Pasadena boxing legend Canto “TNT” Robledo will be posthumously inducted into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame Sunday at the Garland Hotel Event Center in North Hollywood.
Robledo, who trained numerous local prize-winning pugilists and died in 1999 at age 86, will be inducted alongside former heavyweight champ Archie Moore; former WBA lightweight champion Arturo Frias; Armando Muniz, a former North American Boxing Federation lightweight champ; Ruben Navarro, another NABF lightweight champion; and well-known cornerman Hedgemon Lewis.
Also included are Joey Orbillo, Ray “Windmill” White, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Richard Savala, Martha Salazar (a women’s pro boxing heavyweight champion in 2014 who retired last year), Thell Torrence, Jackie McCoy, Theo Ehret, Eric Gomez and John Beyrooty.
The induction comes on the heels of the release of the fighter’s biography, “Blood on the Canvas,” written by his son Joe Robledo.
“My dad being inducted into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame is a great honor for the Robledo family,” Joe recently told the Pasadena Weekly. “It just goes to show you that his legacy continues to live on.”
Canto was born in Tyrone, New Mexico, in 1913, soon after his family fled to the United States from Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. The decision to leave came after soldiers forced their way into the home of his parents, Felipe and Soledad Robledo, searching for young boys to force into battle.
The family survived the war and moved to Pasadena in the mid-1920s. Canto began his amazing journey to the Hall of Fame when he began fighting at 15. One year later, he turned pro and fought in the Pasadena Arena, climbing up the bantamweight rankings.
Despite his success in the ring, TNT’s biggest battle was just ahead of him.
Robledo lost his sight in 1933, a year after he first won the Pacific Bantamweight title in Long Beach. In the fight in defense of his title, he not only lost the fight but suffered two detached retinas. Although he could not see, the fight continued a full 12 rounds. Canto later endured several botched operations on his eyes, but he was never officially presented with his title belt.
In 1988, the World Boxing Hall of Fame realized the error, presented him with the belt and inducted him as a member.
In 2010, a bronze relief of Canto training his sons was placed in the Villa Parke Community Center. He was posthumously awarded the Joe Louis Humanitarian Award at that event.
“He was such a wonderful daddy. He was good to us and I took care of him the last five years,” said Canto’s daughter Irene Robledo Tellez. “He was an inspiration. My kids used to take him for walks. He would shadow box in the garage and hit the heavy bag. He loved being here with my kids.”
Robledo Tellez said her dad would amaze people by his ability to identify coins in their pockets by listening to the change rattle.
“He could hear the change in your pocket rattle and tell the difference between the quarter, a dime and a nickel. He was just a smart cookie.”
Joe Robledo’s “Blood on the Canvas” details Canto’s rise through boxing and his triumphant battle over depression and alcohol after the loss of his sight.
“I knew I had to write the book for many years, because his story is unique and special. It took me four years to do this,” Joe said. “People thought my dad would be bitter about boxing. Instead, he had a deep love for this sport and he never left it.”
The next several years were extremely hard for Canto, who struggled to find ways to put food on the family’s table.
During that time, he frequently traveled to the Bakersfield and Fresno area along with his seven siblings to pick fruits and vegetables to help keep his family financially afloat.
“I think he spun through four or five years of deep depression,” Joe said. “He was drinking and wanted to give up on life. He even asked my mother to leave him because he couldn’t support her. He really gave up on life. He didn’t have any other skills.”
Canto never regained his sight, but he did find his vision, his son said.
After his brothers opened a gym in the family’s basement on El Sereno Avenue, Canto slowly came out of his funk. Soon he was training neighborhood children and his younger brother, who became a top contender under Canto’s tutelage.
The basement gym inspired Canto to open Crown City Boxing Gym in the garage at his home on Manzanita Street in Northwest Pasadena, where he trained boxers for the next 40 years.
According to Irene, Canto raised $1,000 for the house through donations from friends and then converted the garage into a gym and began training neighborhood kids and putting on small shows.
“He helped keep a lot of kids off the streets,” she said.
The gym was just one of dozens of garages converted into gyms in the San Gabriel Valley during the 1950s and ’60s, each with trainers hoping that the next knockout would move their fighter into title contention and a big payday.
Despite his lack of sight, Robledo would step into the ring with his charges, put on the hit pads and call out combinations. Every now and then, after a fighter threw a combination, Canto would see if he could duck a punch by throwing a quick jab or hook at his charge’s face. And many times, to the disbelief of his fighters, he would land a few.
It wasn’t the punch that shocked them; It was the ability of the blind Robledo to hit them.
In the mid-1980s, Crown City Boxing led a local revival, bringing boxing back to Pasadena at the Elks Lodge on West Colorado Boulevard. Oscar de la Hoya attended several events.
But things soon took a turn for the worse. In 1988, two weeks after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Canto’s wife, Concha, died of shock when doctors gave her the wrong medicine.
Robledo spent the next four hours on his knees praying. The next morning family members discovered he had suffered a major stroke. He was hospitalized and unable to attend his wife’s funeral services. Once again he slipped into deep depression.
“He just never came back,” Joe said. “Doctors would tell us his will was not there, but he had the heart and lungs of a 50-year-old. That’s what was keeping him alive.”
Joe kept all of his father’s boxing memorabilia in hopes of one day writing a book, which he finally completed this year.
The book includes quotes from boxing greats Danny
Little Red” Lopez, Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Rick Farris, president of the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame.
“During the golden era of professional boxing Canto Robledo was one of the best in the world,” Farris wrote. “However, Canto’s true gift from God, his enduring legacy, was his incredible teaching, his influencing, his guiding of others under his tutelage.” n