Ernest “Whitey” Esnault

Ernest “Whitey” Esnault
Born 9/13/1891 and Died on 1/20/1968 in New Orleans.
Began teaching boxing to local New Orleans youth after World War I, at the now famous St.Mary’s Italian Boxing Gym, behind the St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Whitey remained in New Orleans for the rest of his life, teaching boxing to everyone from kids off the street to World Champion fighters. His boxers were known for their outstanding technique and footwork, and Whitey was a strong believer in the importance of boxing basics/fundamentals. A boxing staple in New Orleans for 50 years his St. Mary’s Gym was located in the heart of downtown New Orleans.
Whitey developed boxers and did not just corner them or take over boxers once they were successful. Whitey developed many champions and contenders including:
Ralph Chong, Bernard and Maxie Docusen, Tony Licata, Freddie Little, Ralph Dupas, Wille Pastrano and Jerome Conforto. Conforto later trained his nephew Chuck ” I Come To Fight” Mince, who would also fight professionally and develop several more generations of the Conforto, Mince, Collinsworth fighting family.
Whitey also trained Houston boxing legend Mr. Walt Hailey in Hailey’s formative boxing years. For these reasons, Whitey was also very instrumental in the development of many champions and contenders in the Houston area as Walt Hailey trained many who later became coaches themselves, and a member of the Conforto, Mince, Collinsworth fighting family, Coach Derek Collinsworth has been developing and training boxers in our area since 2008.

H-Town Legend Melvin Dennis

Began boxing in February of 1969 at The H.O.P.E. Development Center, later named The George Foreman Gym, on Lyons Avenue. By March of 1970 he was the Regional, State, and National Welterweight Golden Gloves Champion. Mr. Dennis also was a member of and toured with the U.S. National Team and competed against some Eastern Bloc countries before turning professional. I’ve mentioned before how Mr. Dennis was a State Champion in the professional ranks, and fought a “murderers row” of contenders and champions, while winning the majority of those contests.
I was able to spend some time asking Mr. Dennis about several topics and he was kind enough to share thoughts on boxing today, his boxing career, and opponents he’s faced in both amateur and profesional ranks.
Below are some of his answers:

Mr. Dennis credits Jimmy Fields and David Carrington, for teaching him most of what he learned about boxing and said he also was able to learn lessons that were very instrumental to his success from Archie “Mongoose” Moore and Joe “Old Bones” Brown.

On boxing today versus boxing in the 70’s:
Mr.Dennis said the difference is that in his day all the best fought each other to prove they were the best, and didn’t let politics get in the way. He also mentioned that in order for a kid to become a champion he would need to “stay in shape and stay fighting” but that it’s hard for them in today’s times because of the politics and business side of boxing taking over.

Wilfred Benitez bout:
Of course I had to ask about his bout with Benitez, that was aired nationally on The Wide World of Sports. Benitez is an International Boxing Hall of Famer with wins over Bruce Curry, Carlos Palomino, Randy Shields, and Roberto Duran. Benitez also may have beaten Sugar Ray Leonard had the referee not stopped the fight in a controversial manner with seconds left in the 15th round.
Mr. Dennis said Benitez was “very slippery” but not the toughest match he’d had, especially since he felt Benitez went into an almost exclusive defensive mode after Dennis hurt him with several body punches.

Toughest amateur opponent:
Raymond “The Pink Panther” Boyd
Mr. Dennis said they fought three times and each time was a heck of a fight. (After interviewing Mr. Dennis I read some information about one of their fights at the Sam Houston Coloseum that nearly started a riot!)

Toughest Professional Opponent:
Chuck “I Come To Fight” Mince
Mr. Dennis said his two fights with Mince were very tough with the two each taking one fight, and fought within a very short time span from each other.
Mr. Dennis said he’s going to be returning to boxing soon to “help out the kids” and is looking forward to seeing old and new friends. He also was kind enough to agree to share a few pointers about the rigors of the professional ranks, to an elite amateur boxer from Houston that is turning professional soon. You will hear more about that at a later time.

Jesse Valdez

A native of Houston, Texas, (Northside) Valdez was an accomplished amateur boxer who won a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, as a Welterweight. He started boxing out of The Red Shield Boxing Club in Houston’s Northside and graduated from Jefferson Davis High School in 1965. A winner of over 200 amateur bouts his accomplishments include:
Texas State Welterweight Champion (Welterweight) 1964, 65, 66, 67, 68,72
U.S.A. National Golden Gloves Champion (Welterweight) 1967, 1972
Pan American Games Bronze Medal Champion (Welterweight) 1967
U.S. Armed Forces Champion (Welterweight) 1970, 1971, 1972. Olympic Bronze Medal Champion 1972


Melvin Dennis

Melvin Dennis
A native of Houston, Texas, (Fifth Ward), Dennis compiled an excellent professional record of 34 wins 16 loses and 3 draws.
Highlights of his professional career include winning the Texas State Middleweight Title on 11/18/75, defeating Charlie Small by TKO in 8 rounds, and fighting a host of elite champions and contenders including, Denny Moyer, Maurice Hope, Chuck Mince, Vito Antuofermo, Eugene Hart, Roy Jones Sr, and Wilfred Benitez.
Mr. Dennis has coached out of several Houston area boxing gyms and has always been very generous with his priceless knowledge of the sweet science.

Kenny Weldon

Pan-Am Games

Kenny Weldon started boxing as an amateur in Houston in 1953. A native of Galena Park, Texas, Kenny had more than 200 amateur bouts before turning pro in 1968. As a pro, Kenny went 50-7-1 claiming the Texas Featherweight Title and N.A.B.F. Super Featherweight title before retiring as a fighter in 1978.
Kenny’s greatest accomplishments, however, came as a coach. The program he established at The Galena Park Boxing Academy produced more than two dozen national amateur champions, and three Olympians. Kenny also served as a coach for The U.S. Olympic Team in 1988.
As a professional coach, Kenny cornered 18 world title fights with Hall of Famers such as Evander Holyfield, Vinny Pazienza, Orlando Canizales, Mike McCallum, Raul Marquez and Pernell Whitaker, as well as local legends like Wilford Scypion, Termite Watkins, Mike Phelps, James Pipps, Joel Perez, Stephen Martinez and Lewis Wood.
Always a fierce advocate for teaching proper fundamentals, Kenny also authored one of the top selling boxing intructional videos of all time.
Kenny retired from boxing for health reasons in 2013, but his impact can still be felt in the Houston boxing scene with a host of his former fighters and students now operating gyms of their own.,


Dad and Uncle Robert
Started my “official” boxing education at what I believe was the original Ray’s Boxing Club in Houston, Texas. Before that I initially learned the basics from my father, who boxed for the Salvation Army Boxing Club, or as he called it, “The Red Shield” Boxing Club in the late 50’s early 60’s. I also had at least 20 “non- sanctioned” bouts before my father died, in what were sort of neighborhood, “street boxing” matches. My father matched me a little too tough for my taste back then and it seemed like I was always boxing a kid older, stronger, or with plenty of organized amateur bouts under their belt already. I distinctly remember boxing a kid once who got the best of me pretty good, but I somehow managed to knock down, that I later found out already had “20 or 30” USA Boxing sanctioned amateur bouts. I was discouraged by that loss but remember my father being proud of me and becoming more excited about my chances in boxing. I know my boxing purist friends may not agree with my early schooling, but I was taught solid boxing fundamentals since my father had once trained and competed in local smokers and Golden Gloves competition. Also, many of the kids I was matched with were already competing in organized amateur competition. I would later learn so much more from several of the best boxing coaches in the Houston area, but for my personal journey I do believe I learned a lot also from those initial “street boxing” matches and the ones I would continue to participate in up until around 1997 or so. I would say a strong emphasis on conditioning for one thing was the biggest thing, especially since those matches were fought at 3 minute rounds and we went anywhere from 3 to 10 rounds. The mental and psychological aspect was much different as well and I feel also gave me an advantage in “organized” competition.

Ray’s Boxing Club at this time, around 1983 or 84, consisted of two heavy bags, one speed bag, a homemade “boxing ring” and some mirrors on the wall of Ray’s garage. Although the “gym” was humble and spartan, I believe the boxing club there was already doing pretty well on the local, state, and national scene. It’s been a long time and I don’t remember everything but the faces and personalities I remember being around were the Alvarado brothers, Steven and John I believe, their father, and Joe “Cool” Garcia who was either about to turn pro or just turned pro. I got wise to some things quicker than most kids I think because I started to help Joe “Cool” glove up and give him water between sparring rounds, so that he would give me some pointers every now and then or answer questions that I had. Questions I still ask people I look up to in boxing such as, “how many miles should a boxer run when amateur and/or pro? “ , “how many push-ups, sit-ups, and squats should we do”? , “ how do you control your breathing”? and things like that.

Speaking of sparring, let me tell you about the “ring” we sparred in. It was a homemade ring set up in the corner of the garage, made of wood, and couldn’t have been more than 8×8 or 10×10, and that may be a generous estimation. It was a phone booth man and you had to catch on quick or you weren’t gonna survive the sparring. As for me I’ve always been a boxer/counter-puncher so that ring did not suit my style or personality, but I did learn to box on the inside or “toe to toe” as I knew it to be back then. I didn’t become a slugger by any stretch, I just learned little tricks where I could be as safe being up close as I was on the outside, where I liked to be. Still it was definitely the hard knocks way of learning and there were many “dogfights” in that ring. I probably took more whuppings than gave for at least 6 months before I got to where I was okay being in there with anyone except for the pros.

I don’t remember much else about those beginning days other than lots of calisthenics, those damn “duck walks”, and being confused when I would get the courage to ask for instruction and being told to “do 3 rounds of left jabs, then 3 of straight rights on the heavy bag, then let me know if you want more”. This of course came after calisthenics in the ring and jump roping and/or sparring. Ever try throwing nothing but left jabs for 3 rounds? It’s tough for sure and the “gym” was so small you couldn’t hide anywhere or piddle around.

What was your start out in boxing like?

Hagler vs Leonard

I always loved watching both guys and was a fan of both guys for different reasons. Sugar Ray was the guy who’s style I liked and emulated as best I could when boxing. The footwork, fast hands, mean streak,and psychological games he played were right up my alley. Hagler, was impossible to not like with his blue collar approach to the game combined with the fact that he worked his way up from nothing, the “hard way” like the old timers did. I liked his honest approach to boxing and how he broke his opponents down. The only thing that I didn’t like about him was the fact that he was a lefty. Just never could relate to that “weird duck” left-handed boxing! The only lefty I ever really appreciated back then was “pre Edwin Rosario” Hector Camacho.
We’ve all seen the fight by now so I won’t talk much about it, other than to say that Sugar Ray definitely won the bout, but he did sort of “bullshit” his way to a win. Stealing rounds by throwing flurries and “shoe shining” in the last 20 seconds to sway
weak minded or maybe corrupt judges wasn’t really my idea of really beating a guy, but then again Hagler let him do it. Where Hagler went wrong was by letting Ray get into his head, and trying to prove he could box Ray instead of going in on seek and destroy mode. I know Hagler still won’t admit he lost but in all honesty he has to know he lost. Is it right that you can bullshit the judges and steal rounds like Ray did? Maybe not but that’s part of boxing and Hagler shouldn’t have let him do it. Ray did “stop and pop” pretty often as well, it’s not like he was
moving the whole time.