Sports

Ex-boxer remembers his teacher

By COLE COSGROVE

Associate editor

John Palaki, a native of Tonga, was on track to box in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when his father died. Palaki was too upset to continue in the ring at the time, but immigrated to the United States. Shortly after Palaki came to the Northwest in 1992, his grandfather died.

That’s when legendary northwest boxing manager and trainer George Chemeres stepped into his life.

“I met George here in the gym and he started training me,” said Palaki, 30, who now lives in Federal Way. “He helped me so much, not just in boxing but in life. He’s my mentor. He’s like a father to me, taking care of me. He taught me so much. He’s one of the best in the world.”

Chemeres, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, died Nov. 15 in Seattle at the age of 87.

Palaki was the final protege for Chemeres, who managed such fighters as 1956 Olympic gold medalist Pete Rademacher.

Palaki frequently headlined at the Lucky Eagle Casino in Rochester and was ranked as high as No. 9 in the world in the junior lightweight division by the International Boxing Federation.

But Palaki’s promising career was cut short because of an injury to his optic nerve. Chemeres decided to retire at the same time.

“The doctor said it could be fixed, but with boxing, if I got hit again it might come back,” Palaki said. “(Chemeres) didn’t want to take a chance, so he retired me.”

“He cried like a baby,” Chemeres told The Daily World newspaper in Aberdeen last February. “He said, ‘I want to fight. That’s my life.’

“I said, ‘John, my contract is running out, too. I don’t want you to fight.’ He quit a year ago. I retired when he retired.”

As hard as it was to retire for Palaki, who was 22-1-2 at the time, Chemeres helped him put boxing into perspective.

“He didn’t want me to go on,” Palaki said. “He told me, ‘Your life will come first.’

“It was pretty hard, but I guess that’s how life goes sometimes.”

Palaki, who would eventually like to be a boxing manager, now volunteers his time with young boxers at the Hillman Gym on Rainier Avenue in Seattle.

He visited Chemeres for a final time at the hospital last week.

“I told him I want to pass on that knowledge,” Palaki said. “But it has to be to someone who is willing to learn.”

A memorial for Chemeres is planned for 1 p.m. today at the Columbia Funeral Home, 4567 Rainier Ave. S., in Seattle.

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