Los Angeles Fight Journal -Saturday traffic through the heart of downtown Los Angeles usually produces heartburn or headaches depending on the season of the year.
Christmas time however seemed to lure the beach traffic to the suburban malls instead of LA Live.
All was well after 60 miles of driving until hitting La Cienega Drive. Instead of a shortcut, it became slower than an anaconda’s strangulation of a water buffalo.
The last boxing show of the year featured Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins making his final battle in the ring against a young monster named Joe Smith Jr. The light heavyweight fight was taking place at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood.
Aside from the future Hall of Fame fighter, a number of Golden Boy Promotions best prospects were taking the stage.
I needed to arrive early to see the first bout but the heavy traffic blocked my attempt to see young Joet Gonzalez. The Glendora super bantamweight has sizzled this year and it was my hope to see him in action. It wasn’t to be. When I arrived at the Forum I was forced to go through three metal detectors and checkpoints before I was finally allowed inside the arena.
Those inspections ate up all my time. When I finally made it to the arena floor two fights had already concluded. Thank you Forum staff.
Gonzalez is managed by Frank Espinoza, one of the good guys in the sport. He has a number of smaller weight prizefighters including two world champions in Oscar Valdez, the WBO featherweight champ, and Jessie Magdaleno, the WBO super bantamweight champ. Both are trained by Manny Robles.
I did manage to see 18-year-old Ryan “Kingry” Garcia out of Victorville, Calif. For more than a decade he’s been fighting and winning tournaments near and far. He was one of those boxers I watched from afar as he won national titles and competed in Golden Glove tournaments. He also has a younger brother who is very talented too.
Garcia was recently signed by Golden Boy, but was looked at by Top Rank, Mayweather Promotions and others. He fought four times as a pro in Mexico and emerged with impressive wins. He took that route because he was only 17 years old at the time. As soon as he became 18 he fought in downtown L.A. and in Studio City. Both fights ended with impressive knockout wins.
When you cover boxing you can’t listen to all of the talk and hullabaloo from friends, family and experts. You really have to see it yourself. Around 2008 I saw Garcia in a tournament in San Bernardino and at another in East L.A. I could see he had the speed and heart for boxing. But at 10 years old that was too early to determine what he would become at 17 or 18.
A few young boxers have developed from amateur stars to pro stars, but it’s not a slam dunk. I’ve seen youngsters with blazing speed, power, defense and heart that fell flat because they had chins made of glass. When that happens it’s up to the fighter to realize that and make adjustments.
Some fighters never make that adjustment and soon disappear.
Garcia has blazing speed, power, agility and the ability to make combinations from different angles. It’s a rare ability. Plus he’s very tall for a 135-pound lightweight. He kind of reminds many of another slender lightweight from East L.A. Yes, he’s kind of a 21st century version of Oscar De La Hoya his new boss.
“We talked a lot through the years and we also have some one-on-one sessions,” said Garcia about his promoter De La Hoya. “He’s going to show me some things. He’s going to help me out. I’m happy and thankful for that.”
When Garcia finally walked through the tunnel you could hear the roar from the crowd. He came with his own fan base that clearly numbered more than 300. Many were cheering during the earlier fight.
Garcia stands out in a crowd. He really does. He kind of looks like one of those young pop stars you see on television and he’s not shy. When it comes to comparing Garcia to De La Hoya, there’s the difference. I interviewed De La Hoya when he was 19 and he was very shy around reporters. He didn’t overcome that shyness until around 2003 when he was already 30 years old. Garcia is an extrovert. He’ll tell you he’s good and then go out and prove it.
In the boxing ring he looked a little tight but once he unleashed those combinations the fluidity came out and the opponent was out of there.
Right after the fight Roberto Diaz looked at me and nodded as if agreeing that Garcia has all the tools foretold by those familiar with his talent.
How far can he go?
As long as he keeps that chin tucked, he can go till the end of the yellow brick road.
They call him “El Animal” and it doesn’t seem to fit Jason Quigley but it does once he fights. I don’t remember who tagged him with the nickname. It might have been the emcee Tattoo who does all of Golden Boy’s shows. Outside of the boxing ring Quigley has supreme confidence but is a very pleasant and likeable fellow. Inside the boxing ring he’s reminiscent of a hungry tiger who will go through a wall to eat.
Ireland’s Quigley reminds me of another unknown fighter from Europe who ended up in Southern California with a handful of amateur medals and a lofty reputation. But amateur medals and awards really don’t mean a thing if you don’t have that swing.
Five years ago Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin arrived with similar circumstances. Few listened to the words touting his abilities until he began knocking out opponents one by one. Now he’s a catchphrase for power and performance. “Triple G” is screamed and yelled by fans whenever other middleweights are in the house. It’s kind of like saying “the boogie man is near.”
Quigley resembles Golovkin in that he doesn’t look like a killer, but once the bell rings don’t take your eyes off of him. The more he fights the more easily he picks apart his opponents. He’s a middleweight with good power and speed but knows how to box if necessary. He’s working with Manny Robles and that combination seems to be working on all cylinders. Too bad the Rock Gym is one of the most inaccessible gyms because of its location in Southern California. It’s easier for me to drive to Las Vegas than Carson, California. The traffic is miserable.
Back to Quigley. He’s not the first Irish from Ireland to set up battle camp in Southern California. But he’s adapting pretty well. Now he’s accompanied by Michael Conlan, another Irishman who just recently fought in the Olympics. Conlan fights for Top Rank.
One thing of concern about fighters from other countries is the difference in culture. Of course it helps that Los Angeles is one of the melting pots of the world and has hundreds of other nationalities in the city limits.
Quigley has his own cheering section too. They’re loud and boisterous and led by the always happy Rachel Charles who does his PR work. After his knockout win, the Irish gathered around the bar and greeted people as the fight card continued. It was a happy scene and one I think will be repeated many times.
Apparently there were a lot of celebrities in the crowd to witness Hopkins last fight. Many of the press were led to a second floor where the stars and starlets gathered privately away from the common people during intermission.
Once we got there we were ordered not to cross a line because we weren’t important enough.
I asked one of the girls ordering us to stay away from the line “why we were there?”
Her answer, “So we can take pictures of the celebrities with the girls” lined up on a red carpet podium.
I shook my head.
“I could care less,” I told her. “I’m not a photographer.”
Apparently the boxing press is the same as “paparazzi” to Golden Boy Promotions. Come on guys. You grew up in East L.A. and so did I. I could care less about celebrities such as George Lopez, Kid Frost or Michael Strahan. They’re just people to me. We all live and we all die. No special preferences when the end comes.
Years ago I worked at a news stand and met and knew Michael Jackson, Prince, Chaka Khan and Gene Simmons. I also used to chat a lot with Milton Berle, Henry Mancini and Lisa Bonet. Of all those my favorite was the former athlete Bubba Smith, the former All American from Michigan State who played in the NFL and later starred in the Police Story movies. Great guy. He’s gone now, but while he lived he was one of those down-to-earth people who never forgot the regular people. I miss that guy. He was a heavy smoker so when I saw him drive up Robertson Boulevard I’d grab a pack of Winstons and run across the street to meet him. I’d dodge cars and trucks so he wouldn’t have to park his car. He’d ask why I would do that for him?
“Cause you’re a friend,” was my answer.
Many of the boxing press are my friends. Most are great people who come from all different stations in life. They don’t get paid much but love what they do. It’s always a pleasure to see each of them.
Every year new ones replace old ones but the writers, photographers, videographers and interviewers all put forth their best with their best intentions.
Newspapers are now disappearing and being replaced by web sites and video blogs. It’s all a new world, but reporting on boxing is the central theme. It’s always an honor to work among each one. They all are VIPs to me.
Los Angeles Fight Journal / Check out boxing news on video at The Sweet Science.