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Canelo and Chavez: the Mira Loma Connection

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While millions argue in bars, gyms, and street corners throughout the North American continent about who wins the battle of Mexico’s heart, the little known common denominator is a tiny town in Southern California.

Both of Mexico’s young warriors Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez have strong bonds to a small rural Riverside community known as Mira Loma. Their ties to that area go back more than 20 years.

As Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) and Chavez (50-2-1, 32 KOs) prepare for battle on Saturday May 6, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas before thousands there and millions around the world, those living in Mira Loma will be watching with mixed sentiments.

Chavez spent many years in the town along with his brother Omar (Chavez) as youngsters. When their mother divorced Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. she moved from Culiacan, Mexico to Mira Loma in Southern California. Both boys attended school in Riverside, California. Julio attended a school named Ramona High School.

Alvarez’s connection is different. His trainer/manager Jose “Chepo” Reynoso has a brother named Daniel Reynoso who has lived in Mira Loma for decades. Daniel Reynoso’s son is boxer Jose “El Nino” Reynoso.

The Reynosos lived next door to boxing trainer Willy Silva.

From the late 1990s to 2006 Silva had a homemade gym he constructed where hundreds of youths came to learn boxing at no charge. Each day after school the gym that looked like a metallic plane hangar would be filled to capacity with youngsters hitting the bags and jumping rope.

One day a pair of youngsters walked into the gym and began working out among the others. It was the Chavez brothers.

Mira Loma 2001

Both Chavez boys would hang out in the gym among the others and go through the drills on a daily basis. When I first met them Julio was about 15 years old and Omar perhaps 11 years old. The older brother was more focused on learning correctly and the other liked to joke around poking fun.

It was a special place to meet and someone was always dropping in. Silva had an “open door policy” that allowed anyone to arrive without invitation. In those days the gym’s resident pro was Carlos “El Elegante” Bojorquez a hard-hitting super welterweight who would go on to get a win over Pernell Whitaker.

Once in a while fighters like Shibata Flores, “Canonero” Quiroz and even “El Feroz” Fernando Vargas stopped by the metallic gym in the middle of the neighborhood.

One of the youngsters at the Mira Loma gym who would later turn pro was Jose “El Nino” Reynoso, the nephew of Mexico’s famed trainer Jose “Chepo” Reynoso. The nephew put on gloves one day to spar with the pale and bony teenager Julio Chavez Jr.

“I used to see him every day. I once even sparred with him,” said current boxer Jose “El Nino” Reynoso. “He was still green and nothing too special. I just knew he was the son of the legend.”

Afterwards they all got in a truck and drove the Chavez brothers to their home where they ate tortas prepared by mama Chavez.

“They were delicious,” said Reynoso.

Silva, the owner of the gym, said the Chavez brothers would stay until late at night talking and joking with the boxers and parents of the neighborhood. Those were special and memorable nights.

When Julio Chavez Jr. decided to give a try at boxing it was Silva who took him to his first amateur tournament.

“He lost but you knew he was going to get much better,” said Silva who was also training Bojorquez at that time.

Chavez would fight maybe one or more amateur fights with others but with another trainer. Then, at age 17, he would make his pro debut in Culiacan, Mexico and win. People in Mira Loma cheered the win by Chavez.

Canelo

When Chavez was making his pro debut his rival Canelo Alvarez was 13 years old and already making a name in Mexico as a red head freckled-face youngster from Guadalajara, who was surprisingly strong. His trainer was Jose “Chepo” Reynoso who made a career of shaping champion boxers.

Many boxers had streamed in and out of Reynoso’s gym including the Alvarez brothers Ricardo, Ramon and Rigoberto. But when Canelo walked into the gym and put hands on the other youngsters it was clear to the trainer Reynoso the red head was different.

“He was the best boxer I had ever seen,” said Reynoso who has trained numerous world champions like Oscar Larios and Javier Jauregui.

Whenever Reynoso’s world champions fought in the U.S. they would stay at Mira Loma where they would live and train two weeks prior to their fight dates.

“Chepo used to bring his fighters like Javier “Chatito” Jauregui and Oscar “Cholulo” Larios to me and I would take care of them when they had big fights,” said Silva adding that they would stay at his home for two weeks before their fights. Both were world champions.

Every time one of Reynoso’s champions would arrive in Mira Loma dozens and dozens of interested onlookers would gather.

“Chepo had a meat business to take care of in Guadalajara,” said Silva explaining the reason for taking care of Reynoso’s champions. “He did not want to leave the business too long so he would send them to me. They would live here and train here until Chepo arrived before their fights.”

When Canelo Alvarez came along it was a different story. Silva’s gym was forced to shut down due to complaints by the neighbors and other factors. The doors were closed and it was torn down around 2006.

In Canelo Alvarez, Reynoso knew he had someone who would go further than any of his previous world champions. On October 2008, Alvarez arrived in Morongo Casino in Riverside County to showcase his fighter in a match promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. It would be their first look and for those in attendance to see Canelo.

That night I remember “Chepo” Reynoso spotting me and introducing me to his young protégé. We shook hands and they handed me a t-shirt with a picture of Canelo emblazoned on the brown colored shirt.

“He’s going to be famous,” said Reynoso while handing the t-shirt to me.

The fight between Alvarez and Larry Mosley was not easy. The American style used by Mosley, an experienced veteran, was something not seen by the youngster who was 18 years old at the time. But Alvarez powered through Mosley’s slips and counters with pure aggressiveness to remain undefeated. But it did prove to both Reynoso and Golden Boy Promotions that the redhead needed more work especially against the American style.

Chavez

As a pro Chavez gained momentum quickly. The first time he stepped in a prize ring it was as a 130 pound super featherweight. That was in September 2003. Chavez continued to grow very quickly in height, weight and experience.

I first saw Chavez fight as a pro in February 2004 when he fought on the undercard of Erik Morales versus Jesus Chavez. That night, in Las Vegas, the son of Mexico’s greatest boxer fought and defeated Oisin Fagan by decision in a lightweight contest.

Each time Chavez fought he seemed to get bigger and stronger. One blaring element of his father that he carried with him at all times was his tempered steel chin that could absorb the best blows from opponents.

In 2009, when Tijuana was in the midst of drug wars and beheadings on the streets of the border city, the eldest son of Julio Cesar Chavez fought in a bull ring in the Tijuana Beach. Few media members would cross the border that night. But it was a pivotal moment for Chavez Jr. as he battled his way through the very strong Argentine fighter Luciano Cuello to win the WBC Latino super welterweight title.

The victory over Cuello was the night fans in Mexico and in Mira Loma realized Chavez could indeed win a world title. As we arrived back at our hotel in downtown Tijuana jeeps driving along with submachine guns roamed the streets at night. Few Americans attended the fight, but those that did, witnessed the graduation of Chavez as a title contender.

When Chavez won the WBC middleweight title the journey seemed complete. Wins over Peter Manfredo Jr., Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee confirmed his talent. But problems arose in training and with the Nevada Commission over banned substances. That sent Chavez in a downward spiral. Even his near win over Sergio Martinez could not change the dark cloud hanging over Chavez.

Many were saddened by the events. None questioned his talent, only his discipline.

Meanwhile, Alvarez was rocketing upwards, especially after winning the WBC super welterweight title in 2011. By 2013 Alvarez had defended the title six times including an impressive win over Austin Trout. Many felt he would not pass Trout but he surprised skeptics with the win.

One who sparred Alvarez was Mira Loma’s Jose “El Nino” Reynoso, a southpaw called upon because Trout fights in the southpaw stance. Trainer Silva accompanied Reynoso in Big Bear, California.

“Yes I sparred Canelo and he was too strong for me,” said Reynoso whose uncles Eddy and Jose “Chepo” Reynoso train and manage Alvarez. “He was the strongest fighter I ever sparred.”

Canelo’s next fight was against Floyd Mayweather and despite questions by many about his greenness Alvarez felt confident he would be the one to beat the Las Vegas fighter. Of course he lost, but he gained respect and a lot of money. Also, he became a boxing star that night.

For the next four years Chavez and Canelo traded insults and challenges though clearly one fighter was moving upward and the other downward.

When rumors on social media arose about the possibility of a showdown it was done in a quiet way. But it lingered on Twitter and Instagram like cigar smoke in a Las Vegas casino.

I called Eric Gomez to ask about one of the Golden Boy events in Los Angeles and on a whim asked if there was a chance for a Chavez-Canelo fight. This was in early February. He said he had just spoken to Chavez by phone and it looked like something could be done for the right price. He asked me not to reveal this. I abided.

I guess the right price was met.

People in the neighborhood of Mira Loma are ambivalent about whom to cheer and support. On one side is the Reynoso family who lives there and trains Canelo. On the other side is Chavez who actually lived there and still has family residing in the area.

Still, you can bet all will be watching on HBO pay-per-view if not attending the fight.

“That’s a tough one mi hijo,” said Silva when asked who he thinks will win. “Canelo is a tough son of a bitch but so is Chavez. But I have to go with Canelo.”

Mira Loma will be patiently waiting to cheer whoever wins.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / GBP

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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