Andre Ward, Nonito Donaire, Bruno Escalante, and Other Northern California Fighters to Watch for in 2014


The Stars

Andre Ward (27-0 14KOs, 1-0 in 2013) – Andre Ward is the definition of consistency. Though Ward may not have an aesthetically pleasing style of going about his business in the ring, his results do not very. After gaining stardom in the super six Super Middleweight tournament, Ward parlayed his success to a lucrative HBO contract.

Yet, somehow the shift in what at the time seemed to be the biggest network in boxing has done little to help him, as quickly he was overshadowed by Floyd Mayweather leaving HBO. On top of that, Ward has found himself highly inactive over the past two years since he has only fought once. In fact, more people seem to know of Ward from his commentary role on HBO than his in ring antics.

2014 needs to be a year in which Ward proves his dominance in the sport only two fights have truly tested him in his career. Early on there was his fight with Darnell Boone and fairly recently Sakio Bika, who ironically was given Ward’s WBC Super Middleweight title that Ward was stripped of this year. Ward could be facing Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. if he is able to get out of his Goossen-Tutor contract as it has been rumored that this year a Carl Froch fight in England seems unlikely due to the biasness of the judges that has been witnessed time and time again, ala la Ricky Burns vs. Ray Beltran, which was a joke of a draw. There also is the chance of Golovkin fight, but doubtful, as well as George Groves, who nearly beat Carl Froch before a fishy ref stoppage.

Karim Mayfield (18-0 11KOs, 1-0 1KO in 2013) – It’s go time for “Hard Hitta” Mayfield. At the age of 33 he needs to get a career defining win that will put him into big money fights that he has wanted his whole career. For years, Mayfield has been the talk of the Bay Area boxing scene, but never seemed to get that big break. Most famously he was offered a Jessie Vargas fight on 10 days’ notice. It was also that reason that Mayfield inked a deal with Top Rank Boxing Promotions this year simply saying “[Golden Boy] did me no favors.”

Mayfield spent the early part of his career battling defeated prospects. Mayfield defined this year with bouts against Francisco Santana who he fought twice and ended the feud with a definitive knockout an hour before Andre Ward defeated Mikkel Kessler. Mayfield would go on to have a love-hate relationship with ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, in particular commentator Teddy Atlas, who appeared highly critical of every move Mayfield made.

In Mayfield’s debut, a knockout of Steve Forbes in the final round, Atlas pointed to the clinch heavy style Mayfield had employed. In the Raymond Serrano fight, a quick knockout, Atlas questioned whether Mayfield could make it at the next level against a boxer. It was not long after the two knockout performances that Mayfield would fight Mauricio Herrera in what would be a very ugly fight on Mayfield’s HBO debut.


“I did better than [Mike] Alvarado,” Mayfield said last year reflecting of that fight. It seemed that the chips were poised to align that way as Mayfield signed with Top Rank in a bout against Pavel Miranda which was labeled as a showcase fight. Miranda would suffer an injury and Utah’s own Chris Fernandez would fill in only to get knocked out that evening.

For Mayfield, the time is now. In late December, Mayfield and Hank Lundy came to blows live on a podcast. Mayfield who had been rumored to fight on the Mikey Garcia vs. Juan Carlos Burgos card in late January seems to have fallen through. “I want to be more active,” Mayfield stated and this is the year to prove it. Mayfield is probably the most interesting fighter in the Bay Area since he has both everything to gain and everything to lose in this upcoming year. It truly is make or break time.

Nonito Donaire (32-2 21KOs, 1-1 1KO in 2013) – We all suffer loses in one way or another in life, but the worst ones are the ones that we never saw coming. Nonito Donaire was a prisoner of this as the one time top ten pound for pound fighter found himself simply outclassed by Guillermo Rigondeuax in a fight very few saw playing out that way it did. Donaire returned to find himself getting out boxed by Vic Darchinyan until landing a signature left in the ninth to knockout Darchinyan.

 Donaire, who moved up a weight class to 126 lbs. from 122 lbs., explained he wanted Rigondeaux after the fight, but Rigondeaux really has no incentive to move up, in all honestly. Donaire seemed to have a problem in that it was not clear if one person was leading the corner. His father, Robert Garcia, as well as Brian Schwartz and Michael Bazzel all offered advice, but none of them seemed to be in control. In particular, it appeared as though it was Robert Garcia and Donaire’s father, who were angling for power.

The big question is, does Donaire still have the motivation to fight? Donaire is one of the nicest people in the sport of boxing and one of the classiest athletes I have ever come across. After just having a child this past year and making a good sum of money, could boxing be a thing of the past or does he still have the energy for the sport? 2014 will tell the story as well as a rumored bout against “The Mexican Russian” Evgeny Gradovich which would take place around June or so.

Ava Knight (12-2 5KOs, 2-1 in 2013) – Ava Knight has been the anchor for women’s boxing in Northern California for a few summers now and sadly she never really gets mentioned. It is a mixture of a lack of exposure for women’s boxing as well as the fact that Knight’s fights essentially occur exclusively in Mexico, due to U.S. promoters being unable to put on the type of events that can occur south of the border. 

Knight, who last year defeated “La Barbie” Juarez, and was only awarded a WBC Silver belt while “La Barbie” kept the full title, has had struggles over the past few years. Seeking new endeavors in Knight’s career she looked to drop down in weight and fight for the light flyweight title. The plan did not go as one might have hoped as Knight lost, and it appeared that maybe the weight cut hurt her performance in what was a very close fight against Ibeth Zamora Silva.


In the upcoming year, it would be nice to see Ava Knight get a fight in the United States against Kaliesha West as the two fighters have history against one and another. Knight also has engaged in a personal feud with Olympian Marlen Esparza though a bout between the two in the near future seems highly unlikely.

The Head of the Class

Brandon Gonzales (18-0-1 10KOs, 2-0-1 in 2013) – Brandon Gonzales is one of those fighters in real life or away from the ring that makes you wonder, who is that guy? Gonzales just seems like a superstar and his in the ring performance against Thomas Oosthuizen this past June on HBO seemed to be on the way to ushering him into that realm, but when the scores were read – A draw?

A perplexed crowd and fans watching at home sat stunned. The Virgil Hunter trained fighter seemed to do everything right, but all for not. Gonzales finished out the year with an impressive win against an unbeaten Jonathan Nelson. It is clear that the Super Middleweight Gonzales has graduated to the next level and has past two tough tests and now should be rewarded by a major network. The Sacramento, CA native seemingly has the appeal to make it and with 2013 being his most active year in sometime hopefully things are on the upswing.

Bruno Escalante (11-1 5KOs, 5-0 2KOs in 2013)

Tha Boxing Voice’s own 2013 Northern California Fighter of the Year, Bruno Escalante, showed continued improvement with each and every fight. In his five fights this year, Escalante constantly improved and came into his own as a fighter. By the year’s end, Escalante had gained a regional belt, IBA, as well as buzz from all parts of the globe.

Escalante did something a lot of Northern Californians have had trouble doing. He broke out of the mold, building an identity and creating interest. Escalante headlined two cards this year, both of which sold out; the latter of which Escalante helped in part sell 1,500 tickets for a card that was not broadcasted live.

Escalante is becoming the face of the next generation of Bay Area boxing as he has grown from being known as Nonito Donaire’s sparring partner to the new IBA champion who fights in the Undisputed Boxing Gym. Escalante will look to return sometime in the near future and for Bay Area residents, he fights frequently in Redwood City, CA – which means that you still have a chance to catch him while he is a regional fighter, which may not be much longer.

Aaron Coley (8-0 5KOs, 4-0 3KOs in 2013) – One of my favorite fighters coming up is Aaron Coley or as I think of him Karim Mayfield 2.0. Coley, coming out of the same camp as Mayfield and Ava Knight training with famed trainer Ben Bautista, is an aggressive powerhouse who uses tactical skill to implement his plans. On top of this, Coley is an astute business man as he owns a scrapyard where they recycle and he brings large quantities of his t-shirts to events to sell.


He’s the total package and on top of all of that, Coley seems to outdraw nearly anyone on the local scene and yet he has not headlined an event near his hometown of Hayward, CA. Coley also is one of the most avoided fighters early on “…I can’t get fights, these guys just don’t want to get in there with me” Coley explained. It’s this factor that has made Coley train year round, ready at any moment for a fight with whoever.

Coley, one of the most active fighters in the past year, should be popping up on the national radar very shortly as he more than certainly should be featured on either television of some sort of an undercard of a bigger show.

Guy Robb (12-1 5KOs, 2-0 1KOs in 2013) – Guy Robb is most famous not for a win, but a performance in a loss against Joel Diaz Jr. two years ago. Robb, who recently signed to the promotional company, Boxing360, seems to have transcended the Northern California region as east coast fight fans bring his name up more than any other prospect from the region. The problem is, like a lot of fighters in the region, lack of activity.

Though Robb recorded two fights this is year, it is well under the five fights that Escalante or the four recorded by Coley.  Robb has a heavy following in Sacramento, CA, but in all honest pretty much everywhere. He brings the fight to the other fighter. Robb has a lot of potential and should be utilized on a televised card such as Friday Night Fights, Solo Boxeo or Fox Sports 1 card at some point heading forward.

Paul Mendez (14-2-2, 3-0-1 1KO in 2013)

 Mendez ended the year on a sour note after a solid overall year. Mendez, who many remember as “the guy who knocked out Don’Yi Livingston with a low blow” has never quite been respected for his full skill set despite being ranked just outside of the top ten in the middleweight division on Mendez who beat the game journeyman Alfredo Contreras, DaShon Johnson and knocked out Rahman Musttafa Yusubov, who was the man who knocked out James Page in his return back to the ring after incarceration.

Mendez had a bizarre fight against Louis Rose at the end of October in which Mendez threw more punches, but Rose landed the cleaner punches. In that fight I scored it for Mendez live and for Rose on TV later. Questions now arise about what the ceiling is for Mendez. Not long ago Mendez was calling out J’Leon Love for a fight in the Bay Area. Mendez will return on Fox Sports 1 on February 17th in Salinas, with a yet to be announced opponent. This will be a major fight for Mendez not just to prove the Rose fight was just a hiccup and a flat night for him, but he will be fighting Salinas, the town where he trains out of the Sam Garcia Boxing Gym.

Stan Martyniouk (13-1 2KOs, 1-0 in 2013) – Stan Martyniouk is one of the enigma’s of Northern California, not unlike Brandon Gonzales, he seems like a star when he is in the building , but has yet made the transition to the big stage. Martyniouk, a fashionable 28 year old originally from Estonia, but relocated to Belmont, CA, has the looks of the actor and the charisma to transition to work in television. The big thing is, he simply is not very active.


Since 2011, Martyniouk has only fought three times. In late 2010 he did suffer a brutal career loss that saw him on the canvas twice against Khandaphi Proctor. Martyniouk is someone you often hear gym stories about, how professional he is and how hard he is to spar. For those who did not get to train with him, patience is beginning to wear thin, as he only had one fight against David Rodela in a fight that was overshadowed by Guy Robb in Sacramento, CA. It also doesn’t help that Martyniouk has only two professional knockouts.

Martyniouk really needs a big 2014 as he is so public and well-liked in his community it would be a tragedy if he could not parlay this into his career as a boxer.

 Up and Comers

Andy Vences (6-0 2KOs, 5-0 2KOs in 2013)

ThaBoxingVoice’s Northern California Prospect of the Year, Andy Vences won the award simply by staying active and doing what needed to be done. Vences displayed power punching as well as the ability to box and Vences was the most active fighter outside of Escalante in Northern California. Vences’ uses quick hands with violent power to have foes working from the defensive position from the start. Vences’ signature left hook to the liver seems to demoralize many foes and have them mentally checked out. This year watch for Vences in the Northern California area as he continues to develop into a sound professional.

La’ron Mitchell (3-0 3KOs, 3-0 3KOs in 2013) – Heavyweights always get the most excitement and especially ones who are knocking out foes quickly. Mitchell who recently signed a five year contract with Goossen-Tutor promotions last May and the former bronze medalist at the US National trials seems poised to be entertaining for years to come. Mitchell seems to be one to watch for and for fans of boxing in the Northern California region someone to go out and watch since his fights so far have been well worth the trouble.

Alberto Torres (4-0-1 1KO, 2-0-1 1KO in 2013) – Alberto Torres is another fighter who has shown dramatic improvement over the course of the year as he started the year on a sour note, but ended with a highlight. Torres who fought in a closely contested fight with Jesus Sandoval that ended in a draw, found himself finishing the year off with his first career knockout. Torres has the ability to fight four rounds at a faster pace than most and seems to drag fighters into the deep end fairly quickly.

At the end of the year, my observation of Torres is he is slowly mastering how to grind on fighters and use his cardio to push guys to the point where they break. Torres is in an interesting spot as he will be paired with John Abella as the two to watch from Sacramento, CA and depending on how active Torres stays he could do major things since Sacramento, CA is the most underrated fight town in the world.


Jonathan Chicas (12-1 5KOs, 4-0 1KO) – I am not going to lie, originally I was not going to include Chicas on this list and then he went out in December and had the best performance of his career. Chicas landed one combination on Rodolfo Armenta that floored him and he was unable to recover. Chicas’ looks as though he is putting together all the potential he has been touted with and put it together since adding Michael Bazzel as his strength and conditioning coach starting this past summer.

Chicas, the proud El Salvadorian fighter who hopes to put his country on the map, now is heading into the New Year with national exposure and a tremendous amount of confidence. The knock on Chicas was that his balance was a bit off and his punches slapped, but in his past two fights he shown much crisper punches and the power that many of us had heard he had. It probably doesn’t hurt that Chicas also sparred Amir Khan over the course of the year as well.

Darwin Price (4-0 2KOs, 4-0 2KOs in 2013) – One of the true gems of the Bay Area, a throwback fighter out the Sam Garcia Boxing Gym, Darwin Price is something else. Price moves like a gazelle, but hits like a hammer and though he is still very green, he is sparring big name fighters such as Marcos Maidana. He has a charismatic presence in the ring.

Price is faster than most people on God’s green earth and as he becomes more comfortable using the jab and establishing it to set range, the limits only seem to be headed to higher trajectories. Price will more than likely be brought up the right way, fairly slowly and given time to develop, but I assure readers that he is someone to keep an eye for the future as he can do it all.

Aldwayne Simpson (5-0 2KOs, 1-0 in 2013) – Aldwayne Simpson is one of most amazing athletes you may ever see in any sport. Simpson, who also trains for American Ninja Warrior on top of boxing, has only been held back by one thing, lack of activity. In his one fight this year, he displayed a superstar quality in the ring as he taunted his foe while outclassing him making some onlookers upset, the same kind of heat Mayweather gets.

Simpson, a slick counter puncher hailing from Richmond, CA, is hoping to get back into the ring in February against Ulises Soriano, a man he was supposed to face last October. The two got into a heated exchange at the end of the fight as Soriano cornered Luis Alfredo Lugo, the man who fought Simpson. Simpson is a big fight type of fighter and it would be nice to see the fight come to fruition along with maybe a few video packages or backstories to explain the dislike, as the feud between the two seems real and the fact that they are both from Richmond, CA adds intrigue and merges their outside lives with boxing.

Ricardo Pinell (6-1 5KOs, 5-1 4KOs in 2013) – The thinking man’s fighter, Ricardo Pinell, who has not been brought along all that easy and fared well for himself despite a September knockout loss after failing to make weight. The weight issue is a problem that has occurred in his past two fights, but in his last fight Pinell was able to make the weight within the two hours given. Pinell is a very calm, cool and composed fighter, who fights like he had a wealth of amateur experience, when in reality he barely had any.


“I respect the guy that can hit and not get hit,” Pinell once said and his style is just that, as he matures he waits for his moments to strike and unlike a lot of counter punchers, Pinell typically knocks out his opponent. The only guy he didn’t knockout, Nathaniel Richardson, was one of the toughest guys I have watched fight in person, who also was making a pro debut.

Pinell is articulate using words like the punches he throws judiciously. It seems that over the next few years Pinell will be a fighter that people will start to look at in terms of overall complete package.

Luis Ambrosio (3-0 3KOs, 3-0 3KOs in 2013) – One of a handful of fighters coming out of Fresno, CA making a name for himself, the power puncher Luis Ambrosio is going to be a force to be reckoned with. The featherweight, Ambrosio has yet to get out of the first round in a fight, something that even in the early stages of a career is not that common at the weight class. Ambrosio is fighter with a lot of upside and plenty of opportunities appearing in 2014.

Benjamin Briceno (3-1, 3-0 in 2013) – Briceno put together a strong 2013 going undefeated to set himself up for a good 2014. The power punching Kennel Boxing Gym fighter tends to turn fights quickly into a dog fights. Briceno, who enters the ring with chains around his neck ala la Quinton “Rampage” Jackson style, sets the pace for being the aggressor. Briceno, a man who might have been written off after losing his first professional fight, may now have fond new footing and the fact that he makes fights entertaining is of no joke either.

Dark Horses to Emerge

Tony Hirsch (15-6 6KOs, 1-1 in 2013) – Tony Hirsch is one tough fighter. The veteran of the legendary enshrinement of culture and community in East Oakland’s very own King’s Gym, Hirsch also bears the honor of having the owner of that gym, Mr. Charles King, corner him at his fights. Hirsch, Andre Ward’s sparring partner, has spent much of his career playing spoiler to other fighters after suffering an early career set back that sort of killed all hopes of him being an A-side.

Hirsch has spent the past few years going to other people’s hometowns beating the hell out of them and only winning if he could dominate fully or get the knockout. Hirsch attempted to make the step up this year, but fell just short losing a close decision to John Jackson and then returned to form beating Andre Ward’s cousin DonYil Livingston on the Andre Ward vs. Edwin Rodriguez undercard. Hirsch is always a player, because he could always pop up on Friday Night Fights or somewhere and knockout any given prospect.

Mario Ayala (2-2, 2-2 in 2013) – Ayala had an odd year with two strong wins to begin the year and two strange ones to end the year. The latter of the two, Ayala fought Benjamin Briceno in a fight a lot of ringside observers, including myself, had a draw. Ayala took the fight on very short notice as well, meaning that his .500 record is a bit deceitful as Ayala, in my eyes, is still a very interesting fighter that could manifest into a good boxer.


Ayala who is a boxer at times, will get into trouble when his aggressive nature will stray from the game plan and get into dogfights which is what happened against Briceno. Ayala will have to prove himself in 2014 as it is very unlikely that he will come in as the A-side any longer unless he fights in his hometown of Sacramento, CA and now he will have to prove himself very early on in his career. Ayala shows a lot of promise in spurts and if he can put it all together he could be something special, it’s just a matter of if it happens or not and next year will be telling.

Jesus Sandoval (3-1-3, 1-0-2 in 2013) – Sandoval is my favorite fighter to watch since he gets into wild fights early and often. To put it simply, Sandoval is never in a bad fight. The big question around Sandoval is, can he start to figure out how to not have so many draws? Will the move from four to six round fights help him? In my opinion, Sandoval lost his fight to Christian Silva and the other two fights were fairly called draws, but Sandoval fought vibrantly and had the fans out of their seats early.

It seems like putting Jesus Sandoval in with Sammy Perez, a man he fought to a draw on the Fox Sports 1 card in October, would be a logical in the coming year. I just expect Sandoval to continue to entertain and potentially upset or surprise someone in the coming years.


Christian Silva (2-3-1, 1-2-1 in 2013) – Christian Silva might be the most undesirable fighter to face in the club circuit. Silva’s record isn’t pretty and on any given day he can beat nearly anyone. It seems as though the truly elite can get by Silva, but anyone from the cusp of the elite to those in the middle could be in for a long night as Silva goes town to town playing spoiler and more often than not getting no favors from the judges. Silva lost to Jesus Sandoval in what was a hotly disputed decision that nearly everyone at ringside felt Silva won, as his right hand connected all night with Sandoval. 

Silva followed that up with a split decision win and split decision draw. Something about Silva puts him in a position to get screwed on the scorecard and with not enough power he tends to need the judges. Yet once again, Christian Silva is one of those fighters who could have an impact on the Northern California boxing scene if he is put in the right situation to face the right prospect.