Max Boxing – News – Former fighter and now trainer Ernie Zavala chats about his career

After an amateur career of 25 fights or so, Ernie Zavala decided to give pro boxing a run. At the age of 26, late for most fighters to turn pro, he kicked off his professional career in 1999. Over the next 6 years he would build a very respectable 20-4 record before returning 5 years later to record a win and a loss to finally retire at 21-5 with 9 KO’s.

During his time in the ring. Zavala would earn the respect of every opponent he faced and leave his mark as a rock-solid professional with a very strong skill set who learned fast and showed great improvement after turning pro.

The only losses of his career came against rugged and talented Efren Hinojosa in split decisions, tough Mexican Juan Valenzuela, undefeated world title challenger Jose Armando Santa Cruz, and undefeated, future world champion Jesse Vargas.

Since leaving the ring, Zavala has worked as a trainer out of the Wild Card Boxing Gym in Hollywood, California working with his own clients, and assisting his former trainer, the world-renowned Freddie Roach.

MaxBoxing caught up with Zavala for a few minutes to look back on his career and his current role as a trainer. The friendly and well-spoken California native was busy with his young son at travel baseball but kindly took a few minutes so MaxBoxing could ‘Chat with the Champ’ – Ernie Zavala.

Bill Tibbs: Good morning, Ernie. Thanks for taking a minute to chat. Let’s get right into it.

Ernie Zavala: Hey Bill

BT: You were fighting in the amateurs, but sort of just on and off a bit. Had you always planned to go pro after?

EZ: You know Bill, I grew up playing baseball and really didn’t get into boxing until my senior year of high school. A friend of my brothers, Pepe Reilly, was boxing and he was very good. He went to the ’92 Olympics; he was at that level. So, we were just like, ‘Yeah let’s go to the Olympics’ (chuckles) that’s how little we knew about it. I remember getting in the ring with Pepe and I thought I was pretty good and I literally couldn’t do a thing with him, he just played with me. In 1998, my cousin Rudy passed away in a car accident and that really hit me hard. So, I thought I am going to give this a shot and see what I can do.

BT: I remember Rudy, a very good fighter. You turn pro in ’99. How did you feel going into it?

EZ: You know I was doing well and sparring with some top guys at Wild Card and definitely holding my own. But I never really ever did feel totally comfortable in the ring and I think that held me back from being as good as I could have.

BT: You fought some good fighters, beat lots of good fighters, and I know boxing people in the industry really respected you.

EZ: Well, I will say I did learn quite quickly. I did improve because I caught on to a lot of stuff quite well in the pro’s; I learned pretty fast.

BT: You were being trained by Freddie Roach at Wild Card, where you still work today. That’s been a long relationship. You must have gotten good sparring at the Wild Card.

EZ: I was lucky to have Freddie as my trainer. He wasn’t just my trainer, but a friend as well. Yes, I did get some great sparring there and I did pretty well. Shane Mosley, lots of different guys. I worked out with James Toney once and he told me I had real skills and he said to me, ‘You are a bad dude in there’. I kind of laughed and he said, ‘No, I am serious, you have real skills man’. That was a nice compliment coming from a guy like that.

BT: You boxed from 1999 to 2005, then you are off for 5 years. What brought you back?

EZ: You know, I just got the itch to come back, wanted to fight again. I beat Jason Davis in March of 2010 and then 3 months later lost to (future world champion) Jesse Vargas, who I ended up training for a fight later.

BT: Had you always thought about training after you stopped boxing?

EZ: Freddie had seen me doing pads once, and he told me he thought I would be a good trainer and I had always had an interest in coaching, which I’ve done with my own kids. I’ve been lucky to be able to work with Freddie and his fighters.

BT: And you were part of Ray Beltran’s world title win.

EZ: Yes, Pepe (Reilly) was training him and it was a long road but Ray never gave up. One time I was driving him and he said, ‘I think I’m going to pack it in’. I told him not to quit, keep at it and see what happens. Then, like 8 years later, after all the title shots, he wins the world title. Crazy story. 18 years after he turns pro, he wins a world title. Most guys would have been done; they would have quit.

BT: Looking back on your career. Regrets? Great memories?

EZ: I wouldn’t say regrets so much. I do wish I had been more active. I think if I had fought more that would have helped me a lot. I was lucky to have Freddie as my coach, he’s a good guy and he wasn’t just my coach, he was a friend.

BT: Born in Burbank. Still there? Are you married? Kids?

EZ: Yes, I am married. I have 3 kids – 27.15 and 9. Still living in Burbank, just over the hill from Hollywood, 15 minutes from the Wild Card.

BT: Great catching up Ernie. Thanks for the chat and please say hello to all the guys at the gym. Look forward to seeing you next time I’m out.

EZ: Thanks Bill.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *