Pops a fighter until the very end

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Walter “Pops” Carvalho Sr., who trained UFC champions and world champion kickboxers but reserved a big space in his heart for Hilo’s finest fighters, died on March 23.


Walter “Pops” Carvalho Sr., who trained UFC champions and world champion kickboxers but reserved a big space in his heart for Hilo’s finest fighters, died on March 23.

He was 83.

Carvalho suffered from vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels that causes changes in the blood vessel walls, and passed away at Kaiser Permanente in Fremont, Calif., where his gofundme.com page shows UFC champions Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, and Luke Rockhold by his bedside.

Pops trained fighters for over 46 years. He was taken off dialysis and given three days to live but survived for five days, fighting to the very end, according to his son Wally Carvalho.

Pops moved to Hilo in 1991 and formed the Hawaii International Boxing Club at the Waiakea Rec Center, which became a training ground for local mixed martial arts fighters, kickboxers and kids off the street looking to turn their lives around.

“If you were a fighter on the Big Island, Pops impacted your life,” said Wally Carvalho. “He trained the Penn brothers. He worked with hundreds of fighters, a who’s who list in Hilo: Jay Carter, Mike Aina, Mike Pondella, Vance Bond, and John Lopez and too many others to name.

“He shared his life with others. He was thin with his family because he spent so much time helping the young kids. He wanted to make a difference in a kid’s life. But he was always a great dad to us.”

Pops is survived by his wife Barbara, known around Hilo as Grandma Barbara, daughters Joann and Shelley, and sons Jeff and Wally. Pops and Barbara celebrated their 61st anniversary on Feb. 18.

Born on Feb. 9, 1934 in Wailuku, Maui, Pops was a 1952 Baldwin High School graduate. As a youngster growing up on Maui, he would sneak out of the house to train at a local gym before becoming the president of the Future Farmers of America at the Valley Isle school.

He joined the Marines after high school and later worked two jobs at Oakland International Airport as an airplane mechanic and as General Motors supervisor.

Pops later landed a job at the Lockheed Missile and Space Co., which worked with NASA, and put him through college to earn his engineering degree. He became a quality control supervisor at the Sunnyvale, Calif., station and retired in 1990.

In 1970, he became president of the 50th State Athletic Club in Fremont, Calif., where fighters with Hawaii ties trained. Pops also worked with Scott Coker at West Coast Taikwondo; Coker is now the Bellator president.

One of Pops’ students was Javier Mendez, a former world champion kick boxer and founder of American Kickboxing Academy. He’s also the trainer of Velasquez, who reclaimed his heavyweight title over Junior dos Santos at UFC 155 in 2012.

In an interview on mmamania.com, Mendez credited his old coach for teaching Velasquez the “Pops special,” an overhand right.

“He came down from Hawaii. He had has his own MMA fighters in Hawaii. The man is 78 years old (in 2012) and I swear he has the Guinness Book of World Record for ability to hold pads for anybody regardless of size,” Mendez said. “Pops showed him that overhand and Cain took it like water. It was great to see that and to watch that punch come through.”

Pops moved back to Fremont three years ago and opened Pop’s training camp with his son Jeff. Wally Carvalho had a long run as a kickboxing promoter with his Toughman Hawaii shows. He’s hoping to run an annual memorial card in Hilo.


“Everybody who grew up or lived in Hilo and fought they’re all products of Pops,” Wally said. “What he was most proud of was working with kids, seeing them grow up and then working with their kids, like Sergio Mamone. He worked with Sergio and worked with his two boys (Wela and Ricky).

“He was proud to tell his fighters that they would never lose if they believed in themselves in the ring or outside of the ring in their own lives. He was always positive. He wanted his fighters to work hard, and he really shared his life with others.”

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