Los Angeles, California native Pepe Reilly had an outstanding amateur career that saw him as a 1992 National Golden Gloves Champion, and a member of the United States, 1992, Barcelona Olympics boxing team. That squad was not an easy lineup to crack sporting future world champions like Vernon Forrest, Chris Byrd and Oscar De La Hoya. After his amateur career wrapped up, he decided to go pro and would accumulate a respectable 15-4 (11 KO’s) over 7 years.
Turning pro in the spring of 1993, he would go 11-1 in his first year and a half as a professional, only dropping a decision to undefeated Joshua Renteria. Over the final 6 years of his career his work rate would drop with him only fighting 8 times in that span, going 5-3. After his final fight with him, in the fall of 2000, he decided to call it a career, inside the ring.
However, since that time he has been busy working with some of boxing’s best up and coming, and established, veteran fighters, mainly out of the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. MaxBoxing caught up with Reilly to get his thoughts on his career, both as a pro and an amateur, and his current role in the game.
Sitting with him in his hotel room during fight week in Hinkley Minnesota, where he was part of the team working with undefeated Gio Cabrera, (who would be in the chief support slot on the ESPN telecast that week), MaxBoxing had a chance to chat with the champ.
Bill Tibbs: Hi Pepe, my pleasure to finally get to meet you and hear about your career.
Pepe Reily: Hi Bill, no problem, happy to do it.
BT: Born and raised?
PR: I’m from Glendale, California. My dad was originally from South Philly but came out to California to pursue a pro golf career.
BT: Really? That’s interesting. How did you get into boxing?
PR: Well, my dad took me to the gym to get some exercise, you know be active as kids like to do. I really took to the gym, and I really liked it and saw some potential in me I guess. I was about age 8, and he started training me.
BT: Have I trained you through your amateur career?
PR: Yes, he did, coached me through my whole amateur career, about 250-300 fights.
BT: You had a lot of success as an amateur?
PR: I was on the national team. I was doing well, then at age 12 my dad said, ‘we are going to focus on making the Olympic team’. I didn’t even really know at that age what it was, but I was like, ‘ok’. My dad was very supportive and that became our goal after that. Every day after school I would hurry home to get to the gym and train. I was training with guys like Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Gabe Ruelas. We trained and sparred a lot together. I had my first bout with Oscar at 85 pounds, about age 10 or 11. We fought a number of times.
BT: USA amateur boxing was so deep and strong back then; some great fighters came out of those years. Who were you up against to make the Olympic team?
PR: There was a lot of good fighters. I originally lost in the trials to Michael Carbajal. When I looked to move up in weight, I would have to face all the guys I was training with, and friends with; Mosley, De La Hoya. All our dads were friends and coaching together, my father (Fred), Jack Mosley, Joel De La Hoya. So, I went up to 147 and qualified as a welterweight.
BT: You get to the Olympics, in Barcelona in ’92. Was it everything you dreamed of?
PR: Yes, it really was. When I got there and you realize the world is watching and you are fighting for your country and family and everything, it sinks in that this is a big deal.
BT: How did things go?
PR: I won my first fight against the guy from Spain but lost in my second bout to the guy from Lithuania.
BT: You didn’t go as far as you wanted but what an experience and what a great memory for your life. Not many fighters make it to the Olympics. You should be very proud of your amateur career.
PR Thank you, it was a great experience. It really was my life growing up. I didn’t go to my high school prom because I was in a tournament. I never did any dating in high school because I was always training; it was my life.
BT: Had you always planned to go pro after your amateur career was done?
PR: Yes, I did, most guys I know were planning to go pro after their amateur career. They took their amateur career seriously and it was important, but it was always building the pros.
BT: You had a good record as a pro, but you didn’t have the pro run people might have assumed and expected after such a great amateur career. Thoughts on your professional career?
PR: I fought for a long time as an amateur and got very used to that style of boxing. I knew how to fight as an amateur and knew how to work in that fast pace. The pro game is very different, and some guys are better suited to it, it fits their style more, or their temperament more. The pro fights are a slower pace, a different style and I didn’t feel I fit into the pro game as much as I did the amateurs. The two are very different, no head gear, smaller gloves, it is serious business and very rough. Some boxers’ styles are suited to that style, others are better suited to an amateur style which is quite different. I feel I am much better suited to training fighters in the pro style than I was fighting in it.
BT: That is a very analytical approach to understanding the difference between amateurs and pros.
PR: Like I said they are just very different styles of fighting, and some guys are better suited to the amateur style and some guys are naturally better suited to a pro style. As I went along, I lost a couple of fights to guys I should never have lost to, I broke my hands in my last fight. I knew it was time to retire and move on.
BT: You retire and are you thinking that you want to be a trainer right away? What are your first thoughts after retiring in terms of what is next?
PR: I looked at doing some acting, I was in the SAG and read for a part in a show called “Resurrection Boulevard”, but I didn’t know if that was my thing. I did some modelling. Then, I started training clients and my first client was Ray Beltran who took us to the world title. It was incredible, my first serious pro fighter wins a world title. I was prouder than when I fought in the Olympics. It was a great time.
BT: When you see a good fighter and think he has some potential, what is the one thing, the most important thing, he must have?
PR: He has to have the maturity to handle the pro game, be able to adapt to things, handle the responsibility of being a pro fighter, and be committed and focused on the workload. He has to want to do the work, enjoy the process and be able to handle that responsibility and discipline that goes with being a pro fighter.
BT: Where do you work out of?
PR: I train strictly out of the Wildcard Gym in Hollywood working with Freddie (Roach) and Marvin (Somodio).
BT: What is one thing you really enjoy about the training process?
PR: I really enjoy the thinking side of it, putting a fight plan together and completing the puzzle and ultimately winning.
BT: Favorite fighter?
PR: I used to love watching Sugar Ray Robinson with my dad, he’d show me everything he did. Oscar De La Hoya, he was a competitor and then a teammate, but a great fighter. As a fan, Julio Caesar Chavez, and Floyd Mayweather had a great style.
BT: Greatest memory in boxing (so far)?
PR: I never wanted anything more in my life than the night before Ray (Beltran) won the world title. He had title shots before and we’d felt it was probably his last one of him, probably his last chance of him. Ray had been a journeyman fighter, taking every fight he could, for anyone, just trying his best, to get ahead in the game. But we put a team together that believed in him and respected him, and he responded. His manager Steve Feder, everybody was on board and working hard and showing Ray the respect he deserved. And, I have responded; we were like a family. My Olympic experience was something I’ll never forget, the importance of it. But, winning the title with Ray was great, it was very special.
BT: Pepe I can’t thank you enough for your time; really appreciate it. You and your crew have been so generous with me this week, letting me hang with you. It’s been great getting to know you this week. I look forward to covering your fighters in the future.
PR: Thank you Bill, appreciate it.