Olympian 1968 Armando Muniz

Armando Muniz 1968 US Olympian Mexico City

By David A. Avila

Far south of the border the Olympic Games are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Two members of the USA boxing team hail from the boxing breeding grounds of Southern California.

One of the first ever Southern Californians to make the USA Olympic boxing team was Riverside’s Armando Muniz.

Back in 1968, the Olympic Games were held just south of the border in Mexico City. It was a turbulent time with protests worldwide, the Viet Nam War, and social upheaval everywhere. Muniz was attending college that year when he was drafted by the military.

“I only had one more semester to finish college when I was drafted,” said Muniz, who was 22 and attending Cal State Los Angeles at the time. “I had just met my wife Yolanda. We hadn’t made any plans for anything. I was thinking I was maybe going to go to Viet Nam. All my friends were dying over there.”

Within two weeks he was married and boarding a bus for boot camp. But Muniz was an amateur boxer and informed one of the coaches he was drafted. The coach told him not to worry. After a few phone calls Muniz was re-routed to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to meet the U.S. Army boxing team.

“The (Army) coach said you’re going to fight for the US Army,” Muniz recalled. “But to make sure I don’t go to Viet Nam I’m going to have to win the regionals. I just ran laps like crazy to get ready. They (Army coaches) thought I was crazy and asked why I was running so much. I told them I’m not going to Viet Nam.”

Muniz said it was doubtful he would have made the Olympic team without being drafted by the U.S. military because he could not afford to travel to various qualification tournaments.

“The Army paid for everything,” he said.

Muniz made the team along with two other members of the military Art Redden and Albert Robinson. One famous member of the Olympic team was future heavyweight champion George Foreman.

When Team USA arrived in Mexico City, Southern California’s Muniz was asked many times by the media why he represented the U.S. and not Mexico.

“First of all, I had just become an American citizen in March 1968. I was in the U.S. since I was 6. I was more Americanized than I was Mexican. Being a Mexican born in Mexico I didn’t feel odd representing the United States,” said Muniz, who would later teach at Rubidoux High School in Riverside for 23 years. “I was a Mexican fighting for the U.S. and my proudest moment was during the opening ceremonies with all the American Olympians.”

The Olympic Games in Mexico City were full of controversy with hundreds of Mexican protestors shot and killed by the Mexican government. There was the Black Power salute by African American track stars John Carlos and Tommy Smith and the American flag waving by Foreman after winning the heavyweight gold.

Muniz was unable to win a medal during the games though he defeated the 1964 Tokyo Games gold medal winner Marian Kasprzyk of Poland. He beat two others before losing to Argentina’s Mario Guilloti who would win the bronze.

“Mine was a close fight. I thought I won but the judges saw it a different way,” said Muniz now 70.

Muniz said the 1968 US Olympic boxing team still meets in reunions. Several of the members have passed away.

After the Olympics, Muniz would become one of the most popular California prizefighters in pro boxing and sell out the Olympic Auditorium on a regular basis. His last fight was against Sugar Ray Leonard. But the memories of the Olympics Games in Mexico City remain strong.

“I was the only welterweight for this country. I felt proud of myself,” said Muniz. “It’s hard to describe.”

Other Californians would follow Muniz’s footsteps to the Olympic Games such as Paul Gonzalez, Oscar De La Hoya, Andre Ward and Jojo Diaz. In this Olympic Games, California is represented by female representative Mikaela Mayer and male boxer Carlos Balderas.