Kronk’s Hilmer Kenty - From AAU to WBA Champion!
Interview By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Jan 31, 2011)
From 1972 to 1976 the amateurs in the US were as good as any in the entire world. Detroit’s Hilmer Kenty would spar with Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns in the Kronk Gym and then fight the likes of “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor and Howard Davis, Jr. That was just to win either the AAU or Golden Gloves titles.

A boxer had to be exceptional in those days and Kenty was exceptional! “I fought Aaron Pryor 7 times. He defeated Pryor for the US Championship in 1976 but lost in their last fight (after splitting 3-3). I lost to him to see who would fight Howard Davis, Jr. in the 1976 Olympic trials,” said Kenty. This writer witnessed Pryor and Davis and I believe Pryor could have made the team just as easily as Davis did. It all came down to attitudes and Davis had a better one.

Kenty was 106-30 winning the AAU title in 1974 and 1975 at 132. He was 16 when he fought in the 1972 Olympic trials. “In the 1973 Golden Gloves finals I lost to Ray Leonard. He was fast and could punch. You could see the improvement each year with him. When he fought Tommy (Hearns) I know he did a lot of studying of his films in order to fight him the way he did. I had to learn to get inside of Tommy’s power in the gym,” said Kenty.

“After winning the AAU titles (74-75) I lost to Howard Davis in 1976. He had such speed and quickness,” said Kenty. Pertaining to his 7 fights with Hall of Fame boxer Pryor was very interesting. “Pryor could be so aggressive yet people underestimated his boxing ability. He could be more dangerous when he had you chasing him. I lost to Pryor one night and the next night he beat Hearns,” said Kenty.

Born in Austin, TX, in 1955, Kenty’s family moved to OH, at an early age. “My trainer was Bill Cummings through the amateurs. He started the Ohio State Fair tournaments. Manny Steward would later do something similar to Bill when he started Kronk. Our club was the IBC (the Invitational Boxing Club out of Columbus),” said Kenty.

“When I turned pro Bill would be my trainer and manager. The professionals were a lot different in OH, as far as the number of shows. Bill’s main fighter was Steve Gregory,” said Kenty. Gregory would go 20-0-2 before losing in a world title bout.

Kenty would win his debut defeating Steve “Hammer” Homan, 10-0 (8), in a 6 round decision in October of 1977 in Columbus. In his next fight in November he was beating Ray Carrington, 6-14, while his year older brother Forrest Winchester, 4-0 (4) was stopping Al “Earthquake” Carter, 3-0 (3), in 5 rounds. Carter would win his next 19 fights all by knockout before losing again. Winchester would go 15-0-2 beating future champ Manning Galloway, before losing a fight.

Kenty would win 4 of his first 5 fights in OH, with one in Detroit. “I started fighting for the Kronk Gym in my sixth fight. Manny (Steward) would be the first person in the gym and the last person to leave,” said Kenty. He would score 6 straight knockouts in Detroit before defeating title challenger Arturo Leon, 22-15-2. Leon lost a decision in a title bout with Alexis Arguello the year before. “He was tough and smart. I was trying too hard for a knockout,” said Kenty. He would take a 10 round decision over Leon.

A couple months later in Kenty’s next fight he found himself on the canvas not once but twice. “I got dropped in the first and second rounds by Canadian Ralph Racine, 24-7-1, but recovered and won the rest of the way taking a close decision,” said Kenty. He would end the year in 1979 stopping South American champ Sebastian Mosqueira, of Paraguay, and Scotty Foreman of New Orleans bringing his record to 16-0 in just 25 months.

“I remember seeing Leo Randolph (1976 Olympic Gold) win a world title within 2 years in his eighteenth fight. That really inspired me to get an early title fight,” said Kenty. It would be 4 months later in March of 1980 he would fight WBA lightweight champion Ernesto Espana, 27-1 (24), of Venezuela, in the motor city of Detroit.

Espana was on a 13 straight knockout streak. His only loss was in his fourth fight and that was reversed. He defeated Claude Noel for the vacant WBA title and stopped then unbeaten Johnny Lira in his only defense. This was your boxer – puncher match-up. The Joe Louis Arena in Detroit would have 13,172 in attendance. Espana made his US debut in the Lira fight.

During instructions Espana’s trainer questioned Kenty’s gloves trying to unnerve the challenger. Kenty was cool as a cucumber with the smile of confidence. When Kenty went down to a knee in the first round Latino referee Larry Rozadilla called it a knockdown. It looked like they may have banged heads. Howard Cosell at ringside thought it was a slip. It cost Kenty the first round no matter what.

Rozadilla would also score the fight along with another Latino Ismael Fernandez. Now HBO judge Harold Lederman would serve as the third judge. With a Latino referee and 2 Latino judges Espana had that going for him as the champion. Kenty had the thousands of fans behind him.

In the second round it became a war. Only Kenty had a jab while Espana was throwing all power punches with Kenty getting the best of it. In the third round Kenty was keeping his left down inviting Espana to throw a right. Kenty had his way through rounds 2 to 5. Espana only went more than 6 rounds in 2 of his 3 decision wins and it was beginning to show by the sixth round with his face well marked.

In the ninth Kenty rocked Espana back on his heels. Espana came back with an uppercut to the chin. A left hook knocked Espana into the ropes. Espana was on rubbery legs as he got to the middle of the ring. A barrage of over a dozen punches drove Espana into the ropes again. He was draped over the ropes taking punch after punch with the referee for some reason not stopping the fight. Kenty was knocking the head of Espana back time after time before the referee finally stepped in at the 2:53 mark of the ninth. At the time of stoppage the judges Rozadilla had it 78-75 and Lederman 78-74 for Kenty. Fernandez had it 76-74 Espana.

Kenty’s handlers and Kronk fighters like Tommy Hearns were in the ring congratulating not only the new WBA lightweight champion, Hilmer Kenty, but Kronk’s first world champion! “No one knew who I was when I won the title. Hearns was the man. I didn’t handle success well”, said Kenty. Hearns would be their second champ.

In his first defense back in the Joe Louis Arena in August Kenty had the OPBF Champion Young Ho Oh, 39-7-3, of South Korea down twice in the eighth round. He couldn’t come out for the ninth. “He wasn’t much,” said Kenty.

Just 7 weeks later Kenty would give Espana a rematch at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium, in San Juan, Puerto Rico in September. It was 6 months since their first fight and Espana hadn’t taken any fights. “It was so hot out that the fast pace exhausted me. By the fourth round I could hardly punch,” said Kenty. He had been cut in the corner of his left eye in the second round of a slugfest. Kenty rocked Espana into the corner and Espana was shook.

In the third round a left hook rocked Espana. He barely was able to walk back to his corner at the end of the round. Espana was cut over the left eye in the fourth. Espana was completely out on his feet as Kenty landed four unanswered punches before referee Marty Denkin stopped it at 2:57 of the fourth round. Kenty held his young son in the ring after defending the title and was all smiles glad it was over.

Again just 7 weeks later Kenty would be in with a veteran who had an unusual style in Vilomar Fernandez, 24-7-2, a Dominican out of New York who had defeated WBC Super featherweight champ Alexis Arguello in a non-title bout 2 years earlier. He lost to Olympian Howard Davis, Jr., who chose to fight Jim Watt for his WBC title instead of Kenty for his WBA title. Davis thought he was taking the easier way out and suffered his first loss in Scotland.

Fernandez had lost to Robert Duran in 1977 in a WBA title bout. The Fernandez fight with Davis was very close on 2 of the judge’s score cards so he would get the title shot with Kenty. The fight was at the Cobo Hall in Detroit in November. “He was a slick boxer and had good speed,” said Kenty. The referee Waldemar Schmidt of Puerto Rico would also score the fight along with judge’s Rogelio Perez and Guy Jutras.

“I got leg cramps in the fourteenth round from losing weight in this fight,” said Kenty. The fight would go the distance of 15 rounds. All 3 judges gave Fernandez 141 points. Schmidt gave Kenty 145, Perez 147 and Jutras 146 with Kenty retaining his title for the third time. Due to cataract surgery it would be 5 months before meeting Sean O’Grady, 74-2, in April of 1981 in Atlantic City.

O’Grady had only lost to Hall of Famer Danny “Little Red” Lopez and in a 1980 title fight with WBC champion Jim Watt in Scotland on cuts. He was ahead on all 3 cards after 11 rounds. Kenty was having enough problems making weight.

“Before the fight I was scared. It seemed like he had all the support. He had Emmanuel Steward, Tommy Hearns and many other great boxers in his corner! He was the best boxer I faced. Even in

Prior to the fight his manager/trainer Manny Steward told this writer Kenty had a bad cold and he didn’t want him taking the fight and knew O’Grady was more than ready. Kenty disagreed with being told this and said he was told “fight or lose your title” by Steward. “I should have never fought. I got hit in the chest in the first round and knocked down. My cold was so bad you could see the mucus coming out of my nose from the knockdown. I was down one more time in the fight,” said Kenty.

Kenty lost his title in a fight he should not have taken and moved up to 140. O’Grady did not escape without injury as the blood was flowing down the side of his face from a cut outside his left eye at the finish. The scores were lopsided at 146-139, 146-138 and 147-137 all for O’Grady. That wasn’t going to be Kenty’s only problem.

“Before the fight I was scared. It seemed like he had all the support. He had Emmanuel Steward, Tommy Hearns and many other great boxers in his corner! He was the best boxer I ever faced. Even in the later rounds he continued to try to beat me. He was so tough and fought with the heart of a champion. He threw up in his corner between the 10th and 11th round yet he still came out for more,” said O’Grady. This was taken from the story this writer did on O’Grady.

“The crowd was electric. I remember them chanting for me and it inspired me to keep going. They probably inspired him, too! After the fight I really felt sorry for him. I am so proud that I won that fight. I interviewed him on Tuesday Night Fights and can say that we are friends. One thing I learned about boxing is that even though, through 15 rounds you say no words whenever you fight someone you look into their soul. You know what kind of person your adversary is. I can tell you Hilmer Kenty is a solid person. He is a man of character,” said O’Grady.

“It was 3 months after the O’Grady fight that it was discovered I had a retina tare in my left eye,” said Kenty. He would be inactive for 14 months. “I was never the same after the surgery,” said Kenty. He would leave Kronk at that time. “I was told the surgery went well. People said I couldn’t come back and I think it gave me a burning desire to become champ again,” said Kenty.

Kenty’s first fight back would be June of 1982 at the Joe Louis Arena where he would stop Christ Fernandez, 26-15-4, in the fourth round. This was a “to get the rust out” fight. Next would me unbeaten John Montes, Jr., 22-0 (17), of L.A., who also had a decision win over Arturo Leon. Kenty would come in at 133 ½, the lowest since before winning the title.

With a plan of fighting every 2 months Kenty would meet Roberto Elizondo, 24-3 (19) who lost to Arguello for his WBC title less than a year before. Elizondo had his jaw broken by Arguello and lost a close decision to former champ Cornelius Boza Edwards right after that. In his last bout 2 weeks before this bout he scored a knockout. The fight took place at Great Gorge Resort, McAfee, NJ.

Ray Leonard and Gil Clancy were doing the commentating. Leonard talked about his eye problems in comparing them to Kenty prior to the fight. He also felt Kenty was fighting inside more instead of boxing. In the first round Kenty boxed very well dominating Elizondo who couldn’t seem to land more than a couple of punches though the aggressor.

The second round was a complete turn around as Elizondo was landing with effectiveness to both the body and head. Once he got Kenty on the ropes you knew it was the last place Kenty wanted to be. A couple of straight right hands got Elizondo’s attention but nothing to hold him off. At the end of the second round Kenty did not come out.

Kenty was interviewed after the fight, obviously dejected. “I just didn’t feel like I had anything tonight. I don’t know if it was getting down to the weight or what. I want to apologize to my fans. I don’t think I could have gotten through a third round as you could see he was coming on and I hit him with a couple of good shots and it had no effect on him,” said Kenty. This would be his last fight at lightweight. Today, Kenty simply says “I quit”.

He would be back in action 3 months later against James Martinez, 47-24-3, at the Yack Arena, in Wyandotte, MI. He would win a 10 round decision. It would be 7 months before he would fight again when he took on Ali Kareem Muhammad, 11-0, at the Boardman Sports Complex, Traverse City, MI. Again, Kenty would take the 10 rounder by decision. “He was tough,” said Kenty.

After 2 more wins, 1 by knockout, Kenty was up to welterweight at 143. In April of 1984 he took on future IBF lightweight champion Fred Pendleton, 10-7-1, in Detroit, taking another 10 round decision. He was smart and a good puncher. This writer managed Pendleton for one fight and can tell you whoever gave him the nickname “Fearless” must have been using reverse psychology.

In June Kenty scored a knockout and finished his career in August winning a split decision over Dave Odem, 10-5-2, at Riverview Ballroom Cobo Arena, in Detroit. “I always knew I had good boxing ability. Good view of the ring and got my opponent to do what I wanted him to do. For Odem to even go the distance with me I knew I didn’t have it anymore and retired at 29,” said Kenty.

Kenty was pleased to become a world champion and is a man of God today. He attends the Plymouth United Church of Christ. “I was truly blessed to win the title in 2½ years. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior,” said Kenty.

In the late 90’s he was appointed to the board of athletes by Govenor Blanchard. He also ran an electric supply business which he sold in 1997. “Today I feel I would like to get involved in boxing in some way,” said Kenty.

As a former AAU champion and a world WBA champion it would be easy for Kenty to fit in somewhere in boxing. Like many boxers he may have gotten to the top too fast. Last year marked 30 years since he won the WBA title. Even today he is a well spoken individual like he was along with Sean O’Grady when they fought 30 years ago this April. O’Grady said it all when he said “I can tell you Hilmer Kenty is a solid person. He is a man of character”!

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