With Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley set to match flying fists with Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao the secret may finally be out: beware of prizefighters from the Inland area known as the Inland Empire.
Bradley's not the first Inland area boxer to grab a world title let alone be considered one of the best fighters in the world pound for pound, he's just the latest version. Expect many more and very soon.
A number of other Inland area prizefighters are world champions, contenders or golden prospects just waiting for their turn. And right behind them are a number of brilliant enthusiastic amateurs shining their trophies.
Alongside Bradley, there are fellow world champions Kaliesha “Wild, Wild” West, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and challengers like Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola, Sugar Shane Mosley and Josesito Lopez, coming from Inland area towns and cities like Riverside, San Bernardino, Pomona, Coachella, Indio, Palm Springs, and Moreno Valley.
Speaking of Mosley, the Pomona speedster was the first from the area to capture a world title and be recognized as a pound for pound champion as well, at least in the last 50 years. A fellow named Manuel Ortiz preceded Mosley and won a bantamweight world title and hailed from Corona, California. He wasn't too shabby back in the 1940s and 50s.
After Ortiz retired nary a boxer won a world title again until Mosley.
That's all changed.
Back in the 1980s Inland area municipalities were the butt of jokes. Now, mere mention of those same towns and cities means trouble for anyone facing a prizefighter from those destinations.
“When I was an amateur I knew that I was in for a tough fight when I fought someone from those parts of California,” said Brooklyn fighter Paul Malignaggi, a former junior welterweight world champion. “I hated fighting those guys. They were tough.”
Amateur boxing programs in the Inland areas began kicking up dust in the late 1980s. Fighters like Oscar De La Hoya, Mosley and Joel Diaz were amassing marked interest to the sport. Soon boxing gyms began springing up all over the large area that lies on Arizona and Nevada's borders, west to LA County's border and San Diego County to the south. Prior to 1980 it was primarily barren desert and farmland. Now more than 4 million people live in the area.
A first wave of fighters like Mosley, Antonio and Julio Diaz emerged from the amateur programs and captured world titles in the 1990s and early 2000s. They were followed by the next wave that includes Bradley and West. Now, a dozen more prizefighters from the Inland areas are banging on the doors of contention with world championship belts on their minds.
San Bernardino's Artemio “King” Reyes has battered prospects and former amateur stars as a professional as he rises to the top. Last week the tall and lanky welterweight destroyed a Mexican prizefighter with an array of savage blows that saw Victor Correa hit the deck four times. Each was more devastating than the other.
Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera, a junior welterweight from Riverside, will be meeting top contender Mike Alvarado in a big Las Vegas fight card in April. In several recent matches Herrera used his clever boxing skills to eke out wins over rugged Ruslan Provodnikov and speedy Mike Dallas Jr. A win over the hard-hitting Alvarado could result in a world title bid.
Two weeks ago heavyweight contender Arreola absorbed a big blow before blasting out fellow Mexican-American heavyweight Eric Molina in one round. The Riverside heavyweight awaits the outcome for WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight world titleholder Wladimir Klitschko to defend his titles against France's Jean-Marc Mormeck this Saturday. Should the Ukrainian juggernaut emerge victorious, Arreola looks like the next challenger. Though the Riverside heavyweight lost to the older brother Vitali Klitschko in 2009, he is now a much wiser prizefighter.
Bradley's mega fight against Filipino superstar Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao in Las Vegas should net Bradley more than $9 million for challenging welterweight world champion and pound for pound king Pacquiao. First it was Mosley, now it's Bradley who could lead the way for Inland fighters.
“I never could have imagined the time would come that I would be fighting a great champion like Manny Pacquiao,” said Bradley, who fought numerous times at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario before crowds of 2,000. “This is the opportunity I've been waiting for my whole life.”
Middleweight titleholder Chavez, the son of the great Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez, could find himself on the doorstep too if he beats Argentina's superb Sergio Martinez. That's a big obstacle for Chavez Jr. who attended high school in Riverside and first began boxing in the Inland area.
Moreno Valley's Kaliesha “Wild, Wild” West had not been signed a definite date to defend the WBO bantamweight title. At press time her team said they will make a defense before May 2012. West has successfully defended the title twice. Many consider her one of the quickest and skilled female prizefighters in the world.
Pomona's Mosley is not done yet. Sugar Shane gets one more crack at stardom challenging Mexico's popular WBC junior middleweight titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in Las Vegas. Ironically, both Mosley and Alvarez prepare in the Inland area mountain resort Big Bear. They train just down the block from each other about 200 yards apart.
A few young prizefighters are knocking at the door of stardom. Coachella's Randy Caballero is set to headline a March 16 fight card at Fantasy Springs Casino. Indio's Gabino Saenz has been proving his talent as has recent Riverside Poly graduate Saul “Neno” Rodriguez. Both are scheduled to engage in the ring this spring. Last week Richard Conteras showed his grit in a riveting battle in Ontario. Even a few young veterans like Jose Reynoso and Jonathan Arellano could crack the door open.
The talent pool has not depleted at all. In the amateur boxing arena a number of youngsters such middleweight Edgar Alvarado of San Bernardino, Moreno Valley's Daniel Gonzalez, and other whipper-snappers like Dominic Serna and brothers Ryan and Sean Garcia are waiting in the lobby area and ready to enter showtime.
Ready or not world, the Inland area prizefighters are here to stay.
Fights on television
Fri. ESPN2, 6 p.m., Joan Guzman (31-0-1) vs. Jesus Pabon (17-2).
Sat. Telefutura, 11 p.m., Vicente Escobedo (24-3) vs. Lonnie Smith (14-2-2).