Fighter of the Year: Bruno Escalante
Everything you look for in a fighter of the year, Bruno Escalante did this year. It was Escalante’s constant work rate fighting five times with two main events spots both starting and ending the year and three co-main event spots sandwiched in between the middle of the year. Escalante started off with a wild fight against Rigoberto Casillas that he won easily on the scorecard, but traded a bit more than one might have hoped.
Escalante would then respond with two dominant KO wins using one of his patent punches the left straight to the belly or as Escalante sometimes refers to it as “The Mayweather”. In September, Escalante received his toughest fight since his lone professional loss last year (2012) when he fought a very tough Joseph Rios, who bullied him at times and used his physicality to move Escalante around the ring. Going into the last round, I had Escalante up by one round, but needing the final frame to pull away a decisive win. In a perfect metaphor of his year, not just did Escalante win the final round, but he fought his best round of the fight to seal the victory.
In the final month of this year, Escalante sealed the deal upon the award by defeating what was supposed to be his toughest test to date in Mike Ruiz. Escalante turned the bout into a showcase for his movement and ability to adjust in the ring as well as entertaining his hometown crowd. Ruiz who had moments and seemed to be shifting the fight in his favor in the fifth round, suffered a resounding body shot that moved him back. Escalante capitalized on that shift in momentum and seemed to control the rest of the action in the fight. Not unlike his previous affairs, when asked to win Escalante found a way to do so.
Escalante left Redwood City that first week of December with the IBA Super Flyweight title, which may get scoffed at by some national readers, but is quite the bargaining chip for bigger fights in the future. Escalante, who headlined a card that had a packed house of 1,300 in attendance that Escalante largely helped draw means one thing. Escalante should be on Fox Sports 1 very soon and as his star grows and his drawing power expands means more opportunity.
Bruno Escalante vs. Joseph Rios
Knockout of the Year: Jonathan Chicas RD1 (Redwood City, CA)
Jonathan Chicas came into his fight in December with a lot of questions. Some pundits had gone to my social media to attack Chicas’ strength of competition since his loss to Moris Rodriguez, feeling Chicas had struggled at the next level. The fact is it appears those who doubted Chicas where wrong, very wrong.
Chicas made quick work of Rodolfo Armenta, one of the tougher fighters he had faced recently and on top of that Armenta was known for having early knockout power making his first round devastation of him so impressive. Armenta was nearly a carbon copy of Moris Rodriguez the fighter whom had defeated him a little over a year ago and Chicas swarmed him to stop him quickly.
From the opening bell, Chicas came out looking different as though he was a man on a mission. Chicas who is still with 3rd St Boxing Gym in San Francisco, CA has moved his strength and conditioning to San Carlos, CA to train with famed trainer Michael Bazzel. The move seems to show as Chicas displayed explosive power as his first combo landed with a force. Armenta faded away as soon as the left hook finished the combination.
For Chicas, it was a beautiful moment to solidify himself as a force in the Northern California boxing scene and on top of that the celebration for Chicas’ after the knockout was one of the loudest I have ever witnessed. Jonathan Chicas had never looked that good before as his punches looked as crisp as ever.
Fight of the Year: John Abella vs. Christian Cartier (Roseville, CA)
In what was the best fight I saw in person, John Abella and Christian Cartier battled for three and half rounds of fast paced action. Abella, a top rated prospect from Sacramento faced Cartier, a man who has yet to win a fight, but yet to have a bad fight. What occurred was an affair of local legend.
Abella, who abandon boxing by the second round began to trade with Cartier, who is not heavy handed (which could be a cautionary tale moving forward about Abella, FYI), but game. Cartier never stops throwing punches and has been in very tough early on. Cartier has only come in as the opponent for his career and though he never really won a round, Cartier and Abella brought the house down on that fateful night in October.
Abella eventually knocked out Cartier in the final round, but it was a fight where even in a loss Cartier gained more fans in Sacramento then he had coming in. The fight also saw something that you really see at a local show, a post-fight interview in which Abella addressed the crowd after the action. The true tragedy is that as of right now video of the fight as a whole has yet to emerge and it truly deserves preservation.
Round of the Year: Juan Carlos Burgos vs. Yakabu Amidu Round 11 (Lincoln, CA)
When Friday Night Fights came to Lincoln, CA not many expected the close fight in the main event that we ended up with. Juan Carlos Burgos came off his best outing of his career against Rocky Martinez in which he was robbed of a victory with a puzzling draw that would have awarded him his first championship for his career. Amidu had been fairly inactive getting a draw in April 2013 with over a year layoff prior to that. On top of that Amidu was coming in on late notice and should be easy work as some might say.
Yet Amidu who slapped with his punches rather than snapped began to pick up momentum as he began to walkthrough Burgos punches and corner him in the ropes. The eleventh round was the climax of the fight as Burgos was able to get off four punch combos from the outside, but Amidu was able to close the distance fight on the inside pushing Burgos to the ropes. The exchanges from the ropes in particular created an environment that made the draw decision that the local crowd was not fond of, seem a little less of a letdown as Amidu won in the hearts of the greater Sacramento faithful fight fan’s minds.
Prospect of the Year: Andy Vences
Andy Vences of San Jose, CA had been out of action for one year. In fact he took a good part of this year off as well, but since June of this last year Vences’ recorded five fights. More impressive is the defensive skill Vences’ shows and why he is able to stay so active due to his dominate level he maintains in the ring by not taking much damage as well his commitment to the gym to always be in fight shape. Vences’ whose last opponent pulled out late making his graduation to six round fights postponed until this coming year still eyes lofty goals as the proud San Jose, California native sees belts at 130 lbs in his horizon in a matter of time.
Vences’ mixes a high boxing IQ with heavy hands that put foes in a defensive minded state of just surviving the fight as opposed to winning. Vences’ is one the brightest prospects coming out of the bay and one of the few boxers in the region with an extensive amateur boxing background. Vences is well worth keeping an eye out for.
Most Deserving of a Big Fight: Ava Knight
Ava Knight is spending the prime of her career away from her home of Chico,Ca and in the foreign soils of Mexico. Well, the pay is good and respect for Knight is there as the MGM Grand had to call security for her when she took her belt to the lobby at the past Mayweather fight. Yet one thing is missing. Ava Knight needs a big fight. After beating “La Barbie” Mariana Juarez last year and Susana Vasquez as well Linda Soto this year, Knight had an ill-fated drop down in weight to face Ibeth Zamora Silva in which she lost a close fight, but nonetheless lost.
It just seems like if Ava Knight will get that one fight for the local fans of Northern California now would be the time and the hope by most pundits is that Ava Knight vs. Keisha West would occur. The two have a history, and West has pleaded on twitter for the fight the problem thus far is at what weight it would be contested at and that pesky problem of money.
Then there is Marlene Espraza the Olympian, who Knight has exchanged many a twitter rant against and with Amateur boxers allowed pro fights before the Olympics, it is possible, but realistic…unlikely. The one thing that is for sure is that Ava Knight heading into 2014 needs that big fight.
Trainer of the Year: Brian Schwartz and Michael Bazzel (Undisputed Boxing Gym, San Carlos, CA)
Even though Nonito Donaire may have not had his best outing, though Donaire is still affiliated with Undisputed he has shifted his focus more to Southern California and the Robert Garcia Gym. This has opened a spot for a new star at the Undisputed Gym and Bruno Escalante heeded the call.
Brian Schwartz and Michael Bazzel have put together a system in place that is turning out top prospect after top prospect as just this year, Escalante had his best year as a professional, and Andy Vences showed marked improvement once shifting to the gym the latter half of this year as well. It’s getting to the point towards the end of the year when you see Schwartz and Bazzel in a corner for a fighter you made the assumption they were going to win. The fighters they train just have a habit of doing that and that is in part due to their work.
Event of the Year: Paco Presents Boxing & Don Chargin Promotions Manuel “Tino” Avila vs. Jose Angel Cota
If you watched only the main event or for that matter most of the television card you might not understand, why but the show was a highly entertaining affair. From top prospects Darwin Price and Andy Vences putting on great performances as well as two of the best fights I saw this year Jesus Sandoval vs. Sammy Perez and Benjamin Briceno vs. Mario Ayala. Not to mention Paul Mendez vs. Louis Rose was a very close tough fight that saw Mendez gets a very tough test. Now you can talk about Tino Avila’s mismatched main event from an opponent, who pulled out late, but Tino did what he was supposed to do, but the strength of the card was the sum of the parts that lead to that crescendo.
Atmosphere of the Year: Aaron Coley vs. Mike Alexander
After the John Abella vs. Christian Cartier, the environment in Roseville, CA was the best of the year as a packed house sat reacting to every blow thrown and every punch from that moment on. On top of this, Aaron “Heavy Metal” Coley, in my opinion, the biggest local draw in Northern California who has not been on major television helped packed nearly a side of the ring as well as set up shop selling t-shirts with his picture on them as well. Coley would later stop Alexander in third round of their fight causing chaos in the crowd as nearly everyone cheered in celebration.
Promoter Osric Pratt, the head honcho of OPP Presents promotions could not have been any happier as a packed crowd witnessed a night of action in one of the neglected, best fight towns in the world Sacramento, CA. In my opinion, Sacramento, CA fight fans are the best around, showing up early staying for every fight, cheering brawls and technical affairs as well as applauding fighters from out of town if they give their guy a good fight and all of this with a beer in their hand. The Sacramento area has a special love affair with boxing and when the right event comes through it becomes something special and this event was just that as the crowd seemingly become just one entity that pulsed together to react to the action.
Don’t Call It a Comeback Award: Ricardo Pinell
Ricardo Pinell, who was my lock for prospect of the year until a September loss to Eric Mendez by TKO in the second round of that fight in a fight he was winning until he got caught with a punch. Pinell did not just come back in December he looked better than ever as he walked his foe down, hurt him systematically and then finished him in the second round. Pinell with help from a counter right uppercut that came effortlessly all night methodically let the finish come him without rushing into anything.
Pinell a methodical fighter showed poise and patience to stay disciplined and not walk into a hard shot that had cost him previously. For Pinell, the future is very bright for a power puncher who prides himself on his defense and ability to not get hit. As we head into 2014, the big takeaway from Pinell is the fact that he is missing a fight he should have had to quote him as “…the knockout loss kept [Pinell] off the [Fox Sports 1 card]” in Redwood City, CA.
Most Likely to Get Fans Out Of There Seat: Jesus Sandoval
Jesus Sandoval’s record may not have been ideal for 2013 with two draws against Alberto Torres as well as Sammy Perez and one hot contested win over Christian Silva, whom many myself included felt Sandoval actually lost and was gifted a win. Sandoval did get one constant win, he won in the hearts of fans as corny as that sounds.
Sandoval no matter where he was placed on the card stole the show time and again as he would charge forward pushing a relentless pace and turn any match into a dogfight. What Sandoval sacrifices in defense, he gives back tenfold in offensive production. Here is to one of the most entertaining fighters in the bay area and an notice that if you are in the bay area you should attend one of his fights.
Upset of the Year: Eric Mendez vs. Ricardo Pinell
Ricardo Pinell is one of the brightest stars coming out of the San Francisco, yet in late September after a tough weight cut that saw him come in one pound over the catch weight agreement a shade under the middleweight limit. Pinell saw his great 2013 hit a speed bump as he got caught with a looping shot that put him down. Moments later he sat in the corner with his hands up getting punched with the referee stepping in to stop the fight.
Eric Mendez was a man on the road who had a very good amateur record and was at the beginning of his pro career. Mendez’s record did not reflect the type of fighter he was and Pinell a slick counter puncher simply got beat at his own game on that very evening.