As professional boxing returned to Lima on July 15, there was one individual who was in attendance with a vested interest and a smile on his face.
Frank Garza, who was raised in Delphos but is now based in Detroit, is a professional boxing referee who has been a part of major title bouts around the world, and has never forgotten his roots that exposed him to the world of boxing.
“I will do anything to promote boxing in Lima,” Garza said from his home in Detroit. “I think people should come out and come to the show and see a lot of great action. There is a lot of hope in the future in Lima.”
Garza added that he was impressed with what Lonnie Rettig put together, and more importantly, how well disciplined and behaved the young amateur boxers behaved and performed.
“He did a great job with the show,” Garza said.
Garza added that Lima has seen the ups and downs of boxing and there appears to be an upswing in popularity much like in the 1960s and 1970s when he was attracted to the sport.
Growing up in Delphos, Garza said watching the boxing matches on television really got him into the sport. Being from a Mexican background Garza could identify with some of the fighters of the time and it helped him establish his identity in rural Northwest Ohio.
“It was difficult for me because of my heritage but my family and my parents took pride in our heritage and that helped me out,” Garza said. “When you are a kid, you just want to be like anyone else but when you look in the mirror you don’t look everyone else. It was my personal obstacle to overcome.”
Garza dabbled in boxing while in Lima but after graduating from Delphos St. John’s he eventually moved to Detroit in the mid 1970s to take a job with Buckeye Pipeline.
Looking to stay in shape Garza sought out a gym and joined Southgate Boxing Club where he met Nick Torres who would mentor him and guided him into officiating in 1986.
Like most officiating jobs, Garza paid his dues by doing amateur fights before taking on pro fights and then was strictly doing pro bouts by 1997.
Garza reached the pinnacle of his officiating career when he was asked to handle the referee chores for the Mike Tyson vs. Andrew Golota in 2000.
“That was a highlight for me because I received a call that I was up against two other officials and I got the bout,” Garza said. “It showed they had a lot of confidence in me to do the job, and it meant a lot to me.”
While getting that assignment was a major feather in his cap, Garza said another bout that was a highlight was coming back to Lima in the late 1990s to officiate fights in Lima with his parents in attendance.
Garza also took national pride when he got to officiate a match in the Arena Mexico, a venue built for the 1968 Olympics that features boxing and wrestling.
Like most officials, the life of a big-time official is like any other major sport official, thankless and gratifying at the same time.
Garza warns that not everybody is built to be an official.
“When someone comes up to me and says ‘I can do that,’ I say ‘no you can’t,’ ” Garza said. “I tell them ‘are you willing to give up being a boxing fan?’ There is a lot of pressure that goes into officiating and you are dealing with a sport where some can get hurt. You have to be on your game all the time”
Even after doing this for so long, Garza still said he never wants to find himself in a comfort zone so that he can do the best possible job while maintaining his high standards of officiating.
In his more than three decades of officiating fights, Garza said he enjoys meeting all the great characters and boxers while traveling around the world. In just the past month, Garza has traveled to France to officiate a match.
“Who would have thought a guy from Delphos would get to go to all these places and meet all these interesting people?” Garza said. “I have been lucky.”
Garza has received numerous awards and honors throughout his illustrious 30-plus year career. In 2000, during Hispanic Heritage Month, Michigan Gov. John Engler presented him with a Special Recognition Award as a member of the Michigan Athletic Board of Control for work done on rewriting and updating the state’s rules of conducting professional boxing. He was inducted into the Lincoln Park Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and into the St. John’s Alumni Hall of Fame for Sports Achievements in 2004.
In addition to his officiating duties, Garza also is a member of the the international boxing association and he also began a career as a sportswriter and has received numerous accolades for his writing efforts. In 2008, he was honored with the Latino Detroit Community and Customer Appreciation Award for Outstanding Sports Writer and in 2009 he accepted the Detroit Hispanic Business Alliance Special Appreciation Award for the promoting and support of boxing in the Detroit community.
Even though boxing has seen its ups and downs, Garza said he still considers boxing as a mainstream sport which has become more business oriented with television and pay per view driving the money stream and marketing.
However, he said with the excellent foundation that has been established in Northwest Ohio from Toledo to Findlay to Lima, he sees a bright future and he hopes one day to make a presentation on the history of boxing in this area.