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Wrestling his way into the history books

Skyline history professor James Wong (left) has rubbed shoulders with many of professional wrestling´s best, including Hulk Hogan. ()

Skyline history professor James Wong (left) has rubbed shoulders with many of professional wrestling´s best, including Hulk Hogan. ()

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Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, The Rock, the late Owen Hart, Oscar de la Jolla, George Foreman, Felix Trinidad. The list goes on and on. What do these wrestlers and boxers have in common besides being fighters in the ring? They have all had the pleasure of meeting James Wong.

Known to many students as simply a history teacher at Skyline College, few know that he has a bit more history of his own to share.

When Wong isn’t in class or in his office correcting tests, he is an official inspector for the California State Athletic Commission and has been for the past 24 years. This job entails weighing boxers and wrestlers, checking contracts with their promoters, making sure they get paid, that the rules are being followed and that everything is fair and safe.

Through such a profession, Wong has found countless opportunities in meeting famous athletic personalities. He doesn’t just do the routine inspection without talking to these athletes, but really gets to know them and their families.

“The Hulk and Owen Hart always stood out,” Wong said. “The Hulk always took time out to talk to me.” He also recalled a time when watching matches in the backroom while sharing popcorn with the late Owen Hart. Wong described Hart as, “very calm, soft-spoken, and genuinely nice.”

A lot of people may think that wrestling is scripted and fake, but according to Wong, “the work they do is hard. I see real injuries. And they’re big guys, they don’t fake it.”

The worst scenario that happened to Wong was when a boxer died in the ring. His name was Rico Velasquez, and during the fatal match became brain dead in the ring and was later taken off life support. Wong described the event as, “the most pivotal moment in my career. It impacted me the most.”

Still, Wong does not stop himself from encouraging these fighters, young boxers especially, to go to school.

“Boxing is a tough game and to live only by boxing is hard,” Wong said. After seeing a beginner boxer after three years, “sometimes I don’t even recognize them.” He explains that it’s not just how they look physically, but the blows to their heads make them slur their words and speak differently. So Wong encourages these young men to make their money boxing, save it, and use it to fall back on, but also try to attend vocational school.

A Golden Gloves Boxing Champion who also happened to be a student here at Skyline took Wong’s advice. He was probably one of the toughest amateur boxers, but when going up against other tough opponents higher up the ladder, the student fell back on Wong’s advice. He stopped boxing and still trains, but is now a paramedic.

Teaching and inspecting are on opposite ends of the career spectrum, and Wong acknowledges this.

“It’s a Chinese belief, the yin-yang,” said Wong, who received an advanced degree at UC Hastings College of the Law and his Masters in History at Sonoma State University, “A balance…because professional boxing is down and dirty, very sexist, and they’ll kill you for a dollar. And I like that contrast with academia which is real cerebral.”

Wong does keep the scales balanced. In fact, he has been teaching for 32 years, 13 of which have been spent here at Skyline College. But when Wong is not in a classroom or meeting wrestlers and boxers, he has the time to make appearances on game shows.

About 20 some years ago he played in a game show called, “Tic Tac Dough.” And about two years ago, he participated in Family Feud. During rehearsal, he was actually asked to “dummy down” by the people who ran the show. They said that he was too intelligent.

Wong has also taken preliminary tests for shows like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?,” “The Weakest Link,” and “Jeopardy.” These shows take at least 10 percent of those who actually try, and Wong passed. “I always liked “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”…because I’m a history major. I test myself.”

And there is more to add to his story. Wong is also president of the International Sanda Kickboxing Federation. He also wrote the leading story in a magazine called “Inside Kung-Fu,” where he had the opportunity to interview Ma Zhong-Xuan, a martial artist who appeared and trained Chow Yun-Fat in the movie, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”

With such an impressive resume, one wonders why he settled for being a teacher?

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Wong said. “I consider it my biggest challenge. Inspiring students, instilling discipline, time management…trying to help find themselves…I like the light bulb coming on. And the enlightenment. And they get it, and they finally get it. Not only the subject, but everything. About life. Everything… I love that.”

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Wrestling his way into the history books