By John Philip Wyllie
Former California Bantamweight Boxing Champion “Bumpy” Parra enjoyed a highly successful professional career from 1962-1968. At one point, the San Ysidro native was the leading contender for the world title. Now 66, his days in the ring are long behind him, but Parra’s enthusiasm for the sport has never waned. Neither has his interest in helping those in the local Latino community.
Since the early 1970s Parra has been instrumental in creating amateur boxing clubs for local “at risk” youths, in San Ysidro, Chula Vista, National City, Escondido and Logan Heights. In the process, he has rubbed elbows with many of the sport’s elite fighters including Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard, Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson.
“Once my career ended my dad asked me to get involved with amateur boxing in San Ysidro. At that time there was nothing going on for kids in that area. With the help of a few friends Parra obtained the boxing equipment and the program development information he needed to create the first of several boxing clubs that he would establish.
“I was working at Convair at the time, but on the weekends I would bring all of my equipment to a park in San Ysidro where all of the gang members would hang out. These guys all thought they were bad asses, but I gained their respect after I would box with them,” Parra said.
Through the help of local educator Jaime Mercado, Parra obtained the use of an abandoned church building to use as his training facility. In time, Parra’s ability to transform gang members into disciplined boxers became well known. Soon, other communities were requesting his help in setting up their programs. This he did.
With the support of the Chicano Federation Parra organized tournaments for these young boxers and these events were a major success. He next helped to develop the Chicano Athletic Association. The idea was to create opportunities not only for boxers, but for athletes in various sports.
“We were trying to develop something (specifically) for Latino kids, kids that often were not involved in sports. Football, for example was one sport that involved few Latino kids primarily because of their (lack of) size.” Sports like boxing level the playing field for Hispanic athletes in that participants compete only against boxers in the same weight class. While Parra is no longer directly involved, most of these programs still exist today.
Several days a week Parra can be found at gyms across the county helping the next generation of boxers learn the discipline that helped him to succeed.
“I don’t discriminate. I’ll work with anybody that wants to be a fighter (regardless of ethnicity), but they have to be serious about participating in this type of sport. I work mainly with older, established fighters, but if a young kid comes in and I see that he is serious and he is going to stay with it, I will work with him. A lot of people think they want to learn how to fight, but once they realize what it entails (they give up).”
While boxing is often criticized as being a brutal and dangerous sport, Parra is quick to point out its benefits.
“Boxing provides a great workout both physically and mentally. You can gain a lot of self-confidence from it and it is one of the leading ways of getting your body well conditioned. With boxing, you not only get a great aerobic workout, but at the same time you learn self-defense.”