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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Rivera

Henry “Riley” Anaya One of New Mexico’s Best Ever

By Andy Rivera

I remember the first time I saw Henry Anaya Jr., known to all as Riley. It was in the spring of 1984. He was competing in the PAL National Tournament at the old Civic Auditorium. In the Semi-finals Riley was cut over his eye, after his victory the doctor put a butterfly bandage over it and told Anaya Jr. he may not be able to fight in the championship. Riley pleaded that he was fine and to give him a chance in the finals, if the cut opens up, the referee can stop the fight.

Did it work? Yes. Riley went on the win the National PAL Title and was named Fighter of the Tournament.

When most people think of the best fighters in the 80’s most will think of Ronnie Rentz, Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero Jr. The name Henry Anaya Jr. gets lost with Tapia and Romero Jr. winning world champions and Rentz winning the National Golden Gloves. In fact it was Riley’s father Henry Sr., who trained Tapia at Henry’s Boxing, when both were young children up until their teens.

Henry Anaya Sr, has been coaching for 54 years and still to this day is helping young kids. He started training out of the back yard of relative and co trainer at the time, Joe Turrietta, they moved to the Barelas Community Center and from there it was to the Bobby Foster Gym on 2nd and Broadway. There have been several gyms that Senior continues to train, now at South San Jose.

Anaya credits his dad for his success.

“If it wasn’t for my dad and leading Johnny and I down the right paths boxing wise, who knows where our boxing careers would be.” Stated Riley. “I owe a lot to him.”

Riley, had a 250-42 amateur record, turned professional in 1987. He defeated Roland Baker, starting off 7-0 before falling to Joe Hernandez. Anaya didn’t feel his best in dropping a decision to Hernandez. Riley wanted and got a rematch, this time he took matters in his own hand, stopping Hernandez in the 2nd round.

“I was more focused when the 2nd time around and made sure to get the victory.”

He went on to win nine more wins, including a win over world title challenger, Horace Shufford. Anaya’s career took a turning point that would be life changing. He got into a street fight which caused an injury to his middle finger.

“I got into a street fight and when I hit the guy, his tooth caused a cut that got infected. It was a stupid thing to do, but it happened. I wish I would have been smarter.” Stated Anaya. He attempted to fight first before having his middle finger amputated, he lost to former world champion Lonnie Smith.

“I wanted to fight again, but things didn’t feel right. I had to face the possibility of amputation of my middle finger. It had no knuckle bone left. Anaya said.

After his surgery Anaya just wasn’t the same, he lost 3 out of 4 fights, including his last fight to USA Olympic Gold medalist and future world champion Mark Breland. Breland would be Anaya Jr. last fight, he finished with a 17-4 with 11ko’s, ranked as high as 12 in the world.

32 years later, Anaya Jr, now has a successful construction business. Ko Construction, Riley was wise enough to know boxing wasn’t going to feed the family and learned a trade that has been a successful move.

In a rare thing this day and age, Riley and his wife Renee celebrated their 34th Anniversary and have been together for 38 years total. They have to son’s Zac and Chris.

When I asked Riley, does he still watch boxing? He said not much due to how things have changed.

“Boxing has changed so much that it’s not fun as it used to be. Fighters need to be prepared with fighting tougher competition, that way when they get a bigger fight they are ready.”

He watches big fights at times and wonders what could have been if he had his middle finger?

In my mind he has already solidified his legacy as one of New Mexico’s best ever, world champion or not.

Photo By Dominic Winchell

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Riley is definitely one of the best boxers to fight out of Nuevo. Especially considering the era he fought in. All love and respect for the Anaya family!



Henry Anaya Jr is a New Mexico Boxing LEGEND. He is a classy gentleman, and a credit to our community. Proud to be his friend, and enjoyed his great boxing career!

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