The talented but chinny Linares (right) got the W after two straight losses via stoppage. (Hogan)
Saturday night in Sacramento, Ca. big time boxing returned to the historic Memorial Auditorium. A Golden Boy Promotions, Don Chargin Productions and Paco Presents promoted event saw highly touted welterweight Yoshihiro Kamegai of Japan engage in a grueling fight ten round majority draw with Jorge Silva of Tijuana, Mexico. In the co-feature, lightweight former world champion Jorge Linares returned to the ring to regain his footing after two tough losses. Linares boxed his way to a wide decision over former world champion Hector Velasquez.
The Memorial Auditorium, built in 1926, with its steep balcony that appears to hang almost above three sides of the ring, and its art deco flourishes, is a fabulous fight venue. The reported crowd of 1,422, including area legends Loreto Garza and Tony Lopez, who helped build the boxing history of the arena, was made up of primarily of denizens of local gyms and groups of family and friends rooting on area boxers fighting on the card. But the crowd also included many members of that select community, the true fight fan.
One such fight fan was a man named Alejandro, a muscular, bespectacled Hispanic man in his mid-fifties, who waited in line for refreshments dressed in a crisp white suit with thick red pinstripes. His shiny black shoes were reptilian in origin. He stood tall and proud, with the aura of a man who spent time in places where standing tall and proud is necessary for survival. When complimented on his attire, and after staring to ensure he was not being clowned, he stated, “Back in the day, we all used to come dressed up to the fights, not because it was the custom of the time, but because we were able to express who we really are.”
Anglos, Hispanics and African-Americans all moved and talked comfortably and with ease amongst each other because they were all there for a shared purpose. The lone exception was a Hulk Hogan impersonator, complete with gray handlebar mustache, black tank top, tight wrangler jeans, and blue and white head covering bandana. Hulkamania almost made a fatal mistake when he started barking and growling at California Boxing Hall of Famer Richard Savala, who graciously laughed him off.
The main event featured welterweights Yoshihiro Yamegai, 21(18)-0-1, against Jorge Silva, 18(14)-2-2, in a ten round smasheroo that had to make Yamegai’s management wonder what happened to Yamegai’s first named opponent, veteran war horse and stepping stone Cosme Rivera.
Yamegai came into the fight with a reputation as an all action brawler with outstanding power. His American T.V. debut on Fox Sports was certainly designed to lead to a spectacular knockout that would have the executives at HBO and Showtime eager for his services. Twenty year-old Jorge Silva with two TKO losses and a career spent almost entirely in Mexico must have looked to the matchmaker a like suitable meal.
From the opening bell, Silva let everyone know that nobody was going to take his lunch. Ten rounds of heavy body punches, hooks to the head, and hard punches repaid with harder punches ensued. The last ten seconds saw the boxers throw everything they had at each other leading the crowd to rise and cheer the action as one.
When it was over both fighters smiled and embraced, forever bound in what they had just endured. They then proceeded to hug their opponents’ trainers and corner men. They all knew they had just engaged in something special.
The crowd did not return to their seats when the action was over, but stood and awaited the decision. Tension and adrenaline were still alive in the air. The judges ruled; 95-95, 96-94 for Kamegai, 95-95. A majority draw. Despite a few boos, the crowd cheered. When a crowd cheers a draw, you know the action was good.
In the co-feature, Jorge Linares, 32(20)-3, out-boxed the technical pressure of Hector Velasquez, 51(35)-18-3, to a wide unanimous decision.
Linares showed the movement, combination punching and all-over skills that made him a world champion. Linares’ right hands bruised up Velasquez’s face, and he went hard to the body with left hooks and uppercuts. Linares blocked most of Velasquez’s inside work and caught Velasquez repeated coming in.
But, Linares also showed the limitations that he will probably always have. Velasquez repeatedly walked Linares down, and marked Linares’ face while not landing a ton of punches. One got the feeling that if Velasquez had more firepower, Linares could have been taken deep.
Nothing was revealed about Linares’ future except we will probably see him in some future wars.
In other action, junior middleweight Hugo “Boss” Centano Jr., 16(8)-0, of Oxnard, CA, entered the ring in a pink sombrero and pink trucks and the affects of a dandy. So clean shaven one wondered if his face is follicularly challenged and with his hair gelled in a retro Bob’s Big Boy style, you knew he had to box well. Justin Williams, 4(2)-6-2, entered the ring with black trunks and grit. Williams is from New Orleans.
Centano won a unanimously 60 to 54 on all the judges scorecards. Centano was the busier fighter throughout, working off his jab, going to the body, opening up with more multi-punch combinations as the fight progressed. He has some slick head movements and pivots. Despite his pretty boy image, he would drop his hands in defiance and then came back firing whenever Williams’ punches found him.
Williams, who took the fight on two weeks notice, was a cut above most of the red corner fighters. His says his career has not taken off because, “I’ve had to deal with some things.” Williams had some success with his crosses and overhand rights, his jab was quick, but he simply was not busy enough, a fact he attributed to a lack of training. His defense was tight and he saw Centano’s punches coming, not a bad quality to have for a fighter currently making his living as an opponent. There are worse things for a 24 year old young man to do than spending a few nights fighting in unfamiliar cities across the country. Williams was last seen getting the number of a very attractive young Asian woman.
Throughout the evening drawn out shouts of ‘Teaaammm Robbbb’ echoed throughout the arena. In the last fight of the night, Guy Robb, 10(4)-1, of Sacramento won a unanimous 60-54 decision over 50 fight veteran Aldolfo Landeros of Mexico City. Robb broke his habit of engaging in unnecessary, albeit fan friendly wars. Robb boxed and moved off his jab, mixed in hard 1-2’s, worked the body when offered, and generally shined his way to victory.
Preston Freeman looked smooth, relaxed and sharp winning his pro debut. Andy Vences won his debut as well. San Franciscan Jonathon Chicas KO’d his hapless opponent in the 2nd. In front of at least 100 personal supporters, Sacramento native John Abella, 3(2)-0, knocked out his game opponent, Pablo Cupul, 6(4)-9, in the 4th round.
Earlier in the day, ten miles south of the Memorial Auditorium and a world away from the T.V. lights, 48 amateur boxers from the ages of 9 to 29 fought 24 fights at Cabellero’s Gym. Hopes and dreams as big as any professional’s were there to be found along with the several hundred people of all races, colors and creeds who packed into a small gym in the third row of buildings off a light industrial strip mall just off the freeway where no one speeding past could see.
Born in hard places and growing up hard, these young boxers were coming to fight hard. This was a serious affair. After witnessing a few bouts, the mom of a boxer making his amateur debut sought the assurances of her son’s coaches, who were resting in the alley, that her son would be okay.
One of the best amateur fighters that day was middleweight David Lopez of San Francisco’s World Class Boxing Club. A southpaw, Lopez fights with quick in and out foot movement, a good defensive judge of range and a quick lead right hook that he swings like an eight pound sledgehammer. His combination of movement and power confounds his opponents to the point where tough men with intentions of inflicting nothing but hurt are left standing, round after round, docile and confused.
David Lopez, 28, fights to make up for time lost to several years of being locked up and time lost to a life that spiraled out of control after his father died from the ravages of drugs. Lopez also fights for his four year old son Miguel. Lopez, looking to turn pro next year after getting in as many amateur fights he can, harbors no illusions of winning world titles. But he wants to learn the pro game, both in and out of the ring, in order to guide his young son to achieve such heights.
Another day of fights in a gym in an American city. No boxer was paid for their performances that Saturday afternoon, just the opportunity given for their hunger to be fed.