|Announcing at Center Ring: Lupe Contreras
INTERVIEW by Gabriel Montoya at ringside (Dec 17, 2007) Doghouse Boxing
It’s April 5, 2002 in a Tijuana, Mexico boxing ring. In one corner is Diego Morales, hometown favorite and brother to ring legend Erik. In the other is Fernando Velardez, the underdog from San Bernadino, CA. On the line: the USBA Bantamweight title. In the center of the ring, about to read the decision, is ring announcer Lupe Contreras. The news is every announcer’s worst nightmare, and for one of the few times in his career, Contreras isn’t happy to be standing where he is. “One of the corner men of Morales stepped onto the ring apron before the round was over,” Contreras remembers. “He got confused, and it was a disqualification. Now it’s Tijuana, and he’s the
hometown guy, and it was up to me to read the fact that their guy just got disqualified. [The Tijuana fans’] are known for tossing stuff into the ring,” Contreras laughs. “You feel like those old gladiator movies where they kill the messenger for giving bad news to the Pharaoh. I’m surprised quite often how people will get upset with me. When I read a decision, it’s like. ‘I had nothing to do with it’. Guys going ‘Hey man, what’s up with that?’ All I can say is ‘Hey, I just read the decisions’.”
Since that roughest of nights, the Texas native has continued to do just that, and in the process, taken a left turn into a career he never dreamed of. As the ring announcer for Spanish language broadcasts on Telefutura, Azteca, Galavision and HBO Latino, Contreras’ commanding presence and signature line “Quien Es Mas Macho?” has earned him accolades within the industry and even higher profile gigs on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Showtime. For Contreras, his entrance into the high-profile world of ring announcing began as a lark. “It seems to me most people that are involved in boxing got into it by accident,” he explains. “Either you got into it by accident, or you get into it by
family.” For Contreras, getting into boxing “was pretty much a fluke.”
Contreras’ career path began in the world of radio. “I always wanted to do something in entertainment. I had done little things as a teenager; some theatre, and I tried to do some commercials. When I started college, I went into radio/television as my major. Almost immediately in my freshman year, I got a job in radio. It was very easy. I picked up the phone, and told them I wanted to work there. And they said ‘come on in’. Basically, I just walked in, did an air check in the studio, they liked it, and I was in the door.”
After nine years of “spinning [his] wheels” in the business, doing “everything from traffic reports, news and teaching,” Contreras “became pretty disillusioned with radio pretty quickly.” According to Contreras, “Howard Stern described radio as the armpit of the entertainment industry. The pay is pretty bad; the hours are horrible at times. People forget, in radio, it’s 365 days a year, 24,7Christmas, New Years, someone has to be working the boards.”
Deciding that radio was not the right place for him within the entertainment industry, Contreras began working for a suicide hotline “doing their Spanish info. That’s when I got the opportunity to break into ring announcing, and I took it.”
“I was watching TV one morning,” he recalls. “On Univision, they were looking for someone to replace their announcer. He was having some health issues, and they were looking for someone to step in and do it. They turned it into a contest of sorts. So I turned in the information they requested, and they liked it. A few weeks later, they called nine others and me. We went down to Miami and auditioned on TV. They picked four, and those four did a live show.” Out of the four finalists, Contreras was chosen for the job. “I started doing shows, working with other people, and here we are.”
While it may sound as if it was all so easy for Contreras, he believes it was his unique skill set that set him apart. “I fell into it by accident, but almost had the perfect abilities for the actual profession. I worked in radio. I spoke in public. The microphone is an instrument, and you need to know how to use it. And I‘m a huge boxing fan. A lot of people don’t know what a technical draw, split decision. or a technical decision is. That’s where it gets complicated. Plus, I speak Spanish and English, which is what they were looking for. When you think about it in a certain sense,” he concludes, “being a ring announcer doesn’t take that much ability. You just have to find all those different qualities in the same person. It was one of those things where I had all those skills necessary to do it.”
Contreras also attributes his success to studying his two contemporaries, Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon, Jr. “Leading into the audition, I looked at what they were doing. You don’t want to copy them too much, but you take little things here and there, and you build on that.”
Still, Contreras says he doesn’t have a favorite between the two. “I’ve enjoyed both of their styles through the years. Michael has transcended the sport. Even if someone hadn’t seen boxing in their life, they know what ‘Lets Get Ready to Rumble’ means. Personally, I am more like Jimmy Lennon. Professionally, I would like to be more like Michael Buffer. In that he is bigger than life. I would like to take a little of both.”
Contreras’ job has put him center ring in front of many different audiences and it’s through that experience that he has gained a unique perspective on where the sport is going and where he would like it to go.
“I divide it into the sport of boxing and the business of boxing,” he explains. “With the sport, you have a lot of great young fighters out there. I love the internationalization of boxing. You have guys from London, Denmark, the Philippines, which is a big hotbed for boxing right now. Obviously you have Nigeria, Guyana, as well as the U.S. and Mexico, which have always been powerhouses of the sport. So I love the whole internationalization, because you get people involved, and it becomes more than a sport. When you become a champion in the U.S. or Mexico, you almost become an icon or a symbol for whatever that culture is.” In Contreras’ opinion, however, the problems with boxing lie in the business side of the sport.
“There are a few things I would change. There needs to be more fights on free network TV. I think the key to having fight fans watch is to have them get an emotional investment. That’s why I like [HBO’S] 24/7, because it shows what these guys go through. Most people don’t get to see these guys running ten miles every day, or working out eight hours a day. They get to see the sacrifice. As boxing fans, you have to have someone to identify with in the ring. It’s one of the reasons I like [middleweight champion] Kelly Pavlik, and why I think he is important and good for our sport. Until Pavlik, the champions have been Mexican or African-American--middle America hasn’t had some one to identify with. If they have someone to follow and get behind, I think it will be good for the sport.”
The pinnacle of Contreras’ career thus far was the pay-per-view broadcast of the Mayweather vs. Hatton fight, where he served as the undercard announcer. Contreras, surrounded by 10,000 screaming, singing Brits, was composed and professional as always. A lot of people don’t get how the crowd affects you or the fighters. You can’t let the crowd dictate what you do. You have to dictate how the crowd reacts. It’s almost like being a maestro or a conductor.”
For a man who took the long road to find his home in the world of sports and entertainment, it seems that finally Lupe Contreras has arrived.