New Mexico Boxing


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 2009.

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, that is.)

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.

Honorable Mentions of 2009

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. lightweights.

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 suspension.)

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 Commissions.

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 just two.

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 glory.

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.

Thrillers

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 Cisneros.

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.”

Amateur scene

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 Martinez.

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 Year

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 Ellenberger.

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.

10-count

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 greatly.

 

# # #

Cozzone’s Picks of the Year

Fighter(s) of the Year
Holly Holm & Antonio Escalante
Honorable mentions: Austin Trout, Archie Ray Marquez, Abie Han, Carlos Sanchez and Victoria Cisneros

MMA Fighter of the Year
Damacio Page

Best three fights of 2009
1. Cesar Valenzuela of El Paso UD-4 Miguel Buendia (July 24/Golden Boy/Don Haskins)
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 of 2009
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)

Robbery/worst 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 previous years.

Biggest upsets of 2009
1. Robert Guillen TKO-2 David Proa (Dec. 4/Fresquez/Isleta)
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 year
Fidel Maldonado

Most exciting fighters of 2009
Carlos Sanchez, Antonio Ortiz

Underrated fighters of 2009
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 2009
Last year’s underrated became this year’s overrated: David Proa

Venue for 2009
Once again, Isleta gets the prize for the Venue of the Year, hosting four shows in 2009.

Best fight cards of 2009
1. Escalante-Lock card at the Don Haskins Center July 24 (Golden Boy)
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

Most improved amateur
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
Mike Winkeljohn

Top promoter of 2009
Fresquez Productions

Fights to see in 2009
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 must-see.

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.

Officials/refs of 2009
Rocky Burke (referee/judge) & Levi Martinez (judge)