Holm, Escalante shine in '09
Year 2009 in Review: Hopefuls positioned for telling year in 2010
Review & photos by Chris Cozzone
It should come as no surprise that, once again,
Albuquerque’s Holly Holm and El Paso’s Antonio Escalante should share honors as NewMexicoBoxing.com’s “Fighters of the Year” for
For Holm, seen by most as the No. 1 pound-for-pound queen
of women’s boxing, it’s her fifth straight year. For Escalante, who’s one fight
away from becoming the sole world champion his hometown has ever produced, it’s
his third – and straight second.
Albuquerque still ‘Hollyhood’
Holm, now 26-1-3 (7 KOs), might not have gotten the chance
to beat up Melissa Hernandez, who went from “Rabbit Hunter,” to just plain
“Rabbit,” the night of Dec. 4, but she ended the year with four
wins, four title defenses and four big box-office draws (as far as N.M. goes,
While three of the wins ended up mismatches, the Jan. 23 bout
with gutsy Myriam Lamare was the best Holm fight seen in years, with Holm
edging the French challenger with closer-than-is-typical-for-a-Holm-bout scores
of 96-94, 97-93 and 98-92.
In her next three bouts, formerly undefeated Duda Yankovich was exposed as a
paper champion, and stopped in four; while Terri Blair and late sub Victoria
Cisneros suffered near-shutout decisions.
El Paso on the brink
El Paso has never had a world champion – but that
may change in 2010, thanks to super bantamweight Antonio Escalante, 22-2 (14
KOs), who is now rated highly in three of the four ABCS (No. 1 WBA, No. 2 WBO, No.
5 IBF, No. 17 WBC).
Escalante solidified his claim to contention in 2009,
rising up the ladder by taking out Gary Stark in Chicago, in April, then
returning home as a legit contender, where he fought for the first time in
nearly four years.
Still promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and now signed
with manager Lester Bedford – of Jesse James Leija fame – Escalante
can be credited for the return of boxing to El Paso. After a year-and-a-half
drought in the border town, fight fans rallied behind Escalante for two shows
at the Don Haskins Center.
In one, last July, he headlined to dominate Cornelius Lock
for ten rounds (Lock went on, in his next bout, to score a big upset over
formerly undefeated Orlando Cruz in September). In October, Escalante
co-headlined the Camacho Jr. vs. Campas card, to take out journeyman Carlos
Fulgencio in two.
A February fight card is now in the works for El Paso
– though there still is no word of a title fight as of yet.
Though it has been another clean sweep for both, Holm and
Escalante, it may be the last year they win so easily, for 2009 has positioned
several New Mexico and El Paso fighters to take the cake in 2010.
While there are few doubts remaining about Austin “No
Doubt” Trout’s boxing skills, all that remains is to see what happens when he
steps into the ring against a name contender.
In a busy year fighting on the road in all but one bout,
the Las Cruces jr. middleweight not only remained
undefeated, at 21-0 (13 KOs), but managed to pick up two minor belts and a No.
2 ranking with the WBA - which
came by defeating a seventh-ranked Nilson Julio
Tapia, in Panama.
The former Olympic alternate and 2004 US amateur champ is
poised for big things in 2010 and, if Top Rank can be coaxed into letting WBC
Jr. Middleweight Champ Yuri Foreman fight his No. 2 contender (yeah, right), Trout
just may be New Mexico’s next world champion.
Staying busier than his sparmate Trout and Albuquerque’s Archie Ray
Marquez, for being, both, the year’s busiest fighter – all having fought
five times and Han ending the year with six bouts, El Paso’s Abie Han, 8-0 (7
KOs), has become a force to be reckoned with at 154 lbs.
Han’s breakout fight was a six-round decision over
formerly undefeated Ibahiem King in May. Since then
he KO’d another undefeated fighter, Brian Soto, in his first and only hometown
fight, then beat up three overmatched foes to finish the year, each one ridiculously easier than the preceding one.
After waiting out a nine-month suspension for taking
diuretics, Albuquerque’s Archie Ray Marquez, 9-0 (7 KOs), made up for his
screw-up by racking up five wins on the road under the Gary Shaw banner.
Shaking off the rust in July, Marquez TKO’d .500 fighter
Jason Hayward, then added four more journeymen to his list of victims. As 2010
begins, Marquez will return home for the first time since his debut, to fight
his toughest opponent to date Jan. 29 - Juan Castaneda, Jr. (16-2-1, 12 KOs)
– in a Showtime-televised bout and co-main event.
Should he get by Castaneda, big things are in store for
Marquez, who’s broken the top 40 in the WBC’s jr.
Unsigned by anyone, unheralded, unprotected and,
previously, virtually unknown outside of New Mexico, were two Albuquerque
standouts who greatly impressed the local scene in 2009: Carlos “El Gallo”
Sanchez (4-0, 1 KO) and Victoria “La Reina de Guerra” Cisneros (3-8-2).
Sanchez gave us one of the year’s best bouts – a
decision over Mike Rodriguez in January – then followed up with the
biggest local upset, by beating former amateur standout Arturo “Tudy” Crespin
in July. In October, he continued to impress by becoming the one and only local
fighter to take out usually-iron-chinned Daniel Gonzalez, whom he KO’d in one
at Sky City.
In January, Sanchez has much to lose by rematching Crespin
– but there is one thing for certain: there won’t be too many, myself and
Crespin included, who will continue to underestimate Sanchez.
Last but not least for 2009’s honorable mentions, is “La
Reina de Guerra,” Victoria Cisneros.
No, Cisneros did not win a single fight in 2009 –
she is unwon since 2004, actually – but what she did in a single night
was remind New Mexico – and the world – what it is to be a fighter.
Easily picking up the “Guts of the Year” honors, Cisneros, on what turned out
to be a half-hour’s notice, did not flinch, did not hesitate, when, on the
night of Dec. 4, she was asked to fight the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in
the world, Holly Holm.
“This is what we do, we’re boxers – we fight,” was
her explanation while rushing through a handwrapping backstage.
Never mind a two-hour workout that afternoon, Cisneros
borrowed everything from mouthpiece to shorts to climb into the ring. The only
thing she didn’t have to borrow was her heart.
Cisneros’ courage went well beyond accepting the fight the
night Melissa Hernandez disappeared down the rabbit hole. She made the fight, forcing Holm to scrap
for ten thrilling rounds.
Though she did not win but one single round on two
scorecards, Cisneros was outclassed – but not in heart. And she was duly
rewarded with cheering equal to Holm when the final bell sounded.
Fiascos and breakdowns
Weathering ludicrous statements that her last-minute
substitution was a set-up, Cisneros came out on top of what was the year’s
biggest fiasco. The screw-ups committed on the night of Dec. 4 went well beyond
Hernandez’s refusal to honor her contract (she is currently on indefinite
Topping off what was, virtually, a replacement found in
the crowd, was the WIBA and NABF’s go-ahead to sanction a title
fight; and the Isleta athletic commission’s inability to take control of the
situation, weigh in Cisneros and give her a pregnancy test. Cisneros was,
however, given a physical, and she had been cleared to fight in Philadelphia
that week (the fight fell out on Tuesday) so the local commission relied on
past meds and information on a FightFax report.
Several other issues that night include Holm’s handwraps being
done without a rep from Hernandez (not to mention the approval of said
handwraps by Hernandez’s trainer), and an alleged extortion to get more money
from Promoter Fresquez.
In the meantime, Hernandez remains on suspension while the
Isleta commission is under investigation by the Association of Boxing
Nothing else came close to giving local boxing a TKO in
2009 – though a couple of “No Mas” performances certainly didn’t help
give New Mexico’s already tarnished reputation another black eye or two.
While Hernandez was the pound-for-pound queen of “No Mas”
in 2009, running out on Holm, two locals failed to put on a show, though they,
at least, made it into the ring.
Out of town in Oakland, Calif., and hoping to stage a
comeback, former world title contender and Johnny Tapia victor, Frankie
Archuleta (26-7-1, 14 KOs) apparently quit in his second round TKO loss to John
Molina in May. Archuleta came back in August, however, to defeat a 3-14 Lorenzo
Estrada . . . but barely, nearly going down from body shots on two exchanges.
After a year of wowing the locals with superhuman
knockouts, David Proa (6-1, 6 KOs), of Albuquerque, quit after losing two
rounds to .500 fighter Robert Guillen, in what was one of many, many upsets.
Upset after upset
You can’t talk about pro debuts in 2009 without bringing
up the word “upset.”
If you were a pro debuter, chances are, you were upset.
Randy Arrellin lost his debut by kayo, to also-debuting Raymond “Hollywood”
Montes (who, in turn, was KO’d in his next bout). Longtime amateur standouts
Amanda Crespin and Jennifer Han lost their debuts, as did comebacking Anthony
Contreras and Angelica Chavez.
Though Nohime Dennison’s upset of Amanda Crespin, Melissa
St. Vil’s decision over Jennifer Han, Montes’ kayo of
Arrellin and Anthony Ortiz’s win over Contreras could all be considered upsets, Proa’s loss and the four-round decision of Sanchez
over Arturo Crespin outweighed the rest on the local scene.
Nationally, however, it was former El Pasoan Gloria Ramirez (11-16-7, 1 KO) who scored the most significant upset outside of the state and border. On Dec. 17, Ramirez scored a six-round majority decision over formerly undefeated Chika Nakamura (8-1).
Debuter of the Year
Notwithstanding MMA fighters looking to put in stand-up
practice, only four debuters managed to make it through the year without
losing: Michael Brooks (2-0, 2 KOs), Serinna Pino
(1-0), Josh Gomez (1-0) and Fidel Maldonado (1-0, 1 KO).
Due to his amateur standing and pro potential, Maldonado,
then, is our easy pick for ‘Debuter of the Year.’ Waiting until November to
turn pro, Maldonado inked a contract with TKO Boxing Productions, suffered a
last-minute opponent pullout, then turned pro on Dec. 17, scoring a quickie first round TKO.
Not the best year
for . . . .
Though still a decade that saw a boost in boxing, tallying
132 shows – the largest number since the 1930s – the year 2009 saw
yet another decrease from the one previous year. In 2009, there were but seven
shows – the lowest number since 1996, and two less from 2008.
Fresquez Productions promoted four of those shows and
Mirabal Boxing, two. Juan Romero dropped down to just one and Powerhouse of Las
Cruces, a steady MMA promoter, held one boxing card.
In El Paso, Golden Boy ended a long drought in July while Zeferino Entertainment brought a second show to the border
in October. In Ignacio, the Sky Ute Casino also reduced their shows in ’09, to
Several other disappointments were in store for local
fight fans in 2009.
Still hoping to stage a comeback (with a date set for
March 6, 2010 now), former five-time world champion Johnny Tapia spent most of
the year behind bars for violating parole conditions.
Former contender Joaquin Zamora (18-2-1, 12 KOs), of
Pecos, N.M., fought but once. Prospect Sammy DiPace (7-0, 4 KOs) took most of the year off with an injury, but fought twice, against disappointing set-up foes.
For those promised another “breakout year,” fight fans
also had to endure yet another year of waiting for undefeated kayo artist David
“Nino” Rodriguez (32-0, 30 KOs), of El Paso, to make a name for himself or rise
higher than No. 36 on any ABC’s rankings. Rodriguez fought twice in ’09.
Albuquerque’s Jodie Esquibel (5-5-1, 2 KOs) came up short
in two title fights in ’09, losing to Ji-Hyun Park in
South Korea, then Suszannah Warner in December.
Albuquerque welterweight “Hurricane” Hector Munoz (18-2-1,
11 KOs) tried to fight that many
times, but had multiple fights falling out throughout the year. Other fighters
on the MIA list included Matthew Esquibel, Alan Sanchez and Willie Villanueva.
Comebacks were a-plenty, but few failed attempts came
close to that of Joseph Brady. After several months of hard training and a firm
commitment to stage a comeback, Brady vanished into thin air just a couple
weeks before he was slated to fight Lucas “The Ghost” Galle. He’s since
reappeared at the Jack Candelaria Community Center, still promising a return to
Bernardo Guereca (15-9-1, 3 KOs), formerly of El Paso, now
of Albuquerque, resurfaced after a two year layoff, but lost to, first Elco
Garcia, at Sky Ute, then Joseph Gomez, in Kansas.
One comebacker who actually came out ahead was
Albuquerque’s Vincent “Li’l Man” Mirabal (4-0, 1 KO). After a pro debut last
year in Ignacio, Colo., Mirabal returned to the same site to win a rocky
decision over Pedro Davila. In his next two bouts, however, Mirabal’s progress skyrocketed, and, after decisioning Daniel Gonzalez in May, he scored
one of the most impressive performances of the year by TKOing Freddie Cisneros in the main event of the Sky City card in October.
Mirabal, along with Carlos Sanchez, earns the honors of
“Most Improved Professional” in 2009.
Not necessarily the most improved, nor the most skilled,
are the blood-and-guts fighters we all want to see.
Escalante breaks the mold, showing that even top rated
fighters who can box, also come to fight. Following Escalante are local
fighters Elco Garcia (22-7, 11 KOs), Daniel Gonzales (2-7), Carlos Sanchez,
Antonio Ortiz (2-3-1), Jessica Sanchez (1-1-2), and, of course, Victoria
Garcia headlined both Sky Ute cards, destroying Joe Gomez
in April, then Bernardo Guereca, in August. Gonzales was 0-3 in ’09, though
disregarding his KO loss to Sanchez, never fails to put up a good fight. Ditto
for Antonio Ortiz (2-3-1), who was 1-1-1 in ’09, and whom managed to spoil
Contreras’ debut in October.
In regard to women’s boxing, Jessica Sanchez (1-1-2) and
Victoria Cisneros were the thrill-seekers of the year. Neither one know the
meaning of the word “boring.”
At the close of 2009, New Mexico and El Paso continue to
have a strong showing at the upper echelon of amateur boxing. Open division
fighters include former Olympic alternate and Golden Gloves champ Siju Shabazz,
at light-heavy, Jesus Correa at middleweight; El Paso heavyweight Eric Reza; El
Paso bantam Heather Han; and quickly-rising Las Cruces featherweight Rita
Formerly ranked Fidel Maldonado finished out his amateur
career with a record of 118-12, before turning pro in December. Amanda Crespin
was also a top-tenner before turning pro in August.
MMA Fighter of the
A sudden decline in cards (to the boxing aficionados’
relief) and several losses by the area’s top-notchers saw mixed martial arts
take a hit in 2009.
Albuquerque native Diego “Nightmare” Sanchez (21-3)
battled his way to a title through Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida to earn a title shot against UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn. There, he fell
short. Sanchez was dropped in 30 seconds and punished through four-plus rounds
before a stoppage by cut at 3:37 of round five.
Albuquerque’s Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine (15-6-1)
had a rough year, losing both of his bouts, first to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
(by decision), then to Thiago Silva (TKO’d in 1:35).
Albuquerque’s Carlos “Natural Born Killer” Condit (24-5),
last year’s pick for “MMA Fighter of the Year,” was 1-1 in the UFC, losing a
split decision to Martin Kampmann, then losing by split verdict to Jake
Albuquerque-trained Rashad Evans (13-1) lost his UFC
light-heavyweight crown to Lyoto Machida. Other
transplants, the whole bunch part of the Jackson’s/Winkeljohn’s crew, also faltered: Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (11-2) finished the year 2-2 and Leonard “Bad Boy”
Garcia (13-5) was 1-2.
. . . Which leaves Albuquerque’s Damacio “The Angel of
Death” Page (12-4) winner by default. Having made the leap to the WEC in ’08,
Page followed through with two big wins on WEC cards, taking out Marcos Galvao by punches in March, then submitting Will Campuzano in October.
The ‘R’ word
Though many were inactive, two fighters between New Mexico
and El Paso came out to declare their retirement in 2009.
After taking a beating in his last fight, to Abel Perry,
El Paso’s Bobby Joe Valdez (9-7-2, 4 KOs), announced his retirement. Valdez has
given the Southwest thrillers dating back to 2000.
Albuquerque’s David “Finito” Martinez (18-5-1, 3 KOs) also
quietly retired in 2009, following back-to-back losses in 2008, to Escalante
and now-champion Yonnhy Perez. The former WBC World youth bantam champ and
former amateur standout will be best remembered for his high-action win over
Alex Becerra in 2004 and stepping up to the plate on short notice to take on
former world champ Clarence “Bones” Adams in 2007.
New Mexico took a mighty blow in ’09 with the passing away
of Stan “The Man” Gallup. Gallup’s years of dedication had in impact in, both,
in state of New Mexico, and worldwide. While many here in N.M. understand his
importance (and many roles) in keeping boxing alive for 50 years, little
understand that without Stan, boxing, on a grand scale, would've have suffered
# # #
Cozzone’s Picks of the Year
Fighter(s) of the
Holly Holm &
Honorable mentions: Austin Trout, Archie Ray Marquez, Abie Han, Carlos Sanchez
and Victoria Cisneros
MMA Fighter of the
Best three fights of
Valenzuela of El Paso UD-4 Miguel Buendia (July 24/Golden
2. Holly Holm UD-10 Myriam Lamare (Jan. 23/Fresquez/Isleta)
3. David Quezada TKO-2 Israel Rodriguez (June 5/Fresquez/Isleta)
Admittingly, pickings were slim this year, but the
Valenzuela-Buendia scrap stole the show that night.
Holm’s battle with Lamare rates second while a sloppy scrap between MMA
fighters takes third. All three bouts, however, might’ve been beaten had I
witnessed the May 21 fight between Abie Han and Ibahiem King, which took place in San Diego. Several peers tell me it was an all-out war.
Worst three fights
1. Melissa Hernandez vs. Holly Holm (Dec. 4/Fresquez/Isleta):
The worst fight of the year was the one that didn’t happen.
2. George Foreman III TKO-2 George Burrage (July
31/Powerhouse/Pan Am): What happens when you take a fighter “so green he makes
grass look pink” (my quotes) and a guy 0-5 and call it the main event?
3. Hector Camacho Jr. SD-10 Yory Boy Campas (Oct. 30/Zeferino/Don Haskins)
decision of 2009
I know this is New Mexico, but I was hard-pressed to find
highway robbery in ’09. There were a few oddball scores (one judging having
Campas beating Camacho and one judge scoring Jeremiah Torres over Lucas Galle
in August were the worst) but nothing even close to the travesties seen in
Biggest upsets of
1. Robert Guillen TKO-2 David Proa (Dec.
2. Gloria Ramirez MD-8 Chika Nakamura (Dec. 12 in Irvine, Calif.)
3. Carlos Sanchez UD-4 Arturo Crespin (June 6/Romero/Sky City)
4. Antonio Ortiz UD-4 Anthony Contreras (Oct. 24/Mirabal/Sky City)
5. (tie) Nohime Dennison MD-4 Amanda Crespin (Aug. 28/Fresquez/Las Vegas); Melissa
St. Vil MD-4 Jennifer Han (July 31/Powerhouse/Pan Am)
Pro debuter of the
fighters of 2009
Carlos Sanchez, Antonio Ortiz
Arturo Crespin and Amanda Crespin: If they can take
training to the next level and drop down in weight, they’ll soar.
Overrated fighter of
Last year’s underrated became this year’s overrated: David
Venue for 2009
Once again, Isleta gets the prize for the Venue of the
Year, hosting four shows in 2009.
Best fight cards of
1. Escalante-Lock card at the Don Haskins Center July 24 (Golden
2. Mirabal-Cisneros card at the Sky City Casino Oct. 24 (Mirabal)
3. Holm-Cisneros card at Isleta Dec. 4 (Fresquez Productions)
Top amateurs of N.M.
Jesus Correa & Siju Shabazz
Jesus Correa, Rita Martinez
Most improved professional
Vincent Mirabal, Carlos Sanchez
Biggest disappointment of 2009
1. Holm vs. Hernandez fiasco
2. The Crespins
Best trainer of 2009
Top promoter of 2009
Fights to see in
Having earned his way to top ten contention across the
board of ABC’s, Antonio Escalante, of El Paso, vs. any champion at 122 to 126,
is my No. 1 pick.
Coming up next: Now that he’s rated No. 2 in one of the
four big ABC’s, the top of my list of fights-to-see calls for Austin Trout to
fight a legit top ten contender. On a local level, Trout vs. Elco Garcia is a
On the subject of jr. middles,
Abie Han vs. Joe Gomez, Abie vs. Joaquin Zamora, Zamora vs. Elco Garcia II and
Zamora-Gomez are all great local matches.
At welterweight, Carlos Sanchez dropping down a few, as
planned, to take on Vincent Mirabal calls for a state title fight. Or bring up
Cesar Valenzuela of El Paso to fight either one.
Other picks: Archie Ray Marquez vs. Frankie Archuleta; or
Marquez vs. a top 10 guy, should he keep winning, by the end of 2010.
Also: Holly Holm vs. Anne Sophie Mathis (is there anyone
else out there?) Han vs. increasingly tougher opposition, instead of increasingly weaker; DiPace, ditto.
Rocky Burke (referee/judge) & Levi Martinez (judge)