While most students know him as a regular worker at Berkus Hall dinners, John Pinto’s had a career—and even a brush with fame—before serving up his first meal on campus.
Before coming to Occidental, Pinto spent 40 years in the professional boxing scene—fighting, coaching and announcing in both amateur and professional circles. His journey in the ring began in 1975 in Cincinnati where he competed as a fighter, drawn to the sport by its long history and international presence.
“It’s one of the most regulated sports out there,” Pinto said. “People who are not familiar with the sport might view it as just violence, but there’s a lot of strategy in the sport. It’s not just the strongest person winning.”
After more than five years in the ring, Pinto became a full-time coach at his friend’s gym in 1981. He continued coaching until 1985, while also working as a bartender. Once, when the same friend decided to put on an amateur show in his gym, Pinto showed up in his bartending uniform.
“When my friend saw that I was already dressed for the part, I was made the announcer of the event,” Pinto said.
Feeling that it was time to delve into the west coast boxing scene, Pinto moved to California. He worked as a timekeeper before moving his way up to judge and eventually referee. But in a twist of fate, his career took another turn. When an announcer didn’t show up to a fight, Pinto stepped up to the mic once again, and continued to announce for years to come.
“To be honest, I was afraid to mess up the Spanish names,” Pinto said.
His successful performances eventually led to Pinto announcing at the Los Angeles Forum, where many current and future hall-of-famers made their names. Pinto’s pre-fight introductions even made it to television sets across the country when his bouts were broadcast on ESPN. Through his work he was able to meet and see the biggest names in the boxing world, including Sugar Ray Leonard and Al Bernstein. He also announced the first sanctioned Muy Thai bout in California in 2001.
Around the same time, he began working for various publications that covered professional boxing. Working for Punch News, Sweet Science and Fight News, he traveled to Las Vegas and covered Manny Pacquiao, Sugar Shane Mosley, the Klitschkos and many other stars.
Finally, in 2005, he came to work at Occidental College part-time, as he felt it was time to settle down. Though no longer involved with the boxing scene, Pinto still keeps up with both the professional and amateur ranks.
Pinto’s re-telling of his story transfixed the Occidental students who were present to listen a recent evening in the Marketplace.
“I just thought he served food. It’s inspiring to hear all that he’s accomplished,” sophomore Colin McCully (sophomore) said.
Though he is no longer in the ring or standing ringside, he continues his passion by watching all the professional fights he can on television and keeps up with the amateur scene online.
“I’ve gotten older but I’m still young in the mind,” Pinto said. “I’ve had my fun back in the day, and I hope the students here are able to enjoy their 20s too.”