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04/09/2008 Archived Entry: "Ivan Popoca Unplugged and Up Close"

Ivan Popoca Unplugged and Up Close

Photos and interview by Juan C. Ayllon

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Ivan Popoca (center) celebrates another win with David Diaz (left) and referee Pete Podgorski

CHICAGO, April 8, 2008—At 6-0-1 with 5 knockouts, he trains with a world champion so that one day he can become a champion, too.

Ivan Popoca, 26, is a crowding and aggressive slugger, the kind that gets a fight crowd wound up. Standing at a generously listed 5' 7", he's not the biggest guy in the world--especially in the welterweight division, where the elite regularly stand 5' 10" and taller. And, at 6-0-1 with 5 knockouts, he’s a little on the raw side. However, he’s training with childhood friend and World Boxing Council Lightweight Champ David Diaz to work out the kinks.

This Friday at the Odeum in Lake Villa, Illinois, Popoca faces an undefeated opponent in Trenton Titsworth who in his first professional bout knocked out one Sean Wilson who was 6-1 with 2 knockouts. Standing 5' 11" at 2-0-1 and 2 KO’s, Titsworth poses some potential problems.

Popoca was born Rey Ivan Popoca in Mexico City, on February 26, 1982 to Josefina Villava and Rey Popoca. With two sisters and an older brother in tow, he moved with his parents to Chicago when he was five years old, where he attended Cameron Grammar School and Lakeview High School.

At the tender age of nine, he began boxing. It turned out that one of his best friends was a nephew of David Diaz.

“I used to go to [Diaz’s] house,” says Popoca. “I saw all these trophies and they got my attention. I asked, ‘How can I get involved in boxing---what was the charge?’”

Continuing, Popoca says, “They took me to this Chicago Park District Park—Hamlin Park—and that’s where I started taking punches!”

Popoca has two twin sisters (now 16)—Guadalupe and Gardena—and an older brother, Jose Popoca, 28—who works Popoca’s corner and provides him employment in his construction business.

On his amateur boxing career:

I had around 165 fights…I probably [had] around eleven or twelve losses on my record. I won several times the Chicago Park District. My first year was [fought at] like 75, 80 lbs. And I started going up in weight. The next year, I was already about 95 lbs. I can’t remember what weight I won the championships in.

I actually stopped boxing for a little bit. I was young and supposedly I was in love. That was the reason. It was just like party time.

That’s when I missed out all those years. I can’t let all those years of boxing just throw them away. I kind of regret it, but it’s time to hit the pros. I was trying to win the Golden Gloves, but it didn’t go that way. So, I just went pro.

In 2003, I got back into the Golden Gloves, but I lost in the finals. I lost to Ninos Abraham (in the Golden Gloves). I think they took the fight away from me. All of those years that I wasn’t fighting, he was fighting. They gave it to him, but I thought I had the fight.

Before [that] I was in Golden Gloves, I was in the juniors. I was National Silver Gloves champion. That was 147 already! And also I won the Jr. Olympics in 99 (age around 15 years old).

I ended up turning pro in 2007. Now, I’m in the pros.

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Popoca (right) chats with Diaz and Mike "Fly" Garcia after a workout at JABB Boxing Gym

On his training with World Boxing Council Lightweight Champion David Diaz:

Right now, I was working out with him, training [and] sparring. He helps me out a lot. [With him] I get to learn, like, more different styles to fight in the pros.

He like corrects me—if I do something wrong, he tells me, ‘you’ve got to do it like this’—like if I throw a punch wrong, he corrects me. That helps me a lot.

I like to fight like hard, but he tells me in order to—how can I explain—the way I fight, it makes it harder for me. He tells me it’s about punching and moving, not just standing there and taking punches.’

So, I’m learning a lot because the trainers that David Diaz got, they’re my trainers too. They’re helping me a lot. They're [Mike Garcia and Jim “Strick” Strickland--who also manages Diaz] also my trainers.

I run like every day five miles. When I go training, it’s like two hours and a half in the gym. My running is like 45 minutes. So, I think I’m ready for this fight, training hard.

On his personal relationship with Diaz:

We hang around a lot. [Diaz] invites me to see fights at his house. He’s like an older brother for me.

On any concerns about Tisworth:

Since I was turning pro, almost all the fighters I’ve been fighting have been taller. So, I’ve been sparring with taller guys than me…Carlos Molina—he’s also fighting on the fight; also a guy from Oregon who’s 19 and 0. I forgot the name of that guy. I think he’s also fighting on that show. And I’m sparring with David.

His prediction for Friday night:

It’s going to be a good fight on this night. We’re ready for anything. We trained hard for this fight!

Theyre going to be surprised with my style that I’ve got right now---with the few fights I’ve got right now—they’re going to be surprised that I’ve got talent for this sport. The way that my training is now, it’s way different right now. It’s punching and moving around. You’ve got to fight, you’ve got to fight.

On his goals:

My goals [are] like to learn, in the future, win more fights, [and] maybe be champion some day.

I want to get down [in weight] more. This fight’s going to be [fought at] 144 [lbs.]; I want to get down to 135 at least. I’m not too tall and I think it’ll be better for me at a smaller weight.

On what he does for work:

I work in construction. I work for my brother. He has a little concrete company. We do foundations, driveways and sidewalks.

On romantic involvements and fatherhood:

I’m separated. I’ve got a child right now. He’s three; he’s going to be four next Tuesday. It is (hard) because they ask for more things now when they start growing up.

What he does in his spare time:

I usually go to the movies, go to the mall. It’s not like going clubbing—I don’t drink or nothing right now—play pool, go bowling. That’s about it.

On whether he struggles with diet and making weight:

No [I don’t struggle]. [I eat] normal, but smaller portions of food. It’s not like I’ve got a strict diet. At 6 o’clock I don’t eat no more. If I eat something after 6, it’s like a protein shake. That’s about it.

On his promoter, Dominic Pesoli and 8 Count Productions:

I’m fighting for (Dominic Pesoli) right now. It’s pretty good. We have a good relationship. He’s a real cool guy—we just cool buddies. He motivates me. [And] yeah, Tina [Pesoli], too—she’s a good person.

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Popoca (left) plays assassin en route to stopping Gustavio Palcios last April in the second round

Parting comments:

Come to the show. It’s going to be a great show that night. To all my Hispanic people and whoever comes, just come and support the future champions of tomorrow!

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