Lock and key
Bordertown’s borderline champ Escalante takes on Lock on way to world title shot
Story & photos by Chris Cozzone
Returning home as a top ten contender, El Paso’s Antonio Escalante has more at stake July 24 than adding another victory to his record.
Headlining the ESPN2-televised, Golden Boy-promoted card in his El Paso’s Don Haskins Center, Escalante, 20-2, 13 KOs, will take on Detroit’s Cornelius Lock, 18-3-1, 11 KOs, in a ten-round bout of major consequences.
If he wins, Escalante could be fighting for a world title by the end of the year. A loss, and Escalante will have to start over – a fall and rise he has suffered before when he walked into a big right hand by Mauricio Pastrana, back in 2007.
Add to the pressure?
Fighting for a world title goes beyond the glory of one Antonio Escalante. In 100-plus years of boxing, El Paso has come close many times, but the city has never been home to a homegrown world champion.
Want even more pressure?
It’s been two years since the border town has been host to a significant fight card. The last show, over a year ago, was a major debacle that soured the taste of local fight fans.
If this show fails, it could be even longer before the city that, once upon a time, held three shows a week, remerges as a fight town.
“I feel the pressure,” admits Escalante, “but I can’t let it get to me.
“Everything will come out right if you don’t put pressure on yourself. I try to ignore what’s at stake and just concentrate on giving 100% of myself in the ring. And putting on a hell of a show.”
The last time Escalante fought at home was nearly three years ago, when he blew out an overmatched Omar Adorno in two rounds while defending his NABO super bantamweight belt.
Having cracked the top ten, Escalante was next matched against former champ Pastrano, whom he was beating on the cards before the fateful eighth round when he was stopped with a punch that had him landing on his face.
“I learned a lot losing to Pastrana,” says Escalante. “I wanted to put on a hell of a show and I was throwing without even thinking. I put too much pressure on myself.
“On the other hand, I can’t wait to fight in El Paso again. I’ve been waiting for this chance for three years now. I’m pumped to put on a good show, and for the people to feel my anger in the ring, see the way I fight . . . but I have to control it.”
Though Escalante doesn’t mind fighting on the road – most of his fights have been televised main events in California or Chicago – he says there is nothing like a hometown crowd.
“There’s a big difference fighting at home,” says Escalante. “You can really hear the screaming – they’re much louder here than anywhere else. I get so excited here . . . but I better think about what I’m doing in there.
“Still, it’s great to help promote the El Paso fight scene. This is what we’ve needed here, for a long time now.”
A hometown world champion could go a lot further than just one significant fight card, however.
“It’s a significant time,” says Escalante. “I feel special to be so close to it, to having a chance to be the first world champ out of El Paso.
“With so much at stake, it’s not hard to train for this fight. I’m focused on this one, then the next one. I learned from the past, not to think ahead. You got to focus on the one in front of you.”
For the July 24 fight, a few names were thrown on the table before the contracts were drawn for Lock.
“We’ve offered Tomas Villa the fight three times now, but I honestly don’t think he’ll ever fight me,” says Escalante. “He gets too fat in between shows, has no power and little skill.”
Al Seeger was also offered, but turned down by ESPN, who came up with Lock.
“I told Golden Boy, I really don’t care who I fight,” says Escalante. “But I’m glad it’s Lock – he’s a tough southpaw and I need more experience fighting lefties, especially if I get a chance with Juan Manuel Lopez.
“I know I’m gonna beat Lock and that this fight may be a tune-up, but I got to be careful – any guy is dangerous in the ring.”
Though rated No. 2 in, both, the WBA and WBO, champions Bernard Dunne and Juan Manuel Lopez are the obvious targets for a title shot, but Escalante also names Celestino Caballero as a possibility.
If given the choice, however, Escalante wants Dunne.
“He’s the easiest – the weakest of them all,” says Escalante. “It’s not that I want to fight easy guys, but as far as business sense goes, it makes more sense to fight Dunne first.
“If I’m gonna fight a hard, do-or-die fight, I’d rather fight for money. Once a champion, I can fight Lopez or Caballero for unification. Those two are tough and it’s gonna be a war, but I’m not going down easy.”
The chance to fight Lopez came a couple years ago, and was a point of contention that Escalante says broke up his team.
“A chance to fight Juanma came along, but it was in Puerto Rico for $20,000,” says Escalante. “Yes, it was for a world title, but it was nontelevised. There were already problems in my camp, and I didn’t feel ready yet for that – it also didn’t make good business sense.”
One thing led to another and Escalante found himself leaving trainer Luis Aguilar, and going back with his original trainer Edwin Rosario, with whom he’s been with for the past five fights.
Since then, Aguilar, too, has rebuilt a solid team in the El Paso area, a stable that includes Javier “El Zorro” Castro.
Though he hasn’t fought at home in years, Escalante does train there. For the past year, Escalante has opened his own gym. If he’s not found there, sparring with Sammy DiPace, Ricky Vasquez or Saul Morales, you can find him 45 minutes away in Las Cruces.
“I go up there, or they come down here,” says Escalante. “Those guys are great to work with and they’ll make sure I’m ready come July 24.
“I’m ready to give my all. I’m coming to leave everything in the ring.”