When he was known as the Blond Tiger, he stalked his ring opponents mercilessly.
These days, his neighbours just know him as Tommy Boyce, a pleasant guy who enjoys walking his dog Rocky.
It’s been quite a journey for Boyce, who emerged from the mean streets of East Vancouver to become one of the busiest and best amateur boxers Canada has ever produced.
Boyce began boxing at the age of 12 and his gritty ring presence won him many fans all over North America en route to winning what he estimates to be a phenomenal 175 of 185 amateur fights and posting a solid 17-1 pro record.
Boyce began training at the Hastings Community Centre, but most of his major amateur successes in the sweet science came with the Astoria Boxing Club, which opened in 1966 when former Astoria owner Louie Valente donated the basement of his hotel free of charge to Boyce’s father, Walter.
Trained by their father (a prison guard) and Pat O’Reilly (a fitness fanatic), Boyce and his brothers Wayne and Tubby turned out to be three of the best boxers in Astoria history, a club known for turning street kids into champions.
Boyce and his brothers won numerous amateur tournaments, including Bronze Gloves, Emerald Gloves and Golden Gloves. In 1964 Boyce attended the Olympic trials but lost to Ray Harrington. The next year he became Canadian champion at 125 pounds and won four Golden Glove tournaments. In 1966, at 132 pounds, Boyce became the first Canadian to win the triple crown at the Tacoma, Portland and Seattle Golden Gloves. Employing his best punch – “a nice left hook” – he also won the San Francisco and Vancouver Golden Gloves, tying the fabled Floyd Patterson’s record of five Golden Gloves in one year with no losses. He finished second at the Canadian championships that year.
Boyce turned pro in 1966 and after winning his first fight in Las Vegas moved to New York, where he trained at Madison Square Garden and shared the ring with a heavyweight by the name of Muhammad Ali.
One of the rooms in Boyce’s Courtenay home is filled with boxing memorabilia, including posters and gloves autographed by Ali. Along with a cornucopia of his own medals, Boyce has items signed by Rocky Marciano, whom he met when The Brockton Blockbuster was in North Vancouver to guest referee a card.
While getting his pro career off to an 11-0 (seven KOs) start in The Big Apple, Boyce longed to return to Vancouver and did so when heart problems kept him out of the ring. An avid rugby and soccer player, Boyce resumed boxing two years later when he went to San Diego with a boxing buddy, Dick Findlay.
Boyce continued racking up wins, many by KO or TKO. “He was a slugger and I’d never seen a guy with so much guts. He was fearless,” Findlay told a reporter.
Back on the West Coast, Boyce’s travels in Vegas included chance meetings with Sonny Liston and even members of The Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. “Boxing is all about travelling and meeting people,” Boyce said.
Boyce’s final fight in Vegas was a loss in which he suffered a broken hand and nasty gash from a head butt. Boyce always dished out more punishment than he absorbed, but decided to retire in 1971 at age 22 when a fellow boxer came home after a tough fight with his face resembling raw hamburger meat.
He did return to the ring for two more exhibition matches, one against a kickboxer and the other against middleweight KO artist Jerry “Mack Truck” Reddick.
In Vancouver in 1979, Reddick scored a second round KO, convincing Boyce for once and for all that it was time to hang up the gloves. “I’d lost the killer instinct,” said Boyce. “Once it’s gone, it’s time to get out.”
A winner inside the ring, Boyce had trouble beating alcohol outside it after he retired. But today he proudly points out he has been successfully following a 12-step program for the past 27 years – perhaps his biggest victory of all.
Boyce and his brother Wayne have been nominated to the BC Sports Hall of Fame (most recently in 2002), but curator Jason Beck notes their nominations are both currently sitting inactive.
“At one time various sports such as Boxing B.C. had small ‘walls of fame’ in the old BC Sports Hall at the PNE’s BC Building, which honoured individuals in various sports. But these were not formal inductions in the Hall,” Beck explained.
However, in 2004 Boyce received a lifetime achievement award at the Astoria Fraser Arms Boxing Dinner Show before an appreciative packed house in his old stomping grounds.
Boyce moved from Maple Ridge to the Island three years ago and now enjoys spending time with his family, fixing up his house, taking leisurely walks with Rocky – fittingly a pug breed who Boyce notes was named for Marciano, not Balboa – and enjoying his “good neighbours.”
He still follows boxing but admits he is not much of an MMA fan. He has helped out at the local boxing club and says boxing is a safe sport to get into, as there are rules and headgear (which were not worn in Boyce’s heyday) to protect participants.
After a hectic and highly successful 10 years in the squared circle, a quiet retirement and great memories are a richly-earned reward. Now if only those knuckles would stop hurting …