Most fight writers visit the Wild Card Boxing club in Hollywood regularly, but I just did my first visit in more than three years.
Not that I have anything against Freddie Roach or his people but it’s always packed and usually impossible to get personal time with the owner and fighters. But I drove the more than 120 miles roundtrip to the L.A. area’s best gym on Tuesday. Aside from Roach, there was only Lateef “Power” Kayode, who was working on his conditioning, out on the street, with a woman. Yes, you read that right. He was on the backstreet crawling as the woman conditioning coach shouted instructions.
Freddie asked me to come back on Friday when the heavy sparring was going to take place. Before leaving he talked a little about Miguel Cotto, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. We both agreed nothing has been settled and a contract was only a contract if all signatures are signed. Anything less is just wordplay. I left with writers Katherine Rodriguez and Luis Rivera for our favorite haunt, El Cholos, on Flower Avenue near LA Live. The margaritas are the best.
Fridays are the worst time to travel on Southern California freeways. Half of the people are trying to leave early for departures to Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego or the mountains. But if Freddie says there’s going to be good sparring then I wanted to see it. I arrived at the time he suggested and was just in time to see China’s junior welterweight contender Ik Yang trading punches with another junior welterweight. Yang will be fighting Thailand’s Patomsuk Pathompothong on March 7 in Macao. If he wins it could set up an elimination bout for the world title, says Roach.
Next in the ring was Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez, the undefeated featherweight who recently fought IBF titlist Evgeny Gradovich to a draw last November in Nebraska. He’s working with a young, lithe kid who seems overwhelmed at first, but just as quickly adapts to the pressure and pretty soon begins to find his space and distance. I ask Freddie who he is and he said it’s the first time he’s seen him. One of the other trainers says it’s Hector Lopez Jr., the son of the great L.A. boxer who won an Olympic silver medal back in 1984. He died several years ago of a heart attack but here’s his son showing some pretty good moves. He’s still an amateur but has been raising eyebrows around Southern California with his performances. Today he’s raising eyebrows with his performance against Velez, who punches hard and swiftly. They exchange freely but with precision and smoothness.
A lot of boxers are milling around waiting their turns to get in the ring and spar. Standing inside the gym are Gerald “Gallo Negro” Washington, Glen “Jersey Boy” Tapia, and several boxers from Russia and Ukraine.
One fighter who was not there on Friday was China’s Zou Shiming, who is set to fight IBF flyweight world titlist Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand, who’s making his third defense of the belt. It should be an interesting contest, pitting Shiming’s speed versus Ruenroeng’s experience.
“We’ve been working on some things,” said Roach, who has worked on helping Shiming adapt from the amateur style to the pro style. “Things that work in the amateurs don’t necessarily work in the pros. It’s difficult at times because they’re different philosophies.”
It’s hot in the gym and outside as temperatures hover around 85 degrees. Although the Wild Card has gone through some growth spurts, including a new gym downstairs since I last visited, the feeling is still the same as long as Roach is in charge.
“Freddie is the best trainer in the business,” says one of the people in the gym. “That’s why there are so many fighters in here all the time.”
Riding back home on a crowded freeway allowed me to think about the sparring I just saw and what it means in the big picture. One thing is for sure the world of boxing is about to explode with fight cards. A major growth spurt in the sport is inevitable.
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