Chip off the old redwood

Aug. 10, 1970
Aug. 10, 1970

Table of Contents
Aug. 10, 1970

One Night
Splashy Struggle
He Whistles
The Old Man
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Chip off the old redwood

Soft-spoken and hard-hitting, California's Ray Lunny, the top U.S. Olympic hope, was taught to box by his father, the Stanford coach.

The two of them, the old man and the kid, walking down East Santa Clara Street in San Jose, turned at the El Robozo Restaurant and began climbing the carpeted stairway to Babe Griffin's gym on the second floor. Sam (Turk) Kazaka went up first, because there wasn't room on the stairs for two at a time. Ray Lunny watched him limp up the steps and stopped with him when Turk paused to read one of the faded yellow fight posters that papered the walls. Then the old man lit a foul cigar. The old bones were creaking and the stairs were hard to manage.

This is an article from the Aug. 10, 1970 issue Original Layout

The stairs led to three rooms that once served as a garish dance hall. The jukebox, tables and crepe paper were replaced by punching bags, a scale, a 7-Up wall clock and the ring. Turk placed himself on the electric heater next to the ring and watched the shadowboxing. Soon Ray was ready, and Turk helped his 19-year-old protégé into gloves.

Ray sparred with an older fighter who, only a year ago, was a highly ranked featherweight contender. Now, though, he was declining. A small Filipino manager stood by the heater next to Turk. "A good boxer is not all muscle, he must have something up here," he said, touching a finger to his head. "Now that guy that Ray's with, he can take a whipping and he can give one out—but for what? He's been fighting professionally for more than seven years but look at Ray outsmart him. At his weight right now there is no amateur around who can stand Ray Lunny. He's too smart."

Turk smiled, nodding his approval, and dropped a long ash from his cigar. He is 81, and was a professional fighter himself just after the turn of the century. Watching Ray fight is a good way to spend his retirement and bring back those years.

Raymond Edward Lunny III has sparred more than 2,000 rounds at Babe Griffin's gym. The two hours he spends there each day have shaped him into the AAU featherweight champ and the United States' most talented amateur. Thus far this year he has also won the San Francisco Examiner Golden Gloves, the Pacific Coast and National AAU titles and the North American Amateur Championship. His most impressive achievement, however, came last February when he left Cañada College in Redwood City and traveled to Russia as part of an AAU national team, where he became the only U.S. double winner.

In Moscow his opponent was Boris Kuznetsov, a brawler who had won 137 out of 140 fights. Lunny's speed and elusiveness so frustrated the Russian, though, that Kuznetsov actually tackled Lunny around the waist in the second round. The crowd of 15,000 at the Sports Center whistled abusively at their countryman for this tactic. Ray opened a cut over Kuznetsov's right eye moments later and went on to win a unanimous decision in the three-round fight. In Minsk a few days later, against lefthander Vitali Kalmykov, Lunny fought more aggressively, moving toward Kalmykov's powerful left hand, following right leads to the body with staggering lefts to the Russian's head. He won the decision easily.

Returning to California, Lunny was greeted proudly by the citizens of Redwood City, who were pleased to claim The Boy Who Beat the Russians as their own. The City Council gave him a plaque and the Peninsula All Sports Club named him its "favorite son."

It was no upset. Lunny has a handsome face and an engaging smile, and his hair is short and neatly combed. He is proud to hear The Star-Spangled Banner, and when Ray heard a spectator heckle the anthem at the North American championships in Vancouver, B.C. last June, he declared: "I could kill him as easily as shake his hand."

"Ray is a sweet kid," says his father, Raymond Edward Lunny, onetime ranked lightweight and for 22 years the boxing coach at Stanford University. "People meet Ray and see how polite and soft-spoken he is and when they hear he's a boxer, well, they just can't believe it."

It was Ray's lack of size—plus his father's subtle guidance—that led him into the ring. Ray was the smallest member of his first-grade class at Roy Cloud Grammar School in Redwood City. "I was 4'3" and weighed all of 50 pounds," he says. "I felt left out." In tears, he ran for home the first time he was challenged to a fight.

The following evening Mr. Lunny returned home from Stanford with a pair of Ray Flores boxing gloves, but a week passed before Ray finally picked them up and began sparring with his father. "I never put any pressure on him," Mr. Lunny says. "He always took the initiative by asking me to work with him."

When Ray was 8 Mr. Lunny dressed him in a sport coat, white shirt and red bow tie and drove him to a boys' club. Once there, little Ray was lined up with children his age. They all wore T shirts and blue jeans and when they saw Ray they yelled in unison, "I want to fight him." After several fights, however, they learned that young Lunny changed his image as easily as he changed his clothes.

Lunny developed his boxing at boys' clubs in San Francisco and in his home town at the Redwood City Police Youth Club. Later he accepted bouts in such out-of-the-way rings as the basement of the Union Hall Building in Modesto, where the floor was covered with sawdust and the temperature approached 100°. Added to these conditions was the rather unnerving fact that the referee was the manager of Lunny's opponent.

"When he first started out in amateur competition I'd wake up every morning at about 2 o'clock and pace the floor and drink coffee until daybreak," Mr. Lunny says. "If he had got hit I wouldn't have allowed him to continue boxing. But he developed. He became a classy little fighter. Someday he wants to turn pro.

"His mother is against that idea, and already she is resentful because his nose is flattening. But I ask her to let Ray have a few pro bouts just to see how well he could do. He'll graduate from college and have a successful job and all, but always he would have the nagging question of how well could he have done with the pros."

Ray is now preparing himself for the 1972 Olympics, but his fanatical preoccupation with this goal and the pros beyond has left him without a social life. "Because I was always the smallest I felt left out of things," he says. "I began as a loner, and I am still afraid to get involved with anyone. I submerge myself in boxing. Dad will tell me to take a few months off, but after two weeks I have to get back to the gym."

Lunny completed his workout at Babe Griffin's, dressed and left with Turk. It was a beautiful evening, and they took Ray's Volkswagen back up Highway 280 to Redwood City. Turk relaxed, watching the brown roadside through horn-rimmed sunglasses and cigar smoke.

"Why don't you get rid of those five-cent brands and buy yourself a decent cigar?" Lunny asked.

The old man laughed. "Maybe if you'd give me a dollar now and then for helping you I could afford one."

Ray smiled and glanced at his friend. "Someday, Turk," he said, "I'll be a pro. Then I'll buy you boxes. Boxes of the best cigars in the world."