Middleweight Miguel Angel Espino of North Hollywood, California, says being chosen to be a contestant on “The Contender” television series was the most exciting thing that ever happened to him.
Although he failed to make it into the final four after losing a tough decision to eventual finalist Peter Manfredo Jr., he still can’t say enough good things about the entire experience.
“It was awesome, absolutely awesome,” he said in his mellow Southern California drawl. “Every part of the experience was great.”
Being on the show gave his career a much needed boost. Once the original program was over, Espino, who is still under contract to the show, stopped fellow contestant Jonathan Reid, the most experienced of all of the participants, in the fifth round in Los Angeles in October 2005.
On Sunday, February 12, Espino will put his 10-2 (4 KOs) record on the line against the more experienced Dorian Beaupierre, 12-4-2 (6 KOs), at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence as part of the ESPN2 televised show headlined by Manfredo and local rival Scott Pemberton. Beaupierre, a native of the West Indies, now fights out of New Jersey.
“This is a big step up for me, but I welcome the challenge,” said the 25-year-old Espino, who exudes a strong but subtle confidence in himself. “Boxing is a tough business and my opponent has been in some tough fights. But to be successful you have to step up and challenge yourself all the time. That’s what I’ve been doing throughout my career.”
He did it against Manfredo, who at the time of their meeting was 21-1 and world-ranked, and he did it against Reid, who was 33-2 and had once challenged William Joppy for the middleweight title.
“Losing to Peter was difficult because he went on to the finals and made a lot of money,” said Espino. “I had some apprehension about fighting Reid because of his experience, but I wanted to prove that I deserved to be an elite fighter.”
Espino proved a lot against Reid and, should he emerge victorious against Beaupierre, will prove even more to the boxing establishment. Back in 2004, Beaupierre engaged in two wars, both of which were declared draws, with undefeated Daniel Edouard.
“It really doesn’t matter what he brings,” said the seemingly unflappable and emotionally rock-steady Espino. “He’s a crafty guy, but I’m in awesome shape and am ready for him. I’ll be doubling and tripling my jab and pounding him to the body.”
In many ways it seems that all roads have led Espino to be where he is today. As a youngster he played many sports but remembers marveling at all of the trophies a sixth grade classmate garnered from boxing.
After seeing the trophies at a classroom show-and-tell, Espino fell in love with the trophies before he fell in love with the sport. “I had to play 15 or 20 soccer or baseball games to get a trophy,” joked Espino. “He was getting a trophy every time he fought. I started begging my father to let me start boxing.”
Espino took to boxing like a fish takes to bait. He had about100 amateur fights and in 1998 earned a bronze medal at the Goodwill Games, which were held that year at Madison Square Garden.
After graduating from North Hollywood High School that same year, he took some college classes in automotive technology and continued boxing. He turned pro in August 2000 in Mississippi and has since fought in Florida, Texas, Las Vegas, and throughout California.
He ventured into “The Contender” tryouts with an open mind, and was ecstatic when he got the phone call notifying him that he was accepted onto the show. Life has been a whirlwind ever since.
“There was a lot of down time on the set, but so many things were happening at the same time,” he explained. “It was pretty strange.”
He especially liked bonding with his fellow contestants and meeting Sylvester Stallone, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Tommy Gallagher.
“Sylvester Stallone was real cool,” he said. “I’d always been a big fan of his. I loved movies like “Over the Top,” “Rambo” and “Rocky.” It was nice to see that he is just a regular Joe.
“Sugar Ray Leonard was the coolest guy,” he continued. “He was one of the best fighters ever. He was so nice to all of us, so helpful and accommodating.”
And about Gallagher, the quintessential New York tough guy, Espino laughed and said, “I wouldn’t say Tommy is a regular guy, but he’s a great guy. He had so many crazy stories and he kept us all loose and entertained. He told us one story about fighting a baby gorilla when he was in the Navy. I can’t do his stories justice. He has such great delivery.”
After the victory he expects to get on Sunday, Espino will celebrate the win, as well as Valentine’s Day, in New York with his girlfriend. After a few days of relaxation, it will be back to the gym before the momentum of his victory diminishes.
“I’m just a humble, down-to-earth guy,” said Espino, who also works as a personal trainer at the L.A Boxing gym in Tarzana. “I still live with my family and am saving to buy my own home. I have simple dreams like everyone else. Hopefully boxing will make those dreams come true.”