Pageantry and punching power promised friendly international fireworks for the inaugural “World Cup” boxing card between Mexico and Thailand Saturday night at Desert Diamond, outside Tucson. The Golden Boy/HBO Latino concept certainly didn’t get lost in translation during a unique gathering for team introductions.

In a scene that choreographed itself by the nature of the participants, a laidback atmosphere in the casino sports bar carried a distinct aura of restrained force. It was a buzz like standing near masses of power lines or generators. There were just enough trappings to keep the event tasteful and genuine. Well-heeled, bronze senoritas and silky Thai princesses glowed in universal body language framing the most diplomatic smiles outside the Golden Boy’s himself.

You could tell it was something special, not just because an excellent buffet wasn’t immediately stripped locust clean by the deadline brigade, of which there were many more than usual. Dozens of international media had already arrived, including more prominent characters than usually show up for a southern Arizona card. Call it a good vibe.

Some outlets criticized Oscar De La Hoya’s promotional theme when the plan was hatched, but turnout so far indicates solid business. It was unusually difficult to pick up clear omens regarding action or outcomes. The over/under on wild rounds is somewhere like forty. We’re going with the over.

Maybe word has spread about what consistently great scenes unfold in these parts. Maybe in these days of reality wild card table cams, new viewers need a gimmick. If so, De La Hoya may be hiring more global reps because at least locally the card is a hot ticket.

The fighters were subdued and formal as their quartets sat at separate tables beneath national flags. The sparkling, winning team cup, reportedly worth a pile of whatever type buck you favor, shined like a TV eye between them. Many times the Thais held their hands in prayer position.

Apparently De La Hoya is a popular celebrity in Thailand, at least according to a handful faithful to that continent, who said his trademark means solid ratings whatever their time zone. Four WBO belts may not signal the world’s very finest, but in most cases these contestants are close enough to qualify.

“Icelink Watches made the cup out of gold and diamonds, it’s worth around two hundred thousand dollars,” said De La Hoya, as participants surveyed the prize. ”This concept is going to catch on. We’re also going to be revitalizing US amateur involvement with a world cup tournament in Los Angeles on Mother’s Day. That hasn’t been formally announced, but we’re working on a lot at that level.”

In the main event, junior bantamweight kingpin Fernando Montiel, Los Moches, 31-1-1 (24), faces challenger Pramaunsak “The Machine Gun” Phosawan Mahasalakam, 29-0-1 (17).

There’s been talk about Montiel soon facing top marquee opponents like Jorge Arce or Martin Castillo in huge Mexican matchups. Montiel’s biggest threat may be complacency. From the focus of his mischievous demeanor, 26-year-old Montiel isn’t likely for a mental lapse. If anything, he appears to be Mexico’s strongest performer going in. Montiel’s only loss came to Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson in 2003.

“I don’t want to look past one of the toughest guys I might ever face,” said Montiel, who holds recent victories over Evert Briceno and Ivan Hernandez. “Obviously we know how important this is to all of us. I feel very strong as a team, but you’ve got to remember there’s only one of us in the ring at a time.”

“He wants to win, but so do I,” said 36-year-old Phosawan. “I know he is very good, very fast. If he is too fast, I’ll tie him up. We will both fight very hard. I hope the Thai people here, in Las Vegas, and the rest of America will support our team, then I know we will go home with the trophy.”

In the co-feature, Jhonny Gonzalez, Mexico City, 30-4 (26), meets well traveled bantamweight titleholder Ratanachi Sor Vorapin, Korat, 65-8 (42).

“I feel especially motivated because I know there’s a lot of Mexican fans in Tucson. I feel like I’m at home. All four of us are well prepared to represent our country. There’s a lot of reporters from Mexico here already. Fighters from Thailand are known to be tough, especially this one because he’s a champion. But if he trained hard I trained double as hard. I studied his tapes and have the adequate game plan to beat him.”

“It’s great to be here, I can’t wait to fight,” said Sor Vorapin, “I’ve seen him fight on tape. He will be no problem.” The confident visitor’s experience, including title wins over Cruz Carbajal and Mauricio Martinez, could give Gonzalez a bruising bad night. Gonzales looked both powerful and vulnerable in his last fight, also at Desert Diamond, a 3rd round stoppage of William Gonzalez in September. Gonzales probably has the toughest draw of the night. If he wins he’s a legitimate champ.

Daniel Ponce de Leon, Cuathemoc, 26-1 (25) faces Sod Looknongyangtoy, 25-0 (10), for a vacant junior featherweight title. De Leon hopes to show that his loss to proven veteran Celestine Caballero last February was mainly an educational experience.

“I’ve studied my opponent, he’s a counter-puncher. I’m going to fight this fight intelligently. People are going to see me differently, better than I ever was. I learned I’m not invincible. An excess of confidence is not good to have. I’m very cautious and I’m not going to underestimate anyone. I’m happy to fight here again. The fans responded very well the first time I fought in Tucson. It’s the same situation as in the Olympics. I’m happy to represent Mexico again. We’re going to have very clean fights and Mexico is going to win.”

At this point, de Leon seems to be taking things the most personally, at least if you judge by the glare he fixed upon Mr. Looknongyangtoy, who took it in stride. De Leon has exhibited the most flaws on Team Mexico, but he may also have the most untapped power. This is his chance to prove he’s for real. We don’t see Sod’s abilities reaching this far past the Asian Pacific. Big night on the Rez for the Native de Leon.

Junior flyweight Hugo Cazares, Los Moches, 21-3-1 (15), defends his belt against Kaichon Sor Vorapin, 17-7 (6). Cazares is coming of an 8th round TKO of Alex Sanchez in August.

“When I got invited to take part, I said yes immediately,” said Cazares, “Even when we fight as individuals, each one of us represents Mexico. I’m surprised by all the support I got. People around my hometown feel Thailand is a tough rival. It’s an honor to fight these guys. We’re giving a hundred percent to come out ahead.  I’ve only seen three rounds of him on tape, so a video didn’t really present anything for me. We’ll see how everything works out.” 

“Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get videotapes of him, so I don’t know much about him,” said Sor Vorapin. “I’ll study him for a round or two, just to see. I’m not nervous about it. I’ve been prepared.”

Not Enough. Cazares should have the easiest time taking care of business.

The intriguing card rounds out with a pair of potential tie-make or -breakers between featherweights. Carlos Contreras, Juarez, 20-10-3 (13), goes against Terdsak Jandaeng, Bangkok, 18-1 (13), and German Cruz, Ocotlan, 14-1-1 (12) meets  Kosol Sor Vorapin, another kid brother from Korat, 9-9-1 (6).

As of Thursday morning over two thousand tickets had been sold, which usually means standing room only. Only a few singles in the realigned $100 ringside area remained, while the $25 perimeter had hundreds of spots for the walk-up crowd.

Sometimes a quiver of anticipation or freeze frame reverberates more than shouted hype. It was interesting to watch fighters adapt to their role while visiting correspondents got partial translations from entourage members in full gala regalia. If the diverse, down home quality continues, there’s a subtle but clear indication we could have a real pow, pow, pow-wow.

In terms of a quintessential boxing experience, if there’s an iconic Blue Horizon out west, it’s Desert Diamond when a fistic fiesta hits high gear. It doesn’t matter where you hail from on our wacky planet. The stretches outside Tucson look to hold a positive, inspiring spectacle Saturday night however you say it. Besides that, there should be some helluva fights.   

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Update – World Cup Weigh-in

It was like the eve of a holiday at the Desert Diamond Sportsbar, as hundreds of festive fans and dozens of international media crammed their way in to check out weigh-in formalities and get a glimpse of Promoter Oscar De La Hoya. The Arizona commission, headed by solid John Montano, had a chore sorting through various documents to authenticate identities of the Thai boxers, who often punch professionally under “nom de plumes,” or should we say “nom de gloves.” For example, Kaichon Sor Vorapin also has a medical record listed as Kajonsak Pothang.

AKA simply meant made weight made easy. It didn't look like there was a pound of fat between the eight Cup contestants.

Weights and gut feelings

Fernando Montiel 115   P Phosawan 115 (Phosawan will go down hard, but he will go down, hard.)

Jhonny Gonzalez 116¾   Ratanachai Sor Vorapin 118 (Earlier we leaned toward Sor Vorapin, but Gonzalez looked strong on the scale. Pick 'em.)

Daniel Ponce de Leon 121   Sod Looknongyangtoy 121½ (One way or the other, the most likely KO finish on the card as both men looked ready to roar. Call it continental bias, but we see Ponce de Leon's prior opposition as key. He’s ready to seize his moment.)

Hugo Cazares 108   K Sor Vorapin 107½ (Cazares continues to look like the safest bet on the card. Any experienced player knows that means think more than twice.)