By Austin Killeen Photos by Arnold Vigil
Meteorites are fragments of planetary material that survive passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and land on the surface of the Earth. We’re not sure of the exact origin of a Meteorite and can only guess where it will ultimately land after it crashes to earth. This might also be an explanation of the short but exciting career of Chris Linson. In a seventeen bout professional career that lasted approximately three years and nine months no one was exactly sure where the meteorite called Chris Linson would settle either. But this shooting star created a lot of excitement when it first entered the boxing landscape in November of 1979. I can’t imagine what it was like to look across the ring as the Santa Fe boxer exploded from his corner at the opening bell. I’m sure of one thing; I’d feel a lot safer sitting ringside than being inside the ropes when the opening bell sounded.
When the interview started I asked Chris his earliest memories of boxing and he quickly responded. “When I was about ten years old they had a boxing ring at the Boy’s Club. I got in the ring and remember seeing a lot of flashes and stars, because I had no idea what was the right thing to do. So I made it a point to learn how to box and not get hit so much, but I never mastered the not getting hit part. I got to the point where I could throw a good punch, consequently almost all of my wins as a pro ended in knockouts.”
I asked the same question of all the boxers I interview, why did you keep boxing after the first time you got hit in the nose. Why did you think this is fun and keep fighting? “Chris responded “When I got hit I noticed something, that’s when the fight started. When the guy hit me I knew we were in a fight and I knew it was a matter of will power. When I started connecting, I noticed they didn’t have the will power that I had.” This would define Chris’ style throughout his amateur and pro career, never quit. Match this philosophy up with some ring skills and you have a winner inside the ropes. Chris was also critical of the way amateur boxing is scored today as opposed to when he competed back in the 70’s. “Pitty-pat punches count as much as a hard blow which favors the boxer over the puncher. If you land a hard punch the referee stops the fight to see if your opponent is hurt. You only get credit for one punch and only if the judges see it.”
Chris estimates that he had about 300 amateur bouts, with his first match occurring when he was ten years old. He pointed out that you could fight more than one bout a day and often fight at least twice on weekends. He commented, “There were fights all over the place, Grants, Farmington, Roswell, Portales, Las Cruces, Taos and Albuquerque.” I asked Chris about the Golden Gloves back then and he said “New Mexico had regional tournaments around the state which you had to win before fighting in the finals. The State tournament was held at the Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque and if you won the title you probably had fought in six or seven bouts all told. Then you would move on to the nationals, there was no regional tournament with Colorado in the 70’s.”
Chris’ first tournament competition occurred when he was 14 years old in the National Junior Olympics. “I won the state and regional competition before traveling to Peoria, IL for the nationals which was a weeklong tournament. My coach didn’t like to get up into the ring so I had to face the corner. I was fighting in the championship fight on Saturday in the nationals, I won the opening round easy. I was facing my coach when the bell rang for the second round and I was knocked out. I had no idea what happened until I saw a replay of the bout in my dressing room later. My opponent rushed across the ring at the start of the second round and knocked me out, while I was sitting on the stool. His name was Bob Newcome, from Portland, Oregon. I stewed about the outcome for the entire year, because I knew I never should have lost.
In 1976 Chris was crowned the State GG’s champion and went to the nationals which were held in the Orange Bowl in Florida. I lost a decision to Hilmer Kenty who was defeated by Aaron Pryor that year. In 1977 Chris won the state GG’s title again and went to the nations which were held in Hawaii.”I lost a decision to Sammy Ayala, who went on to win the National Golden Gloves at 132 pounds. Linson never won the national GG’s, but he had the experience of facing some pretty tough customers in his attempts at winning the elusive prize.
“I was already married at that time and had a little boy at home. I had to support a family and train during that time. But that wasn’t the hardest part; we didn’t have any facilities in Santa Fe.” As a result Chris had to make a two hour round trip to Albuquerque if he wanted any sparring. There was a guy down there, by the name of Able Molina, who had a gym. He was a great trainer who helped me get ready for fights and worked my corner.” Chris pointed out one advantage of living in Santa Fe, the altitude was 7,000 feet. “When I did roadwork I could run up to 12,000 feet above sea level. As a result I never seemed to get tired.
One of the highlights of Chris’s amateur career occurred the year Sugar Ray Leonard won the Gold Medel in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Leonard came to Albuquerque in the fall of that year and boxed an exhibition with Linson at the Civic Auditorium. I was only 16 at the time and Leonard never tried to take advantage of me even though he put on a show for the fans. He said something nice that I would like my grandchildren to hear about. After our exhibition he took the microphone and said ‘This Chris Linson has a big heart, I’d rather fight a Russian any day then him.’” Chris showed me a faded photo of them in the ring. Leonard had rock star status at the time, Linson must have been busting with pride.
Linson’s amateur accomplishments are listed below:
- Won 3 state Silver gloves titles for NM
- 1974: won silver at National Junior Olympics
- Feb 1975: won Mexico-Southwest Champions bout
- Mar 1975: NM State GG Championship, 119
- Jul 1975: won National AAU, at South Dakota (beat Bernard Mays by kayo in semis), 125 lbs
- Jan. 1977: Won National PAL Title, at Cincinnati (second PAL title)
- Feb 1977: Won Regional GG championship at Albuquerque, NM, 132 lbs.
- Mar 1977: NM State GG Championship, 132
Chris turned pro at nineteen on the same card with future referee Rocky Burke and pro football player Ed “Too Tall” Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. “I was so nervous about my fight, I don’t remember watching either Burke’s or Jones’ bouts.” With an extensive amateur background Linson was too much for his debuting opponent, scoring a first round knockout. His opponent must have thought a second fight would be a charm and fought a rematch with Linson, it wasn’t; he was knockout again.
With two wins against inexperienced opponents, Linson found himself in an eight round bout in El Paso, Texas. He lost a close decision, but why was he fighting an eight rounder after only two fights? Generally you take a young prospect and build up his confidence in a half dozen four and six rounder’s. His third bout made no since. Chris’ fourth and fifth bouts were ten rounder’s in Chicago. Linson could punch and he scored a pair of KO’s, but whoever was handling his career had established him as a ten round main event boxer. Clearly he was being rushed, once you take the tooth paste out of the tube, it’s difficult to put it back in. While in Chicago Linson was offered a promotional contract, but turned it down in favor of a fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He stopped his next opponent in six rounds and was offered the biggest fight of his career so far against Joey Robles.
Robles vs Linson was a brutal fight and after ten exciting rounds it was even on the score cards. As it was an eliminator for ESPN’s junior middleweight title, the boxers were asked to fight an extra round to find a winner. As the bell sounded of the next round Robles slumped to the floor and was rushed to the hospital. Linson returned to his hotel but also had to go to the hospital when he started bleeding. The Santa Fe boxer had won the fight by eleventh round TKO, but it was a painful experience.
Linson’s next fight was against Al Clay a tall lanky boxer who like to box from the outside. Commenting on the fight Chris said,“every time I got inside he’d grab me and clinch. It was a boring fight to watch and I lost the decision.” Good boxers were Linson’s Achilles heel; he always did better against bangers who like to fight on the inside.
Linson’s next two fights were impressive wins. Against Victory Martinez a solid boxer with a good record, Chris used his superior strength to overpower his opponent and score a sixth round TKO. Against Rocky Mosley Jr., he scored three knockdowns in the opening round and won on a first round TKO. Linson was a hot commodity, but no one was looking out for him. He lost a ten round decision to slick boxer Graylin Curry, brother of Bruce and Donald Curry.
Linson would have six more fights, going three and three, but he was always the opponent. His three losses were to junior middleweight title contender Rocky Fratto, future light heavy champion Bobby Czyz and future IBF junior middleweight champion Mark Medal all in their back yards. These bouts made absolutely no sense, unless somebody was trying to ruin his career; in that case it was brilliant match making. Looking back at Chris Linson’s career, you can only wonder what could have been. Clearly this was a case of a ship without a rudder.
Today Chris is still married to the same girl he fell in love with as a teenager. Chris and Lupie have two children (Chris Jr. and Rebecca) and eight grandchildren. He lives in a beautiful home in Santa Fe, New Mexico and runs a very successful upholstery business.
On October 28th at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Albuquerque, Chris Linson will be into the 2017 class of the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame. Congratulations Chris you deserve it!