Growing up in Māʻili there was 11 of us cousins and we all learned to box from my mother’s brother, my Uncle Nick. He helped coach boxing greats like Frankie Fernandez and Carl “Bobo” Olsen. We liked watching wrestling—this was when it was still black-and-white TV. Uncle Nick would tell us, “Box!” and then we’d just go at it like those wrestling guys, throwing blows, throwing each other down. He then taught us how to throw punches.
As soon as I graduated high school, I wanted to go to the mainland. I didn’t have any money, the only way was to join the Army. I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia to become a paratrooper. After 16 weeks of basic training the Army put my unit on a ship and sent us straight to Japan. This was during the Korean War. I spent almost 10 years in Japan.
In Japan, it was those times with Uncle Nick that gave me the idea to jump into coaching. I even set up a boxing match between Japanese fighters and American fighters. They had a different style, but I knew how to hit somebody and get away with it. A “hit and run,” something I teach my boys even now. After that first tournament, the Japanese organizers wanted to do another where they put Judo fighters against American boxers. I said to them, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense. Do they have gloves on? How is this going to work?” I didn’t want to fight but I couldn’t find anybody, so I volunteered. I had the whole Army cheering for me but let me tell you, I got the licking of my life!
I opened up the Waiʻanae Boxing Club in 1972. Back then there was a lot of drugs in Waiʻanae —kids were stealing tires and breaking into farms and bothering tourists at the beach. I worked with PAL [Police Athletic League] at the time, so I went down to talk to the kids that got caught. That month, maybe 25 kids started coming to the gym, checking it out. They started shaping up, started to listen.
I’m here every day, Monday through Friday. I love working with kids. I teach my boys and girls how to move from side to side, left to right. Show them step this way and fake, step that way and strike. I tell them that to become a good fighter you gotta train hard. You gotta listen. You gotta pay attention. And you gotta do what you have to do in order to survive. I put it to the kids straight: Whatever I teach you, if you ever use it at school, I’m going to have to let you go. I’m not teaching you to go pick on somebody else.
In 2004 the Wai‘anae Boxing Club brought home its first World Championship title belt. I felt like I was 10 feet tall. I love what I am doing. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have this. I don’t know why Wai“anae produces so many good fighters. Maybe Jesus is helping me a lot because he sees what I’m doing and thinks that it is good. I’m 86 years old now. I don’t know if I’m leaving a legacy, but I know that I sure am enjoying myself.
Fred “Pops” Pereira is the Waiʻanae Boxing Club founder and 2019 Golden Gloves of America Coach Hall of Fame inductee.