Zamora retains his zing for the ring after a decade
Story and photos by Chris Cozzone
You'd think that after a decade of fighting, New Mexico would stop thinking about Joaquin Zamora as "developing talent." But, after 23 pro fights, spaced out between an equal number of wars and layoffs, the Socorro-to-Santa Fe speedster southpaw has retained an also-equal amount of zeal and appeal to head a card billed as "The Next Chapter."
This coming weekend, Zamora will end his year-and-a-half absence when he steps beneath the bright lights in search of rekindled goals and, even more important to him, a steady stream of fights.
The 35 year old Zamora, family man, full-time worker for the city of Santa Fe and business administration student, is not calling Saturday night's fight a "comeback."
"It's just like the old song goes," says Zamora, referring to, of course, LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out." "'Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years . . . .'"
"Years" is right.
After a solid amateur career completed while in the Navy, Zamora came home to New Mexico where he turned pro in 2002 on a Santa Ana card rich with local talent. On that same card, Zamora, along with Holly Holm, Ray Sanchez III, Lee Montoya and Tony Valdez, racked up a win.
Zamora's next fight, however, set the stage for the rest of his career. In Las Vegas, Nev., he lost a fight to a former national amateur Mexican champion when he went down and the fight was stopped prematurely. The road was going to be paved with bumps and lumps, Zamora learned.
Despite losing a punishing fight to Elco Garcia in 2004, Zamora went undefeated for five years, though he was hit with more damaging layoffs. Picking up a minor belt in 2007, and another win or two, enabled Zamora to enter the WBC's top ten ratings where he sat for nearly a year – again, a year spent out of the ring. Finally, after years of locals demanding the fight, Zamora was matched up with Ray Sanchez III, whom he took out in less than three rounds. Zamora won the fight but lost his top ten contention shortly before the fight – a showdown barely 200 people bothered to show up for.
After another fight two months later, Zamora suffered yet another long layoff. Yet another return, and subsequent time out, followed.
"I just never got the right fights or the right opportunities," says Zamora, without lament. "But that's the way it goes. But everyone knows, I've never left the gym. I've always trained."
After a loss on the road to Eromosele Albert in 2010, then suffering another loss to Elco Garcia in 2011 – hands down, fight of the year for New Mexico – Zamora retired.
Two days later, he unretired.
"I didn't want to go out with a loss like that," says Zamora. "Elco's a big, tough guy and it was a tough fight. But I wasn't ready to let my career end."
After training for years under Al Garcia in Santa Fe, Zamora hooked up with Johnny Tapia, not long after that.
"Working with Johnny made that much of a difference," Zamora says. "I grew up idolizing Tapia. He knew everything. And everything he said made sense."
For nearly a year, Zamora divided his time between Tapia and Garcia, commuting from Santa Fe. Then, earlier this year, Zamora received two more blows. First, on the day of a weigh-in, Zamora's opponent bailed out, leaving him without a fight after several hard weeks of training. Then, came the death of former five-time champion Tapia.
"It hasn't been an easy road," says Zamora. "Seems like only yesterday, you were coming down to interview me in Socorro for my pro debut. We had that makeshift ring in the backyard . . . . I don't feel that old, and I haven't given up my dreams."
This Saturday, Zamora, 18-4-1, 12 KOs, will relaunch his career, yet again, when he takes on longtime journeyman, El Pasoan Bernardo Guereca, 16-14-1, 3 KOs.
"Guereca's record isn't the best, but he's no pushover," says Zamora.
Guereca has lost seven of his last eight bouts, but, at least on paper, 18-4 against 16-14 looks like Pacquiao vs. Mayweather when you compare them to the two co-mains: a 13-2 fighter facing an 8-9 opponent and a laughable matchup between an 8-2 local against an 0-5 setup.
There is also Guereca's past history to consider: Always scrappy in the local arena, Guereca has managed to surprise Joe Gomez on hometown turf, as well as "Hurricane" Hector Munoz, who suffered his first pro loss against Guereca eight long years ago.
"I first saw Guereca fight at Sky City, against Vernon Payne," Zamora recalls the 2003 fight. "I'm not looking past his losses, especially since he's had time to prepare for this fight. He's a tough guy and I know that a lot of his losses are due to short notice fights."
Zamora might be capping a card of youngsters, but he certainly won't be the oldest fighter on the card, as Guereca is 39.
"I remember when I was a young buck thinking how old fighters were when they got in their 30s," laughs Zamora. "Now that I'm here, 35, I can understand.
"You don't feel old. Then I look at the top ten pound-for-pound list and see that seven of those guys are in their 30s. And Bernard Hopkins is nearly 50."
How long does Zamora see himself fighting?
"I got two, maybe three years left," he says. "Why continue?
"You either do it for the money, or you do it because you love it. Since I end up spending more than I make, it's obvious why I'm doing it."
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Chris Cozzone is a longtime writer, photographer and historian, and has covered boxing full time since 2000. A book co-authored with the late journalist Jim Boggio, “New Mexico Boxing: A History - 1868-1940” is scheduled for a January 5, 2013 release by McFarland Publishing.