TOP RANK AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN — On Friday, St. Patrick’s Day, Bob Arum’s Top Rank organization showcases two-time Olympian Michael Conlan in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. It’s the pro debut for the 25-year-old Conlan, a junior featherweight who Arum hopes will someday become as big as Conor McGregor, the ex-plumber turned MMA superstar who shares Conlan’s Irish heritage.
Conlan may ultimately prove to be the best fighter on the 7-bout card, but for the moment that honor must be accorded Alex Saucedo. Undefeated in 23 pro fights with 14 stoppages, Saucedo, a welterweight, doesn’t have the charisma of Conlan, but his backers are knowledgeable fight fans with very deep pockets which gives him a big leg up as he pursues his dream of fistic glory.
Born in Meoqui in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Saucedo was in the third grade when his parents migrated to the United States, settling in Oklahoma City. “I got punked a lot in grade school,” says Saucedo, “because I was an immigrant; the language thing. So I was getting into a lot of fights. One day, when I was nine years old, my dad said that if I was going to get into fights I had better learn to do it the right way so he took me to a boxing gym.”
Saucedo was a natural and the Police Athletic League-sponsored gym where he learned to box became his home away from home. At age 14 he qualified for a national tournament in California. At age 17, with more than 150 amateur fights under his belt, he turned pro.
Saucedo made his pro debut in November of 2011 at Reliant Stadium in Houston underneath Julio Cesar Chavez Jr’s WBC middleweight title defense against Peter Manfredo Jr. He knocked his opponent out in the first round. As a bonus, he got to meet JCC Jr’s dad. Growing up, Saucedo’s favorite fighters were Julio Cesar Chavez, Fernando Vargas, and Oscar De La Hoya.
A story has circulated that while he was still an amateur he got to spar with Manny Pacquaio during a visit to Freddie Roach’s Hollywood gym and that Pacquiao was so impressed that he beseeched Arum to sign him. Saucedo allows that it didn’t go down quite that way.
Yes, he was in Roach’s iconic Wild Card Gym and, yes, Pac Man was there too, but they never actually sparred. Rather, Roach and Pacquiao assumed the roles of Saucedo’s cornermen during a sparring session, offering tips and encouragement — heady stuff for a 17-year-old kid from Oklahoma.
Saucedo turned pro under the guidance of Lou Mesorana, a longtime fixture on the Texas boxing scene. As a young pro he spent time at Ronnie Shields’ Flex Gym in Houston (home to the Charlo twins, among others). For his upcoming fight he spent nine weeks at Abel Sanchez’s compound in Big Bear, California, where his house mates included Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and IBF world cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev.
Abel Sanchez doesn’t work cheap, but Saucedo now has the backing to go first class, highly irregular for a 22-year-old boxer who has yet to be thrust into his first 10-round fight. He is now co-managed by Churchill Management, a consortium whose principals include Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. You may have heard of them.
Peter Berg developed the Emmy Award winning TV series “Friday Night Lights” which he adapted from his film of the same name which was based upon the book by his cousin, Buzz Bissinger. He has directed nine big screen films in all, the last three of which starred Wahlberg. Berg is also involved with the ongoing HBO series “Ballers,” featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Wahlberg, who portrayed Micky Ward in “The Fighter,” gets an executive producer credit.
A physical fitness buff, Berg is the co-owner of the Wild Card West Boxing Club in Santa Monica, a spin-off of the Hollywood gym where Freddie Roach hangs his hat.
This reporter recently chatted with Alex Saucedo on a speaker phone as he was being motored to Wild Card West by Berg associate Sam Katkovski for a media day workout that included Michael Conlan. Regarding Gennady Golovkin, Saucedo said “he’s very friendly with everyone and shares a lot of his knowledge.” This coming weekend is extra-special for Alex, not merely because he will partaking in his first fight in the Big Apple, but because he will be in the arena the next night when his friend GGG meets Daniel Jacobs in a confrontation certain to trigger goosebumps.
Saucedo is matched against Johnny Garcia, a fighter from Holland, Michigan, with a 19-4-1 record. Oddly, the fight will be contested at 140 pounds although the 5’10” Saucedo has been competing as a welterweight. There is no betting line. Garcia, who recently enrolled in a barber college, is 0-3-1 in his last four. However, says Saucedo, “I have to respect his power.”
In his last outing, Garcia ventured to Fresno where he opposed local fan favorite and 2012 Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez before a near-capacity crowd of 13,000 at the basketball arena on the campus of Fresno State University. Garcia lost the decision, but hushed the partisan crowd when he knocked Ramirez off his pins in the second round with a straight right hand that landed right on the button. It would be written that Ramirez had never been knocked down before, either as an amateur or a pro.
“I’m very excited to be fighting in New York,” says Saucedo, the pulse of his voice showing that the sentiment is genuine. For fight fans in New York, it shapes up as an exciting weekend.
Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank
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