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Escalante clocks, rocks & knocks Lock down
Boxing returns to El Paso; Han, Valenzuela thrill crowd - Velasquez twins don't

Ringside report by Chris Cozzone & Ricardo Trujillo
Photos by Chris Cozzone / Fightwireimages.com

There was a lot more at stake, last night at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas, than a win or loss for Antonio Escalante.

But, in a single night, and a single victory, Escalante not only secured his chance at a world championship in his next fight, but rekindled his hometown’s hunger for boxing.

Returning home for the first time in years, and as a bonafide junior featherweight contender, Escalante broke through Detroit’s Cornelius Lock and, at the same time, brought a significant fight to the border town that has not seen boxing in a year-and-a-half—the longest drought in nearly a century.

Rising from ghost town to fight town, El Paso came out last night – 4,200 rowdy fans – to watch Escalante pound out an impressive victory over Lock on the Golden Boy Promotions card televised on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”

There was no stopping the driven Escalante, who found out that, despite scoring multiple knockdown and having his man groggy several times, there was no easy or safe combination to unlock Lock. The Mayweather Promotions fighter proved game to the core throughout the fight.

Escalante’s quicker hands and relentless aggression forced the southpaw Lock to the ropes in the opening stanzas. Though beating his man to the punch, a short right hook from Lock in the second opened up a small cut below Escalante’s right eye.

Continued pressure from the local favorite had the crowd alternating chants of “CHU-CO! CHU-CO!” with “TON-Y! TON-Y!” – they only got louder when Escalante bombed Lock with a body shot that dropped him to the canvas. Lock beat the clock but Escalante unleashed a barrage of lefts and rights that floored his foe again, near the end of the round. This time, the bell saved him.

In the fourth and fifth, Lock survived, pursued by the faster, pressuring Escalante, who, though hurting his man, could not finish him.

Forced into a defensive fight, Lock appeared tired in the fifth, but had his moments in the sixth, landing counterpunches on the aggressive Escalante. Increased pressure and hooks to the body by the chasing Escalante made it another easy round to score.

Though eating a few right hooks in the seventh, Escalante poured it on, landing lead rights. Both fighters took a break in the eighth, but Escalante stepped it up in the final minute, punishing Lock against the ropes.

Hungry for a knockout, Escalante stalked Lock, but the jabbing and moving southpaw, no longer fighting to win, looked like he was cruising to lose a decision on his feet rather than go down by kayo. Circling around the ring, Lock kept away from Escalante’s big shots, forcing his frustrated opponent to chase him down.

At the end of ten, two judges, Raul Valencia and Sam Garza, scored it a shutout for Escalante 100-88 while the third, Levi Martinez, had it 98-90.

Fightnews writers were in agreement, giving Lock two rounds, with a 98-90 scorecard.

“I knew I could hurt him in the third,” said Escalante, now 21-2, 13 KOs. “I was thinking I had him, but my corner told me to settle down and box. We all knew he was dangerous in every round, right up to the last. Still, I tried for a knockout – I came so close but he didn’t want to fall down. He was tough.”

Escalante is currently ranked No. 3 in two of the top four ABCs.

“I want a title shot next,” he says Escalante. “I’m ready for any one of the champions – I’m ready for anyone in my division, and I’m willing to go anywhere to fight.”

Champions at 122 include undefeated Juan Manuel Lopez, Celestino Caballero, Bernard Dunne and Toshiaki Nishioka.

“Dunne is the next step,” said ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas. “Escalante has the physical abilities to defeat him – but not Caballero, [Israel] Vazquez or Lopez. He’s not ready.”

With the loss, Lock falls to 18-4, 11 KOs.

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FightWireImages.comTwin recipe for disaster

In co-feature co-main events, featherweight (more or less) twins Juan Velasquez and Carlos Velasquez, of Puerto Rico, both failed to impress. One twin got booed for losing; the other, for winning.

In the first sixer, 6-1-1 Carlos Velasquez was cursed with being matched up with the world’s most reluctant fighter. In the second, twin Juan had the even greater misfortune of being paired up against a fighter who was just a little too eager to fight. While Juan ran, Carlos chased.

Carlos chased after Juan Nazario, of Middletown, Ct.

Round one was one ugly round—and it only got uglier.

When he wasn’t running, Nazario was holding. When he wasn’t chasing, Velasquez was trying to find a home for something, a jab, a right hand, a hook – anything, but Nazario’s death grip and track shoes made it impossible to do anything but hold his arms out to show Referee Rocky Burke that it wasn’t him doing the slow dance and fast fox trot around the ring.

The only amusement came from the disgusted crowd that chanted “Beso! Beso!” (Kiss! Kiss!)

Equally revolted was Nazario’s corner, who couldn’t light a fire under their fighter’s arse – or maybe they’d succeeded only too well and it was the backburner heat that had Nazario sprinting from post to post.

In the fifth, a clean punch finally landed. Unfortunately, the punch, thrown by Velasquez, found a home on Ref Burke’s beezer – the former undefeated local fighter-turned-official took it well and continued his exasperating job of warning Nazario while breaking up endless clinches by the desperately hesitant fighter.

To everyone’s relief, round six came and went. Though rewarded with a shutout decision of 60-53 across the board, Velasquez, now 11-0, 9 KOs, left the ring under an undeserving shower of boos, as disgusted as the fans.

This Velasquez got off easy.

The other Velasquez wasn’t so lucky.

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FightWireImages.comBeranza que barbaro

In his first big test, also six rounds, Juan Velasquez was thrown into the lion’s den against 48-fight veteran Jose Beranza, of Mexico City. Made worse by fighting for a pro-Mexico crowd (this is the border, mind you), the booed-at Velasquez showed a surprisingly susceptible chin to the shorter, slower squat Mexican warrior.

Velasquez circled around Beranza in the center of the ring in the first, showing patience and picking his shots. Unable to close the gap, Beranza was on the receiving end of the meaningful shots. In the second, it was more of the same, Velasquez using his reach and sticking it to Beranza.

With a two round deficit, Beranza turned it all around in the third, coming out on top with, first, a flash knockdown, then a much more damaging one. Coming close to disqualification, not once but twice, Beranza threw punches at his floored foe, without admonishment by the ref. Velasquez survived the round, doing what his twin brother’s opponent had done for six rounds in the previous fight - by running.

Beranza went to town on Velasquez in the fourth, landing a higher volume on his bewildered opponent. In the fifth, he plowed into Velasquez, attacking the body and landing another near-knockdown punch. Spitting out his mouthpiece, Velasquez got lucky when the ref called time.

Velasquez showed some game in the sixth, final round but Beranza was too determined to let the fight slip away. The harder, cleaner shots remained Beranza, who won with scores of 58-54 twice, and 57-55.

Fightnews writers were split in scores, but agreed on the obvious winner, 58-54 (Cozzone) and 57-55 (Trujillo) for Beranza.

“You can never count out a fighter from Mexico,” said Beranza. “Even with a record like mine.”

Beranza had lost six of his last seven bouts.

“What happened? I’ll tell you – Velasquez ran into a ‘Beranza.’ That’s what happened. These fanaticos (the fans) here made it worth it, to beat an undefeated fighter from Puerto Rico. Que barbaro!”

Velasquez falls to 9-1, 5 KOs; Beranza rises to 32-15-2, 25 KOs.

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FightWireImages.comHan's solo punch

Fighting for the first time in his hometown, jr. middleweight Abie “The Heat” Han (5-0, 4 KOs), most likely, sent San Antonio’s Brian Soto (3-1, 1 KO) back into retirement with the best knockout on the card.

Considered by many to be El Paso’s next big thing, the menacing Han sent Soto to the floor with a right hand in the first. Patiently stalking his hurt foe, he cracked him several more times in the second until, in the last minute, a beautiful overhand right dropped Soto flat on his back for several minutes.

Official time was 2:20.

“I saw the opening for the straight right and I took it,” said Han, who trains under Louie Burke in Las Cruces, N.M. “I’m still looping too much but I’m beginning to straighten my punches.”

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Morales runs after De Leon in walkout

In the walkout bout of the night, a six-round featherweight bout, Mexico’s Saul Morales (7-1, 3 KOs), now fighting out of El Paso, had to chase his opponent, Guadalupe De Leon (7-8, 4 KOs), of Mission, Tex., around the ring for a shutout decision.

In the first two rounds, it was jab and chase, one-two and run after De Leon for Morales. A tongue lashing by his corner to pressure Morales had De Leon running that much faster. Meanwhile, Morales switched rightie to leftie, and back again, landing lead hooks with slightly increasing pressure.

For the next four rounds, it was the same ol’ routine, with increased, but futile pressure from Morales and a reluctant showing by De Leon, whose sole motivation was to try and outdo Juan Nazario’s awful performance against one of the Velasquez twins, earlier in the night.

Needless to say, all three judges had it 60-54 for Morales.

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Luna crowns King

In the curtain raiser, a four-rounder at welter, it was curtains for Tomandre King (4-16-5), of Fort Worth, Tex., at the hands of Robert Luna (5-0, 3 KOs), of San Antonio.

It was a punishing fight for King, who’s now lost seven of his last eight bouts. Luna pounded away with jabs and rights in the first and second, carving rope burns into King’s back as he backpedaled along the perimeter for six endless minutes.

In the third, Luna bombed away with body shots, wincing every time he was hit and bleeding from a cut over his left eye. With no chance to turn the fight around and no reason to continue in his role as a human heavy bag, King was sent out for more punishment in the fourth until the referee had seen enough, waving it off at 1:28.

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FightWireImages.comValenzuela – Buendia steal the show

In the best fight of the night – certainly the best four-rounder these reporters have seen in years, jr. welters Cesar Valenzuela (2-0), of El Paso, and Dallas’ Miguel Buendia (0-1) bombed away at one another in back-and-forth action.

Valenzuela was the better boxer, but Buendia’s ability to take punishment – then throw it back at Valenzuela twofold – made every round a thriller.

Valenzuela edged the first, but Buendia’s heavier hands had the local favorite wary. Despite the swelling in his face – a mouse under one eye – Buendia refused to be an opponent. Forcing Valenzuela to slug it out, Buendia’s heavier hands had momentum falling his way by the end of the second and throughout the third.

In the fourth, Valenzuela, momentarily stunned by some of Buendia’s bombs, continued to outbox his opponent – but he also kept the crowd on his feet by duking it out in a gutsy see-saw brawl.

The judges were split, all 39-37 but two verdicts falling in Valenzuela’s favor. Fightnews had it 39-37, as well, for Valenzuela.

“My key to victory was drinking beer all week,” admitted Valenzuela. “My fans gave me a great boost and the louder they got, the more energy I got.”

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Bonus Pics

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2009 by Fightnews.com.