Thursday, July 8, 2004
The ballroom at the Monterey Hyatt Regency hotel is usually the picture of elegance, with accents like hanging chandeliers and elaborate designs on the carpets. But last Saturday night, the mood of the room was offset by a giant blue boxing ring and walls littered with signs promoting various fight sponsors (most notably Miller Genuine Draft). Along with the ring came the regular boxing fare, including a ring announcer who did a pretty good impersonation of the legendary Michael “Are You Ready To Rumble” Buffer, and the unrealistically beautiful card girls. The result was a contrast between the sophistication and refinement of the venue and the perceived brutality and chauvinist qualities of the sport of boxing.
The card was a balanced mix of bouts, with pro debuts from new fighters and exciting homecomings for local stars. The main event was a rematch from last year of a highly contested bout between Ryan Davis and James Buggs. (A lot of the hype came from the fact that Davis, hailing from Missouri, trains with Salinas’ Garcia Boxing.)
The crowd was mixed, and not what one would expect for a professional boxing match. In the movies, guests wearing suits or fancy dresses always populate the first four rows. At this event, I counted only six men wearing a shirt and a tie, and four of those were judges.
The members of the crowd exhibited a casual and familiar attitude toward the fighters. They cheered regularly, often calling fighters by their first names, or simply shouting the names of the cities they hailed from. At times, the crowd became angry and, as a mass, booed or shouted unrepeatable slurs.
But the heart of the crowd belonged to two fighters that night: Salinas’s Jose Perez Jr., “The New Jose in town” (after Jose Celaya) and Watsonville’s Carina Moreno.
Moreno has spent much time in the amateur ranks, awaiting the decision to make women’s boxing an official sport in the Olympics. Had it been, she would have been the number-one ranked woman boxer in the nation. However, when the International Olympic Committee again failed to recognize women’s boxing, Moreno abandoned her Olympic dream, went professional, and set her sights on capturing the World Championship.
This night, Moreno had to overcome a few obstacles even before stepping in the ring. To prepare for her original opponent, Yvonne Chavez, Moreno had to struggle to get her weight up to 112 pounds. Then, three days before weigh-ins, Chavez backed out. To face Chavez’s replacement, Deidre Hamaguchi, Moreno had to lose five pounds in a very limited time.
“I had to lose all the weight right after I gained it,” Moreno said. “It was kind of a hassle.”
With help from her trainer, Moreno just made the cut and was ready to go.
The fight itself seemed to take less effort as Moreno simply outclassed Hamaguchi, continually pummeling her and keeping her on defense. To Hamaguchi’s credit, she avoided being knocked out, relying on her speed and ability to escape most of Moreno’s flurries. The bout went the full six rounds and ended in an expected unanimous decision in favor of Moreno.
After the fight, Moreno was all smiles. “She moved around a lot so it was hard to set down and throw combos,” she said.
Moreno knew she had the bout won when Hamaguchi’s nose started to bleed early in the fifth round.
Rick Noble, Moreno’s trainer, said they took this fight regardless of the late replacement to show Moreno is ready for all comers. The victory brings Moreno’s professional record to an impressive 5-0.
The other crowd pleaser was Jose Perez Jr., who almost qualified for the Olympics and has launched a professional career. He recently joined Garcia Boxing to aid the transition from the amateurs to the pros. According to Jose Perez Sr., who manages his son, the Garcia group and the community of Salinas were their first and only choice.
For a young man who has won five national championships, five Golden Gloves, and recently had the opportunity to spar with Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (who was preparing for a movie role), Perez Jr. is humble and soft-spoken—qualities that were reflected well in his entrance to the ring in the second bout of the night and in the interview that followed.
From the moment he came from behind the curtain, when the mariachi horns sounded his entrance, to the moment he got in the ring and raised a single arm in recognition of the crowd’s roar, Perez Jr. was composed and focused. In comparison, his opponent Leo Diaz made attempts to garner cheers from the crowd throughout his entrance, albeit futilely.
The bout itself was a quick four rounds, with Perez Jr. playing the aggressor and Diaz playing the punching bag. Diaz was forced to box defensively and got in no more than five solid punches throughout the match. Perez Jr. was awarded the win by unanimous decision and improved his professional record to 2-0.
After the fight, trainer and ring coach Max Garcia said that Perez Jr. followed the game plan and boxed smart.
“[Diaz] just did not belong in the same ring as Jose,” Garcia said. “[Jose] cleaned the canvas with him.”
Garcia said that he would give Perez Jr. an ‘A’ for his performance. Perez Jr. disagreed, saying, “If I had knocked him out, it would have been an A.”
Perez Jr. seems determined to succeed; it isn’t likely he will be satisfied until he has the match of his career.
The rest of the night progressed as one would expect a boxing event to. Two individuals got into the ring, one stepped out victorious, the other left in disappointment. The crowd cheered at exciting moments and victories and booed when they got bored. With its 15th sellout year in a row, this year’s Riot at the Hyatt was, by any standard, a success.