By Austin Killeen
Louie and his father were doing an interview with ESPN before his fight with Freddie Roach in Las Vegas in 1983. The reporter asked Sammy Burke when he first knew his son would be a boxer. Mr. Burke quickly answered, “six months before he was born.” Like the Fullmer brothers from Utah, Louie was born into a boxing family. “My earliest memories were tagging along to the gym with my older brother Rocky and my Dad. Instead of clowns and horses, my dad put a pair of boxing gloves above my crib.” Louie’s introduction to the square circle occurred when he was seven. His father had started a boxing program at the local Boy’s Club and used Louie to fill out a card. One of his early opponents was Gene Fullmer’s son Bart. For the next seven years Louie would drift in and out of the sport playing bantam football, little league, track and basketball in Elementary and Middle School. Turning fourteen, the younger brother got back in the sport in a big way. He captured the Western Regional P.A.L. Championship, National P.A.L. Runner-UP and Regional A.A.U. Championships. In all he had 60 amateur bouts, winning 45 but considered his style more geared to the pros.
Louie’s professional introduction took place in San Antonio, Texas in May of 1981, stopping hometown veteran Gilbert Garza in the third round by TKO. With his father guiding his career, Louie was brought along carefully; facing stiffer competition as he gained experience. In April of 1983 Undefeated Burke (13-0-0, 11 KO’s) was matched with Freddie Roach (30-3-0, 10 KO’s) in Las Vegas, NV for the ESPN junior lightweight Title. Louie won a ten round unanimous decision and won a rematch seven months later, also in Las Vegas. He was rewarded with the biggest fight of his career and his first fight in front of his hometown fans in Las Cruces. In a battle of unbeatens, Louie would be facing Top Rank’s Charlie “White Lighting” Brown (22-0-0, 17 KO’s). Additionally, the fight would be carried live on national TV by CBS sports. Sadly, a month before the fight Louie’s father passed away from heart failure. Knowing that it would be what his father would have wanted, Louie went ahead with the bout.
The bout lived up to the anticipated prefight excitement, as it was a war. Louie looked nervous at the opening bell and fought without purpose for the first three rounds. Working behind an excellent left jab, Brown was dropping overhand rights and left hooks on the bewildered home town boy. In the fourth round everything changed, slipping Brown’s jab Louie started landing counter punches to both the head and body. Confused, Brown started backing up going into a defensive shell. At the final bell all three ringside announcers had Burke winning by a comfortable margin. Unfortunately the three judges watched the fight on their car radios and awarded Brown the victory by majority decision.
Bouncing back with a quick win in Texas, Louie was offered a match in Atlantic City against former junior lightweight champ, undefeated Hector Camacho. The controversial “Macho Man” entered the ring wearing a fur coat with matching Leopard skin rope, trunks and shoes underneath. A notorious self promoter, Camacho was giving new meaning to the term “sartorial splendor.” Perhaps unnerved by the circus like atmosphere Camacho had created, Louie answered the opening bell seemingly without purpose. The lighting fast, hard punching Puerto Rican quickly took advantage of his opponent’s confused state of mind. By the end of the first round, Burke’s left eye was quickly closing and he had a cut on his nose. In the opening seconds of the second round the left handed Camacho dropped Louie with a short right hook and left to the head. Apparently Hector’s punches accomplished what Louie corner couldn’t do, settle him down. For the next two and a half minutes the kid from Las Cruces drove the “Macho Man” all over the ring with combinations to the head and body. Suddenly Camacho was lying on the ropes with his mouth open. Burke continued to press the attack but his corner was unable to stop the bleeding and the contest was stopped at the end of the fifth round.
Four months later on August 5th 1985 Louie would enter the ring for the last time in his home town. The match was for something called the WBC Continental Americas Super Featherweight Title. A match Burke should never have taken. Now a junior welterweight fighting at 140 pounds, he depleted his strength to make the 130 pound weight limit. His opponent, Rocky Alonso of Mexico didn’t need much time to realize he was facing a dead man walking. A left hook would fracture the bones around Louie’s right eye in the third round. For two more rounds the stubborn Burke refused to quite. Mercifully the match was stopped at the end of the fifth.
In the dressing room after the fight, Louie went from dazed to incoherent. Rushed to the hospital an examination showed he had almost totally dehydrated himself. He had a potassium level of zero and a heartbeat of twelve per minute. Additionally his kidneys shut down leading to uremic poisoning. The last rights of the Roman Catholic Church were administrated to him that night. It was a miracle that Louie survived, his nurse told him she had four other patients who had zero potassium levels and they all died. Louie spent several months deliberating his future after the Alonso bout. “The drive and discipline was no longer there. If friends called and wanted to go out for a beer, I’d go with them. You can’t have that mentality and fight professionally; you’d just be kidding yourself.” His retirement ended an exciting chapter in New Mexico boxing.
Louie is the proud father of a daughter Samantha and a son Vicente. Louie has a degree from New Mexico State and is a firemen for the Las Cruces Fire Department. Like his father before him, Louie has remained active in boxing having served as a member of the New Mexico Boxing Commission for 10 years and as a trainer and cut man. As a trainer he has worked with world champions Austin Trout and Jennifer Han. Additionally, he trains Abraham Han, Tim Meek, Zach Prieto, Gabriel Rodriguez and undefeated Augustine Banegas. I asked Louie about his excellent reputation as a cut man, but he elected to talk about another cut man residing in New Mexico. “I think one of the best cut men in boxing today is Sergio Chavez who’s being inducted into this year’s New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame.