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STERN VIEW – Northern California Regional Report: Mendez and Escalante Victorious

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This past Saturday at the Cache Creek Casino, operated by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Don Chargin Productions and Paco Presents put on a card highlighting five of Northern California’s top professional prospects. In the main event, Salinas based middleweight Paul Mendez battered his opponent for a six round KO victory. In the co-feature, junior bantamweight Bruno Escalante, training out San Carlos, garnered an eight round majority decision over game Texas veteran Joseph Rios.

The evening’s boxing took place in the casino’s 600 seat upscale theatre, Club 88. With the ring up front on a stage that will later this year burst with the likes of Brandy, Wayne Newton, and Y&T, and a large bar in the center of the room whose top shelf carried dozens of colorful, artistically shaped and surely expensive bottles of liquor, this was not the typical local community center venue that has played host to many of the area’s recent cards. There is something to be said about the energy of the crowd coming from all four sides of the ring, but there is also something to be said about watching boxing in style and comfort. Regardless, the ring was the same and the intensity of the action inside of it was no different than any other solid night of professional boxing.

In the first bout, junior welterweight Darwin Price, 2(1)-0, cruised to a four round unanimous decision over professional opponent Johnny Frazier, 2(2)-20-4, of Las Vegas. Price, originally from St. Louis, was a track scholarship athlete at Grambling St. and a nationally ranked amateur boxer with the unfortunate luck to be in the same weight class as U.S.A. Olympian Errol Spence, Jr. Darwin has the makings of a pure boxer with straight punches thrown from long arms, quick feet on the end of lanky legs, and a temperament that avoids unnecessary risks. His style makes his decision to train with Salinas’ Garcia Boxing (not to be confused with Oxnard’s Robert Garcia) seem a wise one. Max Garcia, his son Sam and Dean Familton teach a Midwest, hit and not get hit, style of boxing that is often at odds with California’s prevalent come forward and bang-it-out philosophy. Darwin responded to Max and Dean’s relaxed and measured ringside instructions calling for patience, feints and working off the jab by doing each of those things. The fight highlighted Price’s jab, a jab as smooth and sparkling as his bright white trunks with gold sequins. Darwin Price’s jab was quick and extremely accurate. Using primarily feints, jabs and the double jab followed by the right hand, Price was able keep his opponent on the defensive through much of the fight. Frazier was first looking to counter Price, a fighter too quick for him hit. Later, Frazier was just looking to survive, though he did shock Price with a last second one-two that drove the off balance Price to the canvas and was ruled a slip. Johnny Frazier had the unfortunate task of being an opponent – the boxer brought in by the other side’s management for various purposes, winning not being one of them. I am not even sure if Frazier got to pick out his ring walk music, some 1970’s Trans Am muscle car rock song. At 2-20-4 and having only been stopped twice, he knew his role well. Fortunately, for the rest of the evenings’ fights, the opponents were not so accepting of their fates.

In the second bout, San Jose’s Andy Vences, 4(2)-0 defeated fellow lightweight Matt Flores, 0-3, via four round unanimous decision. From Twin Falls, Idaho, Flores entered the ring with black trunks and shoes, a shaved head and a chip on shoulder. Andy Vences, a Northern California successful amateur, carried the day with a decent jab, good hard body work, his left hook and superior defense. Flores never wavered and tried to make a fight. Vences seemed a little slow, looped his right a bit and got caught repeatedly with an unconventional lead right-left jab combination. But, Vences was never in trouble and was the clear victor.

The third fight brought the upset. Junior middleweight Eric Mendez, 3(1)-1, of Hawaiian Gardens, Ca., scored a 2nd round TKO over favorite Ricardo Pinell, 5(4)-1-1, of San Francisco, leaving the legion of Pinell fans who made the hour and half drive to Cache Creek silent. Pinell, a southpaw, began the first round beautifully out boxing the orthodox Mendez. While Mendez plodded forward throwing a slow hook that Pinell easily avoided, Pinell circled in both directions, tripled the jab, created angles for his cross and followed in for quick flurries of hooks to the body, then circling out before Mendez could respond.

The second round began with much of the same until Mendez proved that in boxing a gulf of superior speed and skill can be bridged in an instant. Pinell lingered a bit too long and a bit too close in the space where a southpaw’s face is lined up with an orthodox fighter’s right hand. Mendez did not let the moment go to pass and fired a short hard right cross that landed flush on Pinell’s chin. Mendez followed with several hard hooks that one did not need to see to know they landed. The sound of meat being struck with a mallet is unmistakable. Pinell went down hard. He quickly got up on wobbly legs and eyes that spoke of a consciousness not quite present in the here and now. He recovered enough by the count of eight to convince the ref he was not finished. Mendez proved otherwise, quickly landing another cross, followed by a flurry that Pinell could no longer defend. The referee stepped in and stopped the fight with Pinell out standing on his feet. When the ring announcer announced the result, Mendez jubilantly yelled out, “Hawaiian Gardens, baby!” Eric Mendez represented.

Before the co-feature and the main event began, former WBA junior welterweight champion Loreto Garza was honored for being the only world champion to come from the nearby city of Woodland, Ca. Woodland, an agribusiness town of 50,000 is the home town of Vicente Escobedo, and home to Paco Damian (the event co-promoter), a city run gym that consistently produces nationally ranked amateurs, and a citizenry with a high percentage of people who know the difference between an overhand right and a right hook.

In the co-feature dynamic junior bantamweight Bruno Escalante, 10(5)-1-1, out of San Carlos, Ca. scored a majority decision over San Antonio’s Joseph Rios, 13-9-2. Coming in from Texas, Rios has always been matched tough. Over his 7 year pro career, the 31 year old has faced 11 undefeated boxers. If you want to know where your prospect stands, you match him with Rios. Rios entered the ring with red trunks that advertised the Knock U Out barbershop. I will assume they are responsible for his tight fade topped by spiked, gelled and blonde dyed hair. Bruno Escalante immigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii as a child. The ‘Aloha Kid’ is an explosive southpaw sharp shooting counter puncher who uses his hand and foot speed to strike quickly and evade even faster. Balanced and athletic, often playing matador to the bull, Escalante has become a regional favorite. After a feel out round, the 2nd, 3rd and first two minutes of the 4th round saw Escalante doing most of the scoring with single shot crosses and lead right hooks. Both fighters employed lots of feints and level changes looking to open up opportunities, but Escalante was the one landing clean. While only landing single shots, Escalante’s punches were quick enough and thrown with enough force to disrupt Rios’ advances and allow Escalante to jump back at an angle and/or circle away to reset the action. The last minute of the 4th saw a change in the tenor of the fight. Rios started to read Escalante’s movements and was able to force himself inside before Escalante could get off his counter punches. When inside, Rios would employ uppercuts and hooks to Escalante’s body. Escalante mostly looked to hold until the referee broke the fighters.

Rios began the 5th as he ended the 4th, forcing his way inside and hitting hard to the body. Rios’ corner implored, “Stay on him.” Rios dictated the entire round. Escalante was physically strong enough to stay inside, but he was unable to get off his own punches, something Escalante will have to improve on as he develops. In the 6th round Escalante changed tactics and had a nice comeback round. His corner instructed, “Back him up with the jab.” Escalante by coming forward with the jab opened Rios up for the cross that landed cleanly several times. The 7th saw Escalante backing Rios up to start, but Rios started to slip Escalante’s cross. Rios landed a clean cross, hook combination that drove the Aloha Kid to the ropes. Escalante appeared rattled and Rios looked for the KO. Escalante dropped his hands and Rios put him to the ropes again with a cross followed by left and right hooks. Escalante’s corner yelled for him to get his points back. The round ended with both fighters exchanging to the crowd’s pleasure. Escalante looked to counter and spin off in the 8th with Rios closing the gap and pounding Escalante on the inside. Both fighters gave what they had left. When the bell rang, the boxers, whose faces had been masks of concentration broke into deep smiles, laughed and hugged.The judges saw the fight 76-76 draw, 78-74 and 78-75 for Escalante.

Standing in front of IBA middleweight champion Paul Mendez’s, 13(5)-2-1, chance at an October television appearance on FoxSports1 was Rahman Mustafa Yusubov, 9(7)-12. And stand in front of Mendez is what Yusubov did, allowing Mendez to pound him with the 1-2 combinations repeatedly until finally retiring in the corner after six rounds. At 6 foot 1 and with a 76 inch reach, Paul Mendez has won all six of his fights since moving his training to Salinas, Ca. and Garcia boxing. Slowly developing into a Don Familton boxer (the late Don Familton was an Los Angeles based trainer whose work is fundamental to the Garcia’s training), Mendez is looking to step up from a regional headliner to a national prospect. Mendez has been sparring with middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin. Yusubov was here to provide Mendez the opportunity to sharpen up his learning before performing under the television’s bright lights and in front of the watchful eyes of the big match makers.The 5 foot 7 inch Yusubov could take a punch and had plenty of heart, but not much else. He took a lot of clean punches. If Mendez, in his gold sequined trunks, learned anything from this fight, it was his range where he could land the end of his straight punches as hard as he can.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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