People tend to overlook Steve Luevano a soft-spoken unimposing lad out of La Puente who just missed making the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing team and always seemed to be flying under the radar of future title prospects.
Not any more.
In front of a large British boxing crowd in London the little-known Luevano banged his way to victory and wrenched the WBO featherweight world title from Nicky Cook at the O2 Arena in London, England on July 14.
Luevano, 26, has the WBO featherweight title.
After seven years of fighting in small towns throughout the country, with little fanfare, the lithe southpaw whose family live in Fontana, Ontario and La Puente, returned home to a small party after upsetting the favored British fighter in his own hometown.
That’s the way Luevano’s team planned it.
“When we arrived in England they (Cook’s team) were saying that Steve hadn’t fought the same level of competition as Nicky,” said Cameron Dunkin, who manages Luevano. “They said Steve only fought Mexicans and that wasn’t the same as Nick Cook.”
Luevano had never visited England before. He had been a member of the US Boxing team and had visited other countries, but never ventured into Great Britain.
He arrived a week early and was placed in a small suburb miles away from the site where he would be facing Cook. The hotel had a makeshift gym where Luevano was able to use the treadmill and a local gym called TKO Ultrum gym was used to keep his punching sharpness.
But Luevano was anxious to see the sights.
“Right out of the gym I took a shower and walked around,” Luevano said recalling his seven-hour Wednesday visit to London central. “We asked some people for directions and we took the train into the town.”
Luevano and his team members used the local train to visit Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and other tourist attractions.
“We got on the Big Eye of London,” said Luevano of a large Ferris-type wheel located on the bank of the Thames River.
He also remembers walking the streets was a little dangerous for a bunch of California guys not accustomed to cars driving on the other side of the road.
“We’d look to the left when crossing the street and think no cars are coming but we would turn around they (cars) were coming from the right. It took us a while to get used to it,” said Luevano.
After seven hours the team returned to their hotel in Bexley-Heath.
“Even people in London didn’t know where it was located,” Luevano says of their temporary home in outer East London. “But it was good.”
Only Marvin Hagler and Carlos Palomino
On the night of the fight Luevano, his trainer and other team mates arrived in the arena where more than 7,000 people were gathered to see the hometown favorite Cook make pudding out of Luevano.
“Before the fight I told him to expect everybody booing,” said Robert Garcia, a former junior lightweight world champion who trained Luevano for the title fight. “It happened of course.”
Luevano (33-1, 15 KOs) entered the arena to his carefully selected music “Insane in the Brain” by Cypress Hill as the crowds booed lustily. Few Americans ever emerge victorious in London. Only Marvin Hagler and Carlos Palomino were a few champions able to win their first world title in England by knockout. Now it was Luevano’s turn.
The only friendly faces in the arena were the seven members of Luevano’s team.
“Nobody else cheered for me,” Luevano recalled.
Before the fight Garcia, Dunkin and Luevano had looked over fight tapes of Cook’s past performances. They had spotted some tendencies and openings they felt could be exploited.
Boy! Were they right?
In the first round Luevano used his stiff jab to pummel Cook and keep him off balance. And when the British fighter attacked, Luevano would slip out of range and counter.
“He was throwing Hail Mary kind of punches. He tried to knock me out with one punch,” Luevano said. “The first five rounds all I did was jab him.”
After Cook made some adjustments and began timing Luevano’s jab, Garcia told Luevano during the minute rest to forget the overhand left hand and shoot for a body attack instead. It worked.
A left uppercut to the body dropped Cook for a knockdown in the second round.
“We worried that they might give him (Cook) the rounds but with the knockdown we knew we had a better chance,” said Garcia who was training Luevano for the first time.
Luevano scored another knockdown from a left uppercut to the body in the third round.
“We saw in the tapes when Cook fought a lefty he would always get hit with the jab. So we used the right jab,” Luevano said. “He started timing my jab so we started using the left uppercut to the body.”
Cook (27-1, 15 KOs), a strong fighter who had been undefeated, kept getting up from the knockdowns. He wasn’t about to quit.
During a knockdown of Cook in the ninth round, Luevano began celebrating as he saw the British fighter struggle to get up. It was premature.
“I was surprised he still got up. He was crawling,” Luevano said. “I had to run back and fight.”
For two more rounds Luevano fired his pinpoint punches from his tight left-handed boxing stance. Finally, in round 11, another left uppercut to the body landed and down Cook went for the final time 30 seconds into the round.
Nobody made a single noise, as Cook could not continue.
“The crowd was just stunned. They didn’t cheer or anything,” said Luevano.
The Southern Californian’s seven team members gathered around him and one lifted him up.
Immediately after the fight, the team returned to the hotel to gather their gear and return home. Luevano, Garcia and the others stayed awake to watch on television Antonio Margarito defend his WBO welterweight title against Paul Williams. After the verdict, the Californians returned home tired but happy.
“My wife had a party for me, but I was sleepy,” said Luevano. “A week later my wife gave birth to our third child.”
Dunkin, who signed Luevano seven years ago despite claims that he would never amount to anything close to a champion, saw his dream come true too.
“He’s a great kid,” said Dunkin. “I first saw him in the gym behind the Olympic Auditorium. I knew then he was good.”
What’s next for the new WBO featherweight titleholder?
Luevano is scheduled to fight Antonio Davis (24-3, 12 KOs) of Atlanta on Oct. 6 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It’s the under card of Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera.
“I feel like the champion. But I got to defend it a few more times against guys that are more well known for people to know me,” says Luevano.
Reflecting on the win, Dunkin couldn’t help but laugh.
“People said Steve (Luevano) was too soft,” said Dunkin enjoying the irony.
Photo courtesy of Eric Garcia.