SoCal Gym Hopping: Mia, Seniesa, Becky & the Wizard

Seniesa Estrada red smallI drove down the Pomona Freeway toward East Los Angeles to meet a Washington D.C. film crew that is doing a documentary on a female prizefighter.

Tuesday’s are usually pretty smooth driving and this was no exception. I made it from Riverside to Monterey Park in 40 minutes.

Waiting outside of a Monterey Park three-story building were five members of the film crew. The topic of the documentary is Mia St. John. She’s one of the few veterans that began in the 90s and is still lacing up the gloves. She also has more than 60 bouts in her storied career.

St. John has a world title match coming in early spring against Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus. Their clash will take place in Denmark on April 13.

I’ve known St. John since 1998 when I met her in a boxing gym somewhere in North Hollywood. She was busy training furiously for an upcoming fight and didn’t have an ounce of makeup. She shyly agreed to a photo which I still have in my possession. That was about 15 years ago. Time sure flies.

One thing that outsiders don’t know about St. John is that she is very politically astute. She’s also very educated and perhaps one of the smartest female prizefighters today, especially when it comes to business.

The film session went well and once we parted ways I sped off toward South El Monte to see what kind of action was going on in that gym. When I got there it was filled with young amateur hopefuls.

I grabbed a bite to eat in South El Monte and then headed toward Montebello to see who is training there.

Former junior middleweight world champion Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora works out of that gym and may be fighting in April. The East L.A. prizefighter fights in the middleweight division and is looking for a world title fight. Mora is one of the most skillful boxers in the world and presents a Rubik’s Cube kind of puzzle for anyone who meets him in the prize ring. Not even Sergio Martinez or Gennady Golovkin would risk a fight. It’s easier for those champions to fight Europeans with good records but not as dangerous as Mora.

I enjoy watching Mora fight because he’s a master of slipping and countering. He’s a 160-pound Willie Pep.

Inside the ring there’s about four or five guys hitting the bag or exercising on one of the many mats. They tell me trainer Dean Campos is inside one of the rooms behind the curtain. He’s kind of like the Wizard of Montebello.

Campos is sitting behind and desk and in the room is Seniesa Estrada, a quicksilver junior flyweight with two pro wins. The extremely petite East L.A. boxer is a former U.S national champion who skipped waiting for the Olympics to turn professional.

Estrada is talking with her father Joe Estrada and both are conversing with the Wizard of Montebello – Dean Campos. I call him this because he has developed a boxing style that is uniquely his own. His two prize pupils are Mora and Estrada.

Over the years his boxing style has perplexed many an opponent’s corner with their head and foot movements. It’s confusing to figure out if you’re the other guy fighting one of Campos’s students. If someone takes too long a pause wondering what to do, then they get smacked. I’ve been watching Campos train fighters for more than a decade. He’s still a young guy. Boxing science is his major and I can imagine him practicing in a room in the dead of night. He eats, sleeps and drinks boxing science. Like I said, he’s like a wizard.

The team tells me that they’re going to have sparring. Estrada is going to spar with Becky Garcia,  a girl who fights out of the Wild Card Boxing gym in Hollywood. They’ve already sparred twice in Hollywood so now the Garcia team is coming to Montebello.

Garcia is originally from Arizona and has an upcoming fight date against Elizabeth Cervantes at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello on Feb. 23. I’ve heard about Garcia but never had an opportunity to meet her. She’s friends of former mini flyweight world champion Vaia Zaganas, a very fundamentally sound and skillful boxer from Canada. Zaganas now lives in Los Angeles and works as a stunt-woman. She retired from boxing in 2004.

After a long drive through traffic Garcia arrives with her friend Maria. Their trainer arrived a little earlier and wraps her hands and prepares her to enter the boxing ring. When Garcia and Estrada face each other to touch gloves, it’s obvious that she is taller and has a longer reach. Estrada is quicker and more defensive-minded. After five spirited rounds the sparring session is over.

Garcia is eager to spar again especially with an upcoming fight so near. She doesn’t mind the drive as long as she can prepare with Estrada. Both girls like fighting. You can tell they love it and relish performing inside the prize ring.   

Both want to spar two more times before Sunday. These girls are serious about their craft.