EL PASO — El Paso boxing legend Pete Melendez died on Thursday, just two days after his 76th birthday.
Melendez became the city’s first Golden Gloves national champion more than a half-century ago.
His son, Peter Melendez, said his father suffered from diabetes and a blood clot in his lung, among other complications.
Peter Melendez remembers his father as someone who enjoyed the simple things in life.
“My father didn’t brag, he was a very genuine person,” he said, describing his father as he was outside of the boxing ring. “He was always willing to help people out.”
Pete Melendez grew up in Segundo Barrio as the youngest of six children and spent his days shining shoes to help support his mother.
At age 13, he took up boxing as a means of rehabilitation after he suffered two broken arms in a hit-and-run car accident.
Six years later, he won the 1953 Texas and national Golden Gloves championships.
After a short absence from the sport, Pete Melendez later went on to win his second Golden Gloves national title in 1956.
Tom McKay, an El Paso boxing historian, described him as the best boxer the city has ever had.
“He had fast hands, balance, punching power — you couldn’t touch him in the ring,” McKay said. “He was what everybody wants to be when you say the word ‘boxer.’ ”
Pete Melendez and McKay met in 1946 through the Catholic Youth Organization and remained friends for more than 60 years.
After four matches as a professional fighter, Pete Melendez retired from the sport and opened up a barbershop in El Paso, which remained in business for 38 years.
He stayed involved with the sport for several years, though, as a referee, a trainer and a promoter.
In 1977, Pete Melendez was inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2000, he was named the greatest boxer of the century by the El Paso Boxing and Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
“He wanted to make a mark in life,” said McKay, remembering his friend’s determination. “And he certainly did.”
Peter Melendez said his father was very proud to represent El Paso during his boxing career.
“He cared about this city, he wanted to represent El Paso well whenever he was traveling or fighting. This city was his home.”
By April Lopez, El Paso Times