmarked.
There was absolutely no doubt about it. Though there had been no knockouts, clearly Blinky had outpointed Wallace.
As is traditional, the two fighters stood in the middle of the ring – the referee standing between them – holding each of their hands. Then – to the amazement of everyone in the room – Wallace’s hand is raised. Even Wallace looks shocked.
The cries started immediately. “Fix!” “Fix!” Soda cans fly into the ring – some of them hitting the referee.
Oddly, Blinky doesn’t leave the ring. He stands directly in ring center, eyes closed. He holds his right hand – one finger extended – a sign of giving glory to the Lord. He remains like that until a hush finally falls over the crowd.
As the audience shuffled out, I got in the elevator to go upstairs to Blinky’s room. It so happened that I got in an elevator full of people from Don Quine’s camp. One of them – a nasty looking fellow with a metal hand with a silver hook on the end of it – pinned me with a hostile stare.
“You’re friends with the Urquidezes, aren’t you?” the man snarled.
“That’s right,” I said. “I’m also here to report on the fight.”
“And who do you think just won that fight?” the steel-armed man asked, inching toward me.
“I think that Blinky won,” I said.
Before I knew it, the metal arm was crushing my windpipe. I couldn’t breathe.
“F—ing Mexicans – they’re ruining the sport,” the one-armed man spat.
“Tell them that we’re going to take care of them – and their boy, Blinky.”
I was about to pass out, when the grasp on my neck was finally released. My legs were shaking, and the elevator was spinning.
I stayed on the elevator until the 15th floor, which is where Blinky’s room was located.
When I got there, I knocked on Blinky’s door. He opened it. “What happened, man?” he asked. Apparently, I was white as a ghost.
Then something strange happened. I was literally pushed to the floor. Not by Blinky. Not by anyone in the room (nobody else was in the room) – but literally by a force that me pinned me to the floor, where I lay, flat on my stomach.
Suddenly, I began crying uncontrollably. I simply couldn’t stop.
Blinky knelt down beside me, and wrapped his arms around my back.
“Pray with me,” he bade.
I’d never really prayed with anyone before and, the fact was, I really didn’t want to. Blinky was already mumbling some biblical prayers, as well as talking in tongues, though I didn’t know what “tongues” was at the time.
Soon, I found myself praying along with him. Occasionally, I would utter words in a strange language. I didn’t know what I was saying, but I just kept on praying. Occasionally another voice – the rational one – would come in and say, “This is crazy! Just get out of here.”
But the force still had me pinned to the ground.
I don’t know how long I remained on the floor. It could have been minutes. It could have been hours.
Finally I got up. Blinky sat up on the edge of his bed. I sat on mine.
“Do you accept Jesus Christ as Savior of your life?” Blinky asked.
What I wanted to say was, “No way!” But instead, I uttered the words, “Yes, I do.”
To be continued next week …