TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION –  Francisco “Panchito” Bojado took another step last Friday in his bonking bid for the fistic stardom that has proven elusive since he burst out of the gate coming off the 2000 Mexican Olympic team at 17 years old.

In a non-televised feature, Bojado managed to finish off rugged Rogelio Castaneda within the 10 round distance at Desert Diamond Casino.  It was no easy task, and once Castaneda withstood Bojado’s early attack, it became apparent that Bojado may have a well-rounded offense, but he’s certainly no irresistible force at this stage.

Bojado is scheduled for a marquee match against former world titlist and “The Contender Season 2” runner-up Steve Forbes on the Juan Manuel Marquez pay per view gala on Sept. 15. On Friday, Bojado stayed well ahead all the way against Castaneda, but there were times during the second half of the fight when it looked like Bojado’s applecart was exposed for a tip.

“This guy was a tough opponent,” admitted a bruised Bojado, now 18-2 (12 KOs), “He was taking a bunch of the punches well.”

After Bojado’s previous fight on May 4th, when he blasted out overmatched Dario Esalas at the MGM Grand on the eve of Mayweather-De la Hoya, it seemed clear that Bojado had retained serious power in the extended time he took off after dropping a deeply disappointing split verdict to Jesse James Leija in July 2004.

Following Friday’s spirited, give and take tilt against Castaneda, it looked like Bojado, from Guadalajara, MX, needs either more power, more finesse, or both for a successful title run. Bojado consistently slammed Castaneda clean and point blank, but with no visible effect until just before the final bell.

Critics will insist Bojado should have been able to get the job done sooner. A satisfied Bojado was patient both during and after the contest.

“The more rounds under my belt the more power to me,” professed Bojado, “That’s more experience I pick up for when I fight Forbes, and bigger events in the future. I felt like I still needed to get some rounds in to get prepared for September fifteenth.”

Bojado, at 148 pounds, looked anxious for an early KO and roared in like he wanted to live up to previous hype, launching huge hooks with a slapping echo. If they connected as hard as they sounded, Castaneda, 23-13-3 (8 KOs), would still be in orbit.

The whaps thumping in brought ohhs and ahhhs from the standing room only crowd, but no reaction from the punchee, Mr. Castaneda, at 142, who stood straight up and weathered the incoming. Bojado cranked up crisp lefts but Castaneda, from Sacramento by way of Tijuana, countered up the middle and scored as Bojado’s face grew puffy.

Castaneda resisted Bojado’s initial charges and stayed in the fight. Bojado slowed by the seventh session and left himself open, but Castaneda was too spent from the shellacking to take any advantage back. By the eighth, Bojado morphed into boxing mode and stayed in a shell on his toes, waiting to counter as the fight wound down.

A chant for Bojado gained full chorus in the final frame, just as a huge combo made Castaneda stumble and touch the canvas with his gloves. Bojado clipped him a couple times as Castaneda regained his balance so referee Bobby Ferrara properly ruled a knockdown, picked up the count at six, then deducted a point from Bojado.

Despite the chaos, pointwise they were right back where they started at the beginning of the round, except now Castaneda was in dreamland. A not so pleasant dreamland.

Another barrage of lefts left Castaneda in deep trouble on the floor again. Ferrara started a count, examined the dazed duker, then waved it off. A good idea. Official time was 1:30.

“It was the last round so I had to go in there and finish the job,” said Bojado, “There’s no holding back. As an amateur I used to switch (stances) a lot, when I turned pro I kind of stopped because I thought I’d get caught in between punches. I felt this fight was a little bit easier and I was a more comfortable so as it went on I felt I could switch a little bit and take my time and experiment. The right hand was very effective throughout.”

“What I’ve learned over the years from fighting is the referee has to do his job and jump in,” said Bojado  explaining the penalty pop. “It was a late reaction (hit) on my part, but I paused and took a couple steps back and the referee didn’t jump in. At that point, when I saw his gloves weren’t touching the canvas any more I threw a two shot flurry.”

It was no real harm, no real foul for another packed, screaming swarm at the Diamond Center. This event was subdued from a lack of Telefutura coverage or Golden Boy figureheads, but in terms of crowd-pleasing conks, it was first rate action as usual.

For many, the highlight of the card was another appearance by heralded Scottish middleweight prospect Craig McEwan, 6-0 (5 KOs) who made his third appearance in this part of the desert and is building a following. This was McEwan’s best performance to date, as he had a much easier second time around in a rematch against extremely sturdy Valentino Jalomo, the only man to last the distance against him.

After a hard fought decision win against Jalomo last December, McEwan showed marked improvement notching a fourth round TKO. Whether or not ref Nico Perez should have let Jalomo continue was disputed by a booing crowd, but he was eating heavy leather either way.

Jalomo is definitely no pushover. McEwan controlled a busy fight and showed a solid foundation. He has a way to go, but if he continues to improve the likeable McEwan, a fine ambassador from Edinburgh, also has star power. The story behind McEwan hitting the streets of LA with his girlfriend in a quest to America in search of Freddie Roach is an earnest PR epic.

“The United States is the place to be,”said McEwan, who has strong international experience. “Training here is far superior to where I’m from. I came over for a holiday in 2005 and said let’s go meet Freddie. I was at Wild Card for a month and stayed at a Vagabond right next door.”

“He’s been sparring with Antonio Margarito and Bernard Hopkins,” said Roach. “It’s gonna rub off and make you a better fighter.”

For  McEwan, it’s an early part of the journey. He seems to possess a cheerful resiliency that’s already taken him a long way. Look for him to make a breakout move around a year from now.

While McEwan tries to stir up some hype, Bojado might remind him that higher expectations carry higher burdens and the spotlight also illuminates flaws.

Many observers predict Forbes has too much technical savvy for Bojado’s relatively crude attack.

“I did take a long time off,” reflected Bojado. “There was like a two year period that I didn’t fight, so the May fourth fight and this fight today gave me more experience. I feel Steve Forbes will be more slick (than Castaneda), and I can’t just throw my flurries out there. The more rounds the better, to get me ready.”

For the 24 – year old Bojado, there’s another crucial crossroads coming up soon. He’s probably just a win or two away from a lucrative title shot against somebody like Kermit Cintron or Paul Williams.

He better hope he’s as strong as they said in the first place.

***photo courtesy Michael Addis