SOUTH EL MONTE-For one summer-like Saturday afternoon the city of South El Monte was the boxing hub for former Olympians now fighting professionally.
Flanked by El Monte, Rosemead, Whittier and Pico Rivera, the small suburban city of South El Monte welcomed Olympians of the past such as WBA and IBO middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin, Javier and Oscar Molina, and Oscar Valdez. Plus, a number of great prospects such as Alex Luna, Joel Diaz, Ramon Valadez, Daniel Ramirez, and Emanuel Medina.
It was quite a batch of great young fighters.
The fair-sized boxing gym was packed with trainers, corner men and a few supporters that came to watch the tournament type of sparring.
Abel Sanchez drove down with his crew from Big Bear Lake and was one of the first to arrive. Soon the others arrived and began to prepare for the sparring session that rivaled a big fight card. Ben Lira, the trainer at South El Monte, and Sanchez organized the sparring session.
Golovkin came along “just to help out,” said Sanchez. Later in the afternoon Golovkin’s manager Tom Loeffler showed up to see the action. The middleweight champion was not slated to spar but has begun preparing for his upcoming world title defense against Japan’s Nobuhiro Ishida on March 30. It takes place in Monaco and will be televised on HBO.
“He’s a difficult fighter. He beat James Kirkland so it won’t be easy,” said Golovkin, 30, who recently defeated Gabriel Rosado in New York City this past January. “I’m fighting him in Monte Carlo.”
Golovkin filmed the sparring sessions of his stablemates Valadez and Diaz. In between the sessions he spoke with me regarding a number of topics such as his failed attempts to meet Dmitry Pirog in the ring.
“First they said yes, then they said no, then they say yes,” said Golovkin about the multiple attempts to meet Pirog in a middleweight unification bout. “They said he hurt his hand. I don’t know much more. I have to take what they tell me.”
Golovkin is one of the most congenial prizefighters today and his English is improving in leaps and bounds. He’s like the big brother to all of the many fighters that live and train in Sanchez’s The Summit Training camp in Big Bear Lake.
The first to spar was Oscar Molina and Emanuel Medina, who started tentatively and increased the tempo each round. By the time they entered the final round both were unloading menacing shots to the head and body as several dozen people watched intensely.
Next were Ramon Valadez and Oscar Valdez. There was a quick explosion of punches in the opening bell as both dropped bombs on each other. Unlike the previous sparring session, this one slowed a little more each round after the initial start. Valdez has been working on his jab, said his trainer Clemente Medina. Valadez is looking to fight soon in March, said his manager Hector Ibarra.
The final sparring session saw knockout artist Joel Diaz of Lancaster get in the ring with amateur Daniel Ramirez. Diaz didn’t step on the gas but worked on his inside fight game against the promising looking Ramirez. Every so often Diaz would unload the goods but kept the bombs at a minimum. Ramirez worked well for not having a pro fight. His stable mate said he will be making a pro debut very soon.
Diaz, 20, a junior lightweight prospect working under Abel Sanchez, has nine consecutive knockout victories in 11 pro fights. So far only one fighter has heard the final bell against the hard-hitting 130-pounder. Golovkin taped the entire sparring sessions. The Big Bear team is very cohesive, like a collegiate athletic squad. They’re very close and take care of each other. It shows from the top to the bottom. All are very supportive of each other. Golovkin was the most popular of all the fighters in the South El Monte gym. He stopped numerous times for photo requests.
One of the trainers remarked, “Isn’t funny to see such a happy looking guy outside of the ring?” Of course, inside the ring is another matter altogether.
Before Golovkin departed we talked about a number of options he has in the boxing ring. Sergio Martinez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are both viable challenges. The South El Monte gym is just a few miles from Montebello, where another middleweight contender trains, named Sergio Mora.
“He’s a very complicated boxer to fight,” said Golovkin, using his head and hands to emulate Mora’s movements. “He is a very good boxer.”
Golovkin took all of the casual questions in stride as he strode around the gym. Many of the other fighters asked to pose with the middleweight champion who’s about to enter another championship level.
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