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Thread: The Southern California Notebook

  1. #1
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    The Southern California Notebook

    Return of the Southern California Notebook
    By Doug Fischer from Max Boxing

    With welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito already three weeks into his training for his July 14th mandatory challenge from Paul Williams and light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins arriving next week to train at the Wild Card Boxing Club for his July 21st showdown with Winky Wright it seemed like a good time to bring back the Southern California Notebook.

    Indeed, there are enough top-notch prospects and world-class veterans training in and around the Southern California area to merit the “SCN” returning as a weekly column.

    Manny Pacquiao will soon be back at “Coach Freddie’s” Hollywood gym, getting ready for whoever it is he’ll wind up facing in October (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be “my son” Edwin Valero); former 122-pound champ Israel Vazquez is training with Joe Goossen in Van Nuys in preparation for his anticipated August 4th rematch with Rafael Marquez; and undefeated heavyweight hopeful Chris Arreola, who will be on the Margarito-Williams undercard, is working hard in Riverside, as are 140-pound prospects Victor Oritz and Tim Bradley, who train in Oxnard and Coachella respectively.

    There are scores of other up-and-coming young fighters and seasoned pros training every day in gyms based in East L.A., Maywood, Hollywood, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and throughout the San Fernando Valley.

    This week my attention is on unbeaten junior flyweight prospect Giovanni Segura, who will face former 105-pound titlist Daniel Reyes tomorrow night in a Telefutura-televised main event from Gary, Indiana. If Segura can beat the Colombian veteran he will earn “mandatory challenger” status for the WBA’s 108-pound title.

    Despite Reyes’s advanced age (35), this is a tough outing for the 25-year-old Segura, who holds a 17-0-1 (13) record. Reyes showed in his last fight, a split-decision win over former longtime WBO 108-pound titlist Nelson Dieppa, that he still has the legs and reflexes to go with his veteran experience and heart. With 43 pro bouts (38-4-1, with 30 KOs) under his belt, Reyes – who owns stoppage victories over former titlists Roberto Leyva and Edgar “Tun Tun” Cardenas – is likely going to present Segura with the toughest fight of the Mexico-born southpaw’s budding career.

    “Reyes is a good little fighter,” said Segura’s manager Ricky Mota. “He was a ’96 Olympian and he’s never been knocked out as a pro. All four of his losses were 12-round fights, and three of those guys were champions, so we know he can fight.

    “But he is getting long in the tooth. Boxing is a young man’s sport, so let’s see what he does with a 25 year old.”

    Keep in mind, however, that this 25-year-old fighter didn’t put on a boxing glove until he was 19. Segura didn’t have his first professional fight until he was 21. Because of his late start and limited amateur experience (less than 20 bouts), Segura often thinks of himself as being “younger” than some of the amateur boxers and newly turned pros that he’s been sparring with to get ready for Reyes.

    One of those sparring partners is 19-year-old Leo Santa Cruz, the younger brother of lightweight contender Jose Armando. The younger Santa Cruz is currently 2-0 as pro, but Segura says the kid shows him new things in the ring every time they spar.

    “Leo had 70 amateur fights, he practically grew up in the gym, so I learn from him,” he said after a tough eight-round sparring session with Santa Cruz at the Maywood Boxing Club last Wednesday. “I learn about losing weight properly from these younger guys, I learn about protecting myself in the ring, I learn how to fight different styles.”

    Segura is an entertaining fighter to watch, but he’ll be the first to admit that he still has a lot to learn.

    There’s nothing fancy about this kid. Segura’s goal once the bell rings is to walk his opponent down and pound his body and head until he gets knocked out, quits, or decides to run for safety.

    On the technical front, he is practically void of any defense. He doesn’t move his upper-body or head, and he seldom uses his jab, as he steps forward towards his target. Segura’s usual tactic is to try and block on-coming punches with a high guard until he can get close enough to whack the other guy’s body in hopes of bringing the opponent’s hands to down in order to get a clean shot at his chin.

    That crude but generally effective plan of attack was on display last Wednesday morning in Maywood, where Segura went eight hard rounds with Santa Cruz. In the first two rounds of the session, Segura was able to do what he wanted, however, Santa Cruz, who fights at bantamweight, is gifted with the same durability as his older brother, and beginning in the third round the rangy teenager began to pressure Segura, backing the heavy handed southpaw into corners and along the ropes where his volume punching more than matched Segura’s power punching.

    When Santa Cruz was able to back Segura up he had the upper hand, as the southpaw ceased punching and covered up while giving ground. When Segura dug his heels into the blood-stained canvas and bulled forward behind his usual two-fisted body attack he dominated the action, which was a lot better than anything I watched on pay-per-view this past Saturday.

    “We did nine rounds the other day,” Segura later said of his gym work with Santa Cruz. “People stopped what they were doing and clapped after every round.”

    That doesn’t happen very often in the Maywood Boxing Club, as gym wars are the norm there rather than the exception. However, one hopes that Segura isn’t leaving his fight in the gym, or worse, cultivating bad habits.

    If a 2-0 Leo Santa Cruz is lading punches at will, what will the experienced and skilled Reyes do tomorrow night? I guess we’ll have to watch and see, but I should point out that while Santa Cruz is mere pugilistic pup, he was close to 10 pounds heavier than Segura. Reyes won’t have that kind of size and weight advantage. Also, Segura spars with 14-ounce gloves. Tomorrow night in Indiana, he’ll have on eight-ounce gloves and you better believe that makes a difference in a real prize fight.

    I already feel sorry for Reyes’s ribcage.

    Before I left the Maywood Boxing Club, I bumped into Edward Goumachian, trainer of cruiserweight contender Vadim Tokarev, who was recently out-pointed by Marco Huck in a 12-round bout for the vacant IBF title in Germany.

    Goumachian, who trains a host of tough fighters from Armenia and a bunch of countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, keeps it real. He told me the majority decision that went to Huck, a 22-year-old phenom with an unbeaten (19-0) record, was a just one.

    “Vadim was not in proper condition,” Goumachian told me. “He lost the last three rounds, so he can not complain. He’s 35 years old, so he is stubborn. He trains and eats the way he wants to, and his diet is terrible.”

    Goumachian says Huck will be a tough outing for any of the top cruiserweights.

    “He’s got no defense but a very good chin and he’s a dirty fighter,” he said. “He’ll be hard to beat in Germany.”

    I left Maywood around 12:30 p.m. in hopes of catching a Top Rank presser (and a free lunch) that was being held that afternoon at a Mexican restaurant on Olvera Street in downtown L.A.

    The press luncheon was being held for some of the fighters who will be on the undercard of this Saturday’s intriguing welterweight showdown between WBA titlist Miguel Cotto and former champ Zab Judah.

    In attendance were Humberto Soto, arguably the most dangerous 130-pound contender out there, Soto’s June 9th opponent Bobby Pacquiao, the younger brother of the PacMan, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who will take on Grover Wiley, the Midwest journeyman who retired his father a few years ago.

    “Bob-Pac” has been working hard at the Wild Card gym over the past four weeks under the watchful eye of trainer Freddie Roach, who acknowledges that Soto is one of the top five 130-pound fighters in the world. However, “Coach Freddie”, who closed up camp this past Monday, says his fighter is in optimum condition and has looked good against a very good group of sparring partners.

    “Bob [Arum] is hoping to create an opponent for Manny by having Soto knock off his brother, but we’re in great shape and we’re going to try and pull the upset,” said Roach.

    Bobby’s sparring partners included the WBO’s “interim” lightweight titlist Michael Katsidis, David Rodela (a 5-foot-10 junior welterweight who provided Manny many rounds of solid work in preparation for the icon’s April fight with Jorge Solis), and Roger “Speedy” Gonzalez.

    Katsidis, an Australian of Greek descent who was supposed to headline a cancelled card in Anaheim late last month, is an absolute beast at 135 pounds. I imagine that Bobby had to constantly up his game just to stay in there with the undefeated badass.

    We’ll see if Bobby has enough to withstand what Soto brings to the ring Saturday night.

    On my way out of the press luncheon I talked to MaxBoxing’s own Ernest Gabion, the head administrator and chat coordinator for our message boards. “Eaner” has been an integral part of Team Margarito’s efforts to round up quality sparring to help the Tijuana Tornado prepare for his WBO mandatory.

    As of last Wednesday, Margarito had put in two weeks of serious training at the South El Monte Teamsters gym. His main sparring partners are former 154-pound contender Rodney Jones, who just happens to be the last fighter to beat Margarito at welterweight (11 years ago), former Scottish amateur star and middleweight prospect Craig McEwan, Minnesota-based middleweight Andy Kolle, and an amateur boxer named Michael Falk.

    There are more sparring partners will be delivered to the El Monte gym, but there will be plenty of time to write about Margarito and his camp in the weeks to come.

    Next week look for more Southern Cali. notes on Bernard Hopkins, Season One of ‘The Contender’ graduate Miguel Espino, who headlines a club card in Burbank on June 30th, and more than a few crazy characters that could only be found at your local boxing club.

  2. #2
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    Re: Return of the Southern California Notebook

    Best Class Of CA. Lightweights Since 90s?
    By David A. Avila from Sweet Science

    SOUTH EL MONTE, CA.---John Molina handles his headgear delicately, almost like a surgeon preparing to go into the operation room.

    A sparring session is about to begin.

    Inside the South El Monte boxing club about 40 boxers are working on various training regiments but that’s all about to stop. Molina will be sparring Victor Ortiz, one of the most feared super lightweights in the area and everyone wants to see the results.

    The three-minute buzzer goes off and both prizefighters approach each other carefully for good reason: each fighter has true one-punch stopping power.

    “This is what it’s all about,” said Pete Hiranaka, a matchmaker and promoter.

    A cluster of talented prizefighters in the lightweight divisions ranging from 130 to 140 pounds has emerged in Southern California that rivals the early 1990s when guys like Genaro Hernandez, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Rafael Ruelas, Zach Padilla and Gabriel Ruelas roamed the gyms.

    “Yes, that was a pretty good group,” said Rudy Hernandez who trained his brother Genaro and is a former prizefighter too. “But this group today is not as well known as that other group. Everybody already knew Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya coming up.”

    On this Saturday morning, a number of junior lightweights, lightweights and super lightweights are all gathered in the South El Monte gym to test their skill and mettle. They arrive from Mexico, Nicaragua, Oxnard, Maywood, Lancaster and West Covina for a chance to trade punches with the best that have gathered.

    WBO welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito looks on with interest. He guides a young lightweight stud named Brian Ramirez who could be facing one of these fighters in the near future.

    The sparring session between Molina and the rugged southpaw slugger Ortiz is calculating but energetic. Though the taller fighter is older his experience in the ring doesn’t rival Ortiz who had a lengthy amateur career totaling more than 100 fights. Molina only had about a dozen.

    “I was surprised by John Molina,” said Robert Garcia who trains Ortiz in Oxnard. “He was able to land some shots the first two rounds.”

    After a three round session Ortiz and Molina both pat each other warmly. Outside of the ring they’re very friendly. Inside the ropes it’s much different. After all, there are reputations to maintain.
    “John and Victor really like each other,” said Joe Molina, John’s father. “It’s a good thing. They could hurt each other in there if they wanted.”

    Lightweight contenders and prospects continue to emerge and sprout like lettuce every year. This year is a vintage group.

    Brad Goodman, a boxing advisor and expert talent scout, said this lightweight group has a lot of potential for the near future.

    “I really like this Victor Ortiz kid,” said Goodman by telephone from New York. “It’s amazing to see a young kid so dedicated.”

    California lightweights

    A number of dedicated lightweights are poised for bigger challenges but the best of all is IBF 135-pound lightweight world titleholder Julio “The Kidd” Diaz from Coachella.

    Diaz captured the title for the second time when he beat Jesus Chavez in February by technical knockout.

    Diaz has one of four major world titleholders and is considered to be the best by several experts. The other champions are Joel Casamayor, Michael Katsidis and Juan Diaz who holds both the WBO and WBA belts.

    “I’d love to see the Diaz’s fight each other,” said Henry Ramirez, a Riverside boxing trainer. “Julio can really crack and he’s very skilled.”

    Right now the lightweight divisions including junior lightweight, lightweight and super lightweight are burgeoning with talent across the country. California is enjoying one of its best years in terms of top quality fighters in the lightweight divisions.

    To assess the talent we enlisted the help of a few expert boxing people who know the business and make decisions for some of the best fighters in the world. Those assisting with this piece are Brad Goodman, Rudy Hernandez, Robert Garcia, Henry Ramirez, and Ben Lira.

    Here are the other junior lightweights (130 pounds), lightweights and super lightweights (140 pounds) ready for their moments in the limelight. Beginning with the four-round and six-round fighters:

    Ron Hurley (1-1-1) of San Jacinto – The lanky 130-pounder already has a loss and a draw, but he’s been matched tough in Nevada. He has excellent fighting skills for an 18-year-old. If Hurley can avoid taking too many punches he could evolve into a good fighter. He’s tall for his weight at 5-feet nine-inches. He’s fighting on June 15 at Harrah’s Rincon.

    Carlos Molina (1-0) of Commerce – He made his debut at Ontario and showed classy moves and countermoves in winning by unanimous decision. Though he’s not very tall, his skill level makes him dangerous for anyone. He’s still a teenager but has captured numerous national titles as an amateur.

    Hector Serrano (3-0, 2 KOs) of Huntington Park – The 18-year-old moved to Riverside to begin his apprenticeship under Henry Ramirez. Tall for a lightweight, Serrano has raised interest quickly with his performances. Serrano is a stablemate of Josesito Lopez and heavyweight Chris Arreola.

    John Molina (6-0, 5 KOs) of Covina – Though he’s already 24 he’s still very fresh in the boxing world. Molina is a good athlete with power in the right or left hand. “He’s the type of fighter who could be losing a fight and end it with a knockout,” said Goodman. “We need to see how he reacts when he faces someone who wants it as much as he does.”

    He’ll be fighting at the Quiet Cannon on June 22.

    Miguel Garcia (8-0, 7 KOs) of Oxnard – He comes from a boxing family and is co-trained by his brother Robert Garcia a former world champion and Eduardo Garcia his father. They’ve passed on their knowledge to the youngest Garcia who’s sparred many rounds with Manny Pacquiao and his brother Bobby. Though Manny and Bobby took it easy on the youngster, that’s valuable experience in the ring.

    The prospects

    Brandon Rios (15-0, 10 KOs) of Oxnard – He’s originally from Kansas but now resides and trains at La Colonia Boxing Club. Big and tough he recently helped Marco Antonio Barrera prepare for his epic battle last March. Rios has height, power and decent speed. “He’s still trying to find himself,” said Goodman.

    Dominic Salcido (12-0, 6 KOs) of Rialto – After a couple of years of inactivity Salcido has now been moving at a rapid pace toward contention. For years many boxing experts tabbed Salcido as a “can’t miss” prospect though he seldom fought. Now he’s in a fast gear.

    “Dominic Salcido has fast hands and fast legs,” said Robert Garcia. “He’s got a lot of talent, he just needs to plant his feet a little more and take some chances for the knockouts to come.”

    Josesito Lopez (20-2, 12 KOs) of Riverside – In his first pro bout he knocked out an amateur star making his second appearance. In his third bout he suffered his first loss. Since then he’s embarked on a learning curve that has propelled him to become one of the most improved lightweights. “He’s a good prospect who can punch,” said Goodman. “I just wish he’d use his height more and jab.”

    Vicente Escobedo (13-1, 11 KOs) of Pasadena – Many compared him to Oscar De La Hoya when he arrived from the Olympics. But a loss to veteran Daniel Reyes seemed to set him back. Now master boxing trainer Nacho Beristain is guiding the 25-year-old boxer-puncher. “It’s not a bad thing to have a loss early in a career,” said Rudy Hernandez who trains two lightweight contenders. “Vicente is a very good fighter. He’s only going to get better with Nacho Beristain teaching him.”

    The Contenders

    Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley (20-0, 11 KOs) of Indio – Just recently Bradley rolled through another super lightweight contender on national television. The speedy Bradley uses his quickness and power to gain advantage on the inside. He also has quick legs to get out of trouble. “He’s already been matched up tough,” said Hernandez. “Bradley has been tested. I think he’s going to win a world title.”

    Victor Ortiz (17-1-1, 12 KOs) of Oxnard – The super lightweight fights from a left-handed stance and has caught a lot of attention with his riveting knockouts. His loss and draw were due to a disqualification and an accidental cut on his head. Otherwise Ortiz, 20, would be undefeated. “He’s such a nice kid out of the ring,” said Goodman. “No doubt in my mind he’s destined to win a world title.”

    Urbano Antillon (18-0, 11 KOs) of Maywood – Despite only 18 pro fights Antillon has proven himself against stellar competition. Injuries and other problems put him out of action. Now he’s ready to take a shot at the world title. He’s currently ranked number one by the WBC. “Urbano Antillon is a great fighter but not too much TV exposure,” said Henry Ramirez. “He’s a sharpshooter with good clean punches. He’s just so accurate with his punches.”

    Goodman, who has worked with Top Rank for years, said Antillon should be the next world champion from this list of lightweights.
    “He’s really onto something big,” said Goodman. “I’m pretty sure he’ll surpass everybody plus he has a great trainer.”

  3. #3
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    Re: The Southern California Notebook

    Southern California Notebook
    By Doug Fischer (June 21, 2007) from Max Boxing


    After four weeks of training in his native Philadelphia, Bernard Hopkins arrived to Southern California last Sunday to begin camp for his July 21st fight with Winky Wright under the watchful eye of Freddie Roach at the Wildcard Boxing Club.

    It’s no secret that a big part of the light heavyweight champ’s decision to train on the West Coast was to increase his accessibility to the media in order to hype up the showdown with Wright, which will be televised live on HBO Pay-Per-View from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

    “Bernard didn’t have to come to Los Angeles to train, he was putting in good work in Philadelphia, but being both a fighter and a promoter I think he knows that between he and Winky, he’s the more marketable fighter,” said Hopkins’s assistant trainer John David Jackson. “Winky’s a good fighter but he doesn’t really have a whole lot to say. Bernard, as you know, has more to say to the press than any other active fighter, so it made sense to come out west.”

    Case in point, today Hopkins, and his Golden Boy Promotions partner Oscar De La Hoya, will meet the Los Angeles-area boxing media during an afternoon open workout at Roach’s popular Hollywood gym.

    I won’t be there.

    It’s not that I’m the anti-social type or have anything against Hopkins, De La Hoya or Golden Boy; it’s just that so-called “open workouts” in recent years have become nothing more than press conferences that take place in a gym. The sport’s top fighters don’t spar in front of the media (or the public) any more, and sometimes the boxer who is supposed to be in the spotlight doesn’t train at all while the press is present in the gym. What’s the point?

    I’ve been following the winding wayward career of Hopkins as a member of the media for the last eight years. I witnessed his rise from obscurity to prominence, from boxing maverick to promotional magnate, and I’ve heard all of his lectures along the way. I don’t need to hear another one.

    I don’t mean this as a diss to the former undisputed middleweight champ. I have the utmost respect for his many accomplishments, for his superb skills in the ring, and for his amazing discipline and perseverance outside of it.

    But I know his story; we all do. And at this stage of his career (and mine), I’d much rather watch him ply his craft than hear him talk (and talk and talk) about “the business” and his precious legacy that was essentially secured six years ago.

    Last Thursday was his first day of sparring at the Wild Card, so dropped by to check him out. I made sure to get there at least half an hour before Hopkins and his crew were scheduled to show up because I wasn’t sure how welcome I would be once the champ arrived. I haven’t conducted a one-on-one, face-to-face interview with Hopkins since the Philadelphia badass had a hard falling out with MaxBoxing columnist (and part owner) Steve Kim back in late 2001.

    Once upon a time, back when Hopkins was an unknown title holder pleading his case to whoever would listen, Kim was one of his few “media allies”. Hopkins was a regular on Kim’s gone-but-not-forgotten Sunday radio show, “The Main Event”, in ’98 and ’99. The two rabble rousers got real close in 2000 and in ‘01, the middleweight’s breakthrough year, but things went very sour after Hopkins made a number of unfounded allegations against former HBO boxing executive (and more recently at the time, former advisor) Lou DiBella in an article Kim wrote for MaxBoxing.

    The article landed Hopkins in a federal court, the subject of a libel suit filed by DiBella. Hopkins (and his defense team) told the jury and the district judge that he was misquoted by the young internet writer. However, Kim was asked to testify in court and his audio tape of the raw interview for the story in question proved that Hopkins’s words were not taken out of context, and were indeed malicious, which, of course, was primary reason the champ lost the case. In November of ’02, the court ordered Hopkins to pay DiBella $610,000 ($110,000 in compensatory damages; $500,000 in punitive damages).

    You don’t have to know Hopkins personally to know that: A) he hates to lose, and B) he is not the most forgiving man in the world. Needless to say, Kim is not one of his favorite people, and in past years, I have heard that he considered me “guilty by association”.

    I tell you what, folks. It’s no picnic being on Nard’s S__t List. I generally don’t care what other people think about me, and as you can imagine, because of my Mail Bag column, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin from having to deal with the nutty fans of certain fighters on a regular basis. But think skin is not enough to shield a nerdy guy like me from that Graterford Prison glare that Hopkins can turn on you at any moment during a press conference.

    Without really saying anything, or bringing up specific names or past occurrences, Hopkins has – in the past few years – fixed that hard stare on me when I’m in his vicinity (usually a press luncheon or post-fight press conference) and suddenly I feel like I’m about to burst into flames.

    I won’t lie. Hopkins scares me. I’ve been physically threatened by fighters, very good ones, a few times in the past and I’ve never felt hint of fear. But Hopkins, who I know as convicted felon and a millionaire promoter would never lay a finger on me unprovoked, intimidates the hell out of me.

    Beyond his street upbringing, his ex-con background, and his identity as a prize fighter, the man’s a born predator. My instincts tell me so.

    Hopkins senses fear and weakness in others and he knows how to take advantage of it. I believe he intimates professional boxers – world champions – the same way he does college boys like Yours Truly.

    Jackson, a former 154- and 160-pound title holder who fought Hopkins 10 years ago, agrees.

    “Bernard has that knack to dissect anyone who stands in front of him,” Jackson said. “He slowly picks you apart, mentally and physically, until you’re ready for the kill.”

    I didn’t want that kind of attention from the champ last Thursday. I just wanted to get a peak at the man’s training. I watched him train at Johnny Tocco’s gym in Las Vegas when he was still in his physical prime, and he was amazing. I just wanted to know how much of the 1999/2000 version of Nard was left in 2007.

    I left my notebook in my car and kept a low profile once inside the gym, sitting or standing against the wall as I talked shop with Akbar Muhammad (the young one, not the former Top Rank VP) and a 27-year-old cruiserweight named Ola Afolabi.

    People often ask me who are some of the best gym fighters that I’ve seen in L.A.’s gyms over the years, and I always mention the names of Shane Mosley, James Toney, Tony Tubbs, and more recently, “my son” Edwin Valero, but I always add that some of the better gym fighters are not well known professionals.

    Afolabi is one of those unknown gym rats who on any given day can hold his own (and then some) with any top prospects or world-class fighter.

    I had no idea that he would spar with Hopkins that day. Afolabi’s not a natural left hander, and he stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 210 pounds, but he said he could imitate Winky’s stance and style, so in the ring he would go and I would definitely find out how much Hopkins has left – if he allowed me to stick around.

    Hopkins entered in the gym and walked directly back to the newly added private room of the Wild Card. He either didn’t notice me or didn’t mind my being there. If he had a problem with my presence I would have left the gym without a word of protest. He’s got a right to train in private if he wants, and there are plenty of other fighters and fight people deserving of coverage in the greater L.A. area. But I’m glad I got to stay and witness a true master ply his trade.

    The four rounds Hopkins went with Afolabi confirmed my belief that the “old man” is a great fighter. I don’t throw the word “great” around. I make a difference between title holders and champions; hall of famers and all-time greats.

    Hopkins is a real champ and a great fighter. He could have competed in any era at middleweight or light heavyweight. I’m convinced of this. And at age 42, he’s the closest thing to Archie Moore that this era’s fight fans are going to see.

    Hopkins didn’t do anything spectacular in the 12 minutes he sparred with Afolabi. He didn’t do anything flashy or explosive. He simply did everything right. Every move was calculated and executed to perfection. Every punch was delivered with textbook technique and at precisely the right time. I don’t think he missed with a single punch. His feet and his gloves were in proper position at all times, his footwork was steady and smooth, and he was always in position to protect himself by either blocking Afolabi’s punches or by slipping them. And, of course, he was always in position to “get off”.

    His jabs and right hands landed right on the button. They didn’t hurt Afolabi, who regularly trades with punches with 240-pound heavyweights, but they stifled him. And they set him up for more punches. Left hooks. Body shots. And more right hands.

    At one point, Hopkins, who used the entire 18-by-18-foot ring, often backing to the ropes in order to lure Afolabi into traps, sprung out of a corner to land three consecutive lead right hands.

    To understand how impressive those right hands were, you have to know that Afolabi is not some one-dimensional pug. He’s a smart guy, in and out of the ring. He’s not the kind of fighter who gets off on letting other people use his head as a speed bag.

    If he had an amateur career to speak of, plus the right management at the start of his career, he could be a cruiserweight contender right now. As it is, he’s an inactive prospect, the holder of an 11-1-3 record. His only loss was a four-round decision to Allan Green in a light heavyweight bout early in both men’s careers.

    In 2005, Afolabi’s last active year, he out-pointed U.S. amateur standout Michael Simms over eight rounds and stopped former cruiserweight title holder Orlin Norris in seven.

    I’ve never seen him in a pro bout, but I’ve seen him give Toney fits in the gym.

    “Toney had more trouble with Ola than Hopkins did,” Roach admitted.

    Kim told me that when undefeated cruiserweight contender Matt Godfrey was training at the Wild Card the New Englander and Afolabi had some intense sparring sessions. The Korean Hammer said that during one of their sessions, Afolabi backed himself into a corner and dared Godfrey to hit him, dodging every punch the young man threw in-between taunts.

    Roach said he didn’t recall any one-sided sessions (either way) between the two, “but they gave each other good work.

    “I remember that Ola kicked the s__t out of that guy who knocked out Bolo [Wills].”

    Roach was referring to undefeated heavyweight prospect Chris Arreola. Former 115-pound and bantamweight title challenger Sammy Stewart backed Roach’s claim up.

    “Ola busted Arreola up good,” said Stewart, now one of the gym’s house trainers.

    If you haven’t seen Arreola fight yet, take it from me, the Riverside-based heavyweight threat is an absolute monster.

    Hopkins didn’t come at Afolabi like a monster. In fact, he didn’t come at Afolabi at all. Hopkins let the younger man take the initiative and he kept him in check with his mind.

    Hopkins’s Spartan lifestyle for the past two decades has enabled his body to last, athletically, into his early 40s, but it’s his razor sharp wits, backed by an iron will, that allows him to continue to compete on the elite level and often dominate world-class fighters.

    We’ll see in three and half weeks if Hopkins can find any weaknesses to exploit in Wright’s game. Here are two things about the July 21st fight that I am certain of – one, age is not a factor; and two, Wright will not be intimidated by Hopkins.

    “It’s a tough fight for either fighter,” said Stewart.

    I was on the fence in regards to picking a winner in this match, but after watching last Thursday’s sparring session I can’t help but lean towards the old man.

    TWO MORE ROUNDS

    By the way, after his four rounds with Afolabi, Hopkins sparred two “cool-down” rounds with Craig McEwan, a 25-year-old former amateur star from Scotland who is currently 4-0 (3) as a pro.

    The Roach-trained middleweight prospect was no more effective against Hopkins than Afolabi was, but the natural southpaw took it to the ring legend for six minutes.

    McEwan tried to land his jab before bulling his way in behind a two-fisted body attack. Hopkins calmly stepped back to the ropes and blocked most of the incoming punches, countering with left hooks and lead rights whenever he saw an opening, however, McEwan’s high volume of punches made it difficult for Hopkins to mount any sort of sustained offense. Hopkins was clearly working on defense, but I think the young Scotsman gave the vet some decent work.

    Literally moments before he stepped into the ring with Hopkins, McEwan had just arrived from the South El Monte Teamsters Boxing Club, where he had sparred three rounds with Antonio Margarito.

    As of last week, McEwan had two weeks of sparring nearly every day with the Tijuana Tornado and my hunch is that the hard gym work helped the lad prepare for his first day with Hopkins. I think McEwan had to step up his intensity and punch output in order to keep up with the WBO welterweight titlist, and his stronger work ethic was evident in the two rounds he went with Hopkins.

    Speaking of Margarito, his July 14th title defense vs. undefeated contender Paul Williams is the talk of the gyms here in Southern Cali. At the Wild Card just about everyone I’ve talked to in the pat two weeks, including Roach, is picking The Punisher to win. (In fact, I understand that Roach is so keen on Williams that he bet Margarito’s un-official publicist, Steve Kim, a substantial sum of money.)

    Outside of Kim and actor/boxing commentator Mario Lopez, who is away shooting a movie in New Mexico (but should be back in town in time to attend Margarito-Williams), the only Wild Card regular who thinks the TJ Tornado will be too much for the young contender is Roach’s brother Pepper, who drives McEwan to the South El Monte every day to spar with the rugged Mexican.

    “Margarito ain’t no hella boxer, but man, he keeps comin’ and comin’ and comin’ atcha,” Pepper said with a laugh. “He never stops punchin’ and he can take whatever the other guy can dish out. He’s just a tough, tough, tough son of a bitch.

    “Kim’s gonna take my brother’s money.”

    SOUTH EL MONTE TEAMSTERS BOXING CLUB

    The South El Monte Teamsters Boxing Club is not very close to where I live, but I’m going to have to get used to the drive (eight miles on the I-10 East and 10 miles on the Pomona Freeway) because aside from hosting Margarito and the other fighters who are trained by Javier Capetillo, the gym is also the new home of former 122-pound champ Israel Vazquez and lightweight prospect John Molina.

    For the last three weeks, Kansas-born Oxnardian Victor Ortiz, one of the brightest prospects in the game, used the gym and about 40 rounds of sparring with Molina to prepare for his Telefutura-bout against 15-1 Antony Mora next Friday.

    Ortiz, who is only 20, is one of the few prospects that I will tab as a future world title holder (along with Alexander Povetkin, Jorge Linares, and the Peterson Brothers). The 17-1-1 (12) southpaw’s “Solo Boxeo” headliner is must-see TV for any hardcore fight fan.

    “Sparring with Victor was a great learning experience,” said Molina, a tall and rangy 24-year-old lightweight who has the physical strength and bone structure of a welterweight. “He’s very strong, and very smart.”

    Molina, who fights 8-5 (6) Francisco Rios Gil tomorrow night at the Quiet Cannon country club in Montebello, is hands down one of the most exciting prospects in the sport, a two-fisted wrecking ball who takes no prisoners once the bell rings. However, like Ortiz, the 6-0 (5) Covina native is polite and affable outside of the ring.

    Both Ortiz and Molina are disciplined, smart, and articulate.

    I know the sport is not as healthy or respected as it was 15 or even 10 years ago, but when I talk to young boxers like them I can’t help but be hopeful for boxing’s future.

  4. #4
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    Re: The Southern California Notebook

    Southern California Notebook
    By Doug Fischer from Max Boxing

    The first time I saw Antonio Margarito fight was 11 years ago (to the day) at a club show that took place in Culver City.

    He lost that fight, a 10-round decision to the bigger and more mature Rodney Jones, who used a stiff southpaw jab and nice footwork to control and out-point the Mexican up-and-comer.

    Margarito had a little bit of a buzz going in L.A.’s Spanish-speaking boxing community. His managers at the time boasted that their young buck would take on anyone, anywhere, anytime. They were so confident of the Tijuana resident’s considerable strength and durability that they didn’t bother screening his opponents.

    They should have checked out Jones, a 6-foot-1 junior middleweight southpaw with solid boxing skills. I covered the fight for a local newspaper and recall writing something to the effect that Margarito was “nothing special”.

    That was then. I had no idea Margarito was 18 years old. I had no idea that Jones, who won his next 12 fights (including a stirring 11th-round stoppage of Shibata Flores) en route to a respectable challenge to formidable former 154-pound titlist Harry Simon, was as good as he turned out to be.

    Now I know that Margarito is special in his own way.

    He’s not the fastest fighter out there. He’s not very smooth or fluid in his athleticism. He’s not much of a technician and he’s certainly not a defensive wizard, but in a sport where toughness (both mental and physical) and tenacity counts, he’s a force to be reckoned with.

    I realized this five years ago, when Margarito won the WBO’s 147-pound title from former junior welterweight standout Antonio Diaz.

    Despite ringing off 16 consecutive victories (which included devastating KOs of dangerous prospect Alfred Ankamah and veteran David Kamau) after his loss to Jones, I thought Margarito would get out-pointed and out-gutted by the smaller but more-experienced Diaz.

    I watched Margarito prepare for what was at the time the biggest fight of his career at the now-closed L.A. Boxing Club without any idea that he was a fighter that I would cover numerous times, both in the gym and ringside, in the coming years.

    I also made the drive to the desert town of Coachella to observe Diaz train for his second shot at a welterweight title. (Diaz’s first shot come 16 months earlier against Shane Mosley, which was the only loss in his previous 30 bouts).

    After viewing the respective camps, I was fairly certain that Margarito would be a sucker for Diaz’s big right hand, and this would be the bigger man’s eventual undoing. I was half-correct in my analysis. For about five or six rounds, Diaz landed his right hand at will as a tense Margarito tried to box with the smaller man on the outside. However, once Margarito decided to impose his size (and will) on Diaz over the second half of the title bout, which took place at Bally’s in Las Vegas, the fight quickly became brutally one-sided.

    Margarito won by 10th-round stoppage and I’ve been a believer ever since.

    As far as boxing writers go, it’s a pretty small club, one that’s headed up by MaxBoxing colleague Steve Kim.

    Most fight scribes are lukewarm at best on the longtime WBO title holder.

    Ask them why and they’ll state that his deliberate, often technically sloppy, come-forward style is simply not the stuff of elite fighters or boxers worthy of any sort of praise. They will also note his 10-round technical decision loss to former junior middleweight title holder Daniel Santos and his struggle with Joshua Clottey last December.

    Fighters who lose to Santos, these journalists tell me, have no right call out the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and would no doubt be dominated if they ever found themselves in the same ring as the Pretty Boy.

    Fair enough, although I disagree with the assumption that the relentless 5-foot-11 welterweight would not present a contest to Mayweather, a natural lightweight.

    I’d like to point out that Santos, who represented Puerto Rico in 147-pound division of the same ’96 Olympic boxing tournament that Mayweather won his bronze medal at 125 pounds, is a 6-foot-1 southpaw who weighs in at 154 pounds and fights at a solid 170 pounds.

    I don’t see many comparisons between Santos and Mayweather in terms of size, stature or style.

    However, Margarito’s next opponent, Paul Williams, does compare to Santos, the last man to beat the Tijuana Tornado.

    Williams, a freakishly rangy 6-foot-2 southpaw, also stacks up comparably to Jones, the last man to beat Margarito at welterweight.

    Is it any wonder why so many fans, members of the press, and boxing insiders are picking the undefeated (32-0) 25-year-old South Carolina native to upset the long-reigning WBO titlist when the two face off at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California two weeks from now?

    “It’s no surprise to me,” said Ben Lira, the care taker of the South El Monte Teamsters Boxing Club, where Margarito has trained for his last three fights. “Williams is a left handed fighter and he’s got the advantage of size and quickness over Margarito. People who’ve seen him fight think he’s better than Margarito in every department. They might be right, except for the level of experience – and that’s the difference in this fight as far as I’m concerned.

    “Margarito has been in with tough fighters; he’s been in tough fights; Williams hasn’t. When it gets heated in the ring, we know what Margarito will do; he will fight on no matter what. We don’t know what Williams will do yet.”

    Lira’s prize pupil, 24-year-old lightweight prospect John Molina, an avid boxing fan and observer, thinks Williams will get burned once the heat is on.

    “With Margarito, you’re going into the kitchen whether you like it or not,” said Molina, who improved his record to 7-0 (5) with a six-round decision over late sub Marcus Brashears this past Friday night. “The deciding factor in this fight, as far as I’m concerned, is power.

    “I don’t think Williams is the puncher he’s made out to be. I saw his last fight, against this late sub [Santos Pakau], who was TINY! Williams hit him everything he had for six rounds and the little guy didn’t go anywhere.

    “You think he’s going to do something to Tony? I don’t think so. I think Williams’s best punches are going to be like someone opening a window and letting in a cool breeze to Margarito.

    “The thing about Margarito, and I know ‘cause I’ve sparred with him, is that all of his punches are heavy. They all hurt no matter how sloppy they might look or where they land. Even when he’s holding back like he does with me, every single punch hurts.

    “Another key factor in this fight is that it’s taking place in California. They’re going to be wearing eight-ounce gloves in there; not 10-ounce gloves like they do in Las Vegas.”

    The gloves the two giant welterweights will swap punches with on July 14th will be considerably smaller than the sparring gloves they used when they sparred for a two-week period prior to Margarito’s loss to Santos in September of ’04.

    The differing stories on a particular sparring session – one in which Williams claims that he cut Margarito and hurt him to the point that the brisk gym work had to be halted – have added spice to the build-up to the welterweights’ showdown and have even transformed the intriguing bout into a grudge match.

    Williams, usually a soft-spoken and respectful young man, made brash predictions such as: “I’m going to mop the floor with Margarito”; “I’m going to stop him in the fifth round”; and “I’m going to make him quit on his stool”.

    Margarito, usually an easy going sort, seemed uncharacteristically moody and surly at the press conference for the bout that was held at a steakhouse in Burbank at the beginning of this month.

    However, the mood of his training camp for Williams, now eight weeks old, has been nothing but positive and often jovial.

    “The best way to describe this training camp is intense but fun,” said Ernest Gabion, the chief administrator for MaxBoxing’s message boards who has aided Team Margarito in rounding up the sparring partners for this camp. “Tony’s co-manager, Sergio [Diaz], told me that this is the hardest he’s ever seen Tony work, but it’s also the most relaxed.”

    That’s good news for Margarito’s fans.

    One thing I’ve noticed about Margarito after watching him train for the last seven years, although he always comes to fight, he’s only really sharp or “on” when he has a good camp.

    “For some reason everything has just fallen into place for this training camp,” said Diaz, who co-manages Margarito along with Francisco Espinosa. “It reminds me of his camp for Kermit Cintron; good sparring, good mood and no injuries.”

    The last eight weeks have been a far cry from the complete disaster of a camp Margarito had for Clottey, where an injured hand and a severely sprained right ankle only compounded the frustration the fighter had with his promoter (Top Rank, which was not able to secure a meaningful fight or payday for him in ‘06) and his management had with finding suitable sparring (at least a dozen notable prospects and veterans turned down their offer or failed to show up).

    The injuries, inactivity (nine months), and sub-par sparring made for a disgruntled and rusty Margarito, who took five rounds to get going against the underrated Ghanaian welterweight contender, who suffered a hand injury of his own and faded badly down the stretch.

    However, in preparation for Williams, who many believe is a more formidable opponent than Clottey, Margarito has been all smiles.

    “I think he’s very inspired for this fight,” said Brian Ramirez, a 21-year-old junior lightweight prospect who has trained along side Margarito for the last four years. “He’s always in great shape, he’s always strong, but for this fight he’s more active. I see him moving more in the ring, throwing even more punches than usual.”

    Molina, who is works out at the South El Monte gym and has been present for Margarito’s last three camps, says this camp is by far the best he’s seen of the title holder.

    Ironically, Margarito’s chief sparring partner has been Rodney Jones. The Stockton, California resident, who was 11-2 when they met in the ring 11 years ago, is now a 38-year-old veteran of 42 fights (37-4-1).

    Backing up Jones has been 14-1 Andy Kolle (who was sent home a few weeks ago after he suffered a badly cut lip), 12-1-1 Keenan Collins, 10-0 Austin Trout, and 4-0 Craig McEwan.

    The five sparring partners fight at 154 and 160 pounds, but weighed an average of 170 pounds during this camp, which is good since Williams will likely weigh that much on fight night.

    They’ve given Margarito quality work; and the young ones like 21-year-old Trout and 25-year-old McEwan, who is also sparring with Bernard Hopkins, are receiving a fistic education. They are finding out that athletic talent and impressive amateur credentials aren’t everything in the world of professional boxing.

    Trout, who was often last in the four-man sparring rotation with Margarito (when the 29-year-old veteran went nine to 12 rounds), was able to use his superior hand and foot speed to good effect for one round, but quickly found himself smothered by the ‘TJ Tornado’ in the following two rounds.

    McEwan, who bested the likes of John Duddy and Andy Lee in a storied 376-bout amateur career, has learned the virtues of conditioning. His greater size and better technique only served him well for so long against the non-stop pressure and volume punching from Margarito. Since he began sparring with Margarito, the affable Scotsman has vowed to do his roadwork every day (something he hadn’t always done) and add a professional conditioner to his training team.

    “Craig told me that it’s tougher sparring with Tony than it is with Bernard Hopkins,” said Molina.

    The only concern for Margarito’s management is to make sure the welterweight workhorse does not over-train, something I believe he did prior to his fight with Santos.

    In the past, I’ve witnessed Margarito spar 15 hard rounds with as many as four different sparring partners and then do eight rounds of mitts with his drill sergeant-like trainer Javier Capetillo.

    “We have to watch Tony closely,” admitted Diaz. “He’s a proud Mexican and so is Capetillo. Tony’s the kind of guy that wants to show you when you say he can’t do something. If you tell him ‘You can’t climb that mountain’, he’ll race right up it to prove you wrong. So, he’ll do 15 rounds of sparring just to show Capetillo that he can do it, but we’ve been careful of that for this camp, and Capetillo has cooperated with us.

    “A couple of weeks ago, Tony sparred 12 HARD rounds with four different guys. We could tell that he was getting worn out, so we had him take the week off in terms of sparring. It was Capetillo’s idea. Tony trained – he did his roadwork on the Santa Monica beaches and in the mountains of Azuza and he did all of his floor work in the gym – but he didn’t step into the ring to spar until the following Tuesday when he did 12 rounds again, and he looked great. The next day he did nine rounds, and then he did six rounds that Thursday and six rounds again that Friday. He took the weekend off.”

    So far, the less-is-more approach is working for Margarito.

    “He’s weighing about 152 pounds now,” said Diaz. “He’s done with the 12-round sparring sessions and sparring with the big guys. We sent Jones, Collins and McEwan home. We’re keeping Trout because of his hand speed, but we’re bringing in smaller guys for him to spar with so he can get acclimated to more speed. Right now he’s just staying loose.”

    I dropped by the South El Monte Boxing Club yesterday (unannounced and uninvited as usual) to see just how loose Margarito is staying.

    It was a light workout by his standards.

    Wednesday’s training was comprised of three rounds of warm-up shadow boxing in front of a mirror (old-school calisthenics that consisted of up-and-down “yes-and-no” nodding and head shaking to wake up the neck muscles, and dance-like scoop-down motions where he leaned his upper body forward to touch his hands to the floor in-between the usual air punches), four rounds of sparring (with a quick-fisted 25-year-old amateur lightweight named Eric Godoy), three rounds of mitts (one round with Capetillo, one round with assistant trainer Jesus Armando Perez, who employs a rapid-fire style, and one round with Capetillo using “the pillow” body-protector type cushion used to refine body attacks), two rounds on the speed bag, two rounds of shadow boxing in the ring (with gauze hand wraps tied together and stretched four ways across the canvas with their ends tied to the top turnbuckle of each corner so Margarito could practice head and upper-body movement by ducking and dipping under them as he moved about the ring, throwing quick air combinations), and finally jaw and neck exercises.

    Margarito was supposed to do six rounds of sparring, three with Montebello’s Godoy and three with Trout. However, Trout, who hails from Las Cruces, New Mexico, suffered a jaw injury in his last sparring session with Margarito, so he took the day off. He might be back by this Saturday.

    Trout could be joined by Victor Ortiz next week, the last week of sparring for Margarito, provided the Oxnard-based 140-pound standout takes care of business in his Telefutura-televised bout vs. Maximino Cuevas tomorrow night without any injuries.

    “We’re almost finished with the hard work,” signed Capetillo, who has also trained former title holders Jorge Paez, Alejandro “Cobrita” Gonzalez, Julio Barboa and Isidro “Chino” Garcia in the past 10 years. “Tomorrow is our last day of sprints.”

    Those “sprints” are six 300-meter intervals that are run uphill in Hollywood’s Griffith Park.

    MaxBoxing members will get to see some of Margarito’s road work (the beach runs along the Santa Monica coastline), as well as his intense mitt work and shadowboxing, in the first part of a three-part mini-documentary now playing on Max-TV that our talented video editor Brian Harty has dubbed “the Path to the Punisher”.

    Part one is entitled “the grind” (for obvious reasons), while part two, which will be posted next week, highlights his grueling sparring sessions with Jones, McEwan & company. Part three, due out on fight week, will focus on the promotional events of the July 14th main event such as today’s media conference call with both fighters and a public workout scheduled to take place at the Plaza Mexico in Lynwood next Tuesday.

    Fight clips of Williams’ recent bouts plus an in-depth interview with Margarito will also highlight the third part of the series.

    It’s special coverage for a special fighter and what we hope will be a special fight.

  5. #5
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    Re: The Southern California Notebook

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