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Borderline border war
Escalante defeats rival Roman in El Paso classic

Ringside report by Chris Cozzone & Gerardo Martinez
Photos by Chris Cozzone

What was supposed to be a sure-win, keep-busy bout for border king Antonio Escalante nearly turned into a royal usurping at the hands of cross-border rival Miguel “Micky” Roman, Friday night at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.

Waiting for his shot at a world title, Escalante, rated from No. 1 to No. 5 between three ABCs and two divisions, had promised to do a bit of “housekeeping” by taking on Juarez’s Roman. The expected clean sweep for Escalante turned into a desperate struggle for survival that, for ten non-stop rounds, had the packed house of 5,800 cheering both fighters in their borderland classic that will, no doubt, be a “Fight of the Year” candidate.

The long-awaited showdown between Escalante and Roman that headlined the Golden Boy-promoted, ESPN2-televised card not only exceeded expectations of a high-action war, but the momentum-pendulum rollercoaster ride just might be El Paso’s best fight in over a decade.

In the days before the drug cartel violence shut down local boxing, Roman was, once upon a time, a regular headliner in Juarez. Forced to fight on the road throughout Mexico, Roman suffered three straight losses in 2008-2009, before bouncing back to near-contention with three wins, then a setback split decision to Miguel Beltran, Jr. in Tijuana. Thought to have peaked, Roman was the perfect man to allow Escalante to shine before his ever-growing hometown crowd.

The Roman that showed up Friday night, though, barely resembled the one who’d been given the hometown call on more than one show in his earlier incarnation. Cornered by longtime trainer Felipe de la Torre and Mexican wizard Nacho Beristain, Roman’s guts, punch and pizzazz brought out the best, the desperate and the entirety of Escalante.

Being the smaller of the two did not stop Roman from being the perpetual aggressor. At the opening bell, he leapt into the fray, not only throwing a flurries at Escalante, but staggering his rival with big left hooks.

Roman’s frenzied attack was met head on by a recovering Escalante in the second. Though landing big rights of his own, Roman’s relentless hooks, both up and downstairs, continued to hurt Escalante.

Rounds three and four were tougher to score. Roman continued to be the aggressor, but Escalante started to box and find his rhythm, while landing his right. Roman, however, kept on coming forward, taking Escalante’s power while pounding the body.

Roman won the fifth convincingly, clearly landing the harder, cleaner shots. Escalante spent the entire round in survival mode, sometimes looking on the verge of buckling.

Just when you thought the fight was Roman’s, Escalante found a new reserve before the sixth. Outboxing Roman, Escalante took back momentum but was staggered yet again by Roman at the end of the round.

For the first time in the fight, Escalante was able to drive Roman back in round seven. In the eighth, Roman turned the fight back his way, yet again, and was on the verge of winning the round when, in the last minute, Escalante blasted back with a barrage that floored Roman. Somewhat dazed, Roman beat the count and Escalante had little time or energy to finish him off.

The ninth started with a furious exchange and the best continuous action yet. With Roman scoring the harder, more damaging shots, Escalante, tiring, tried to fight on the run but the Juarez rival was all over him, on what appeared to be the verge of, at least, a knockdown.

In the tenth, the two nearly fell out of the ring during an exchange. Escalante scored his biggest shots yet, hurting his opponent, but Roman weathered the punishment and fought back in a non-stop slugfest.

After ten, the scores ranged from 97-92 to 96-93 to 96-93, all for Escalante.

Fightnews had it six rounds to four, 96-93, for Escalante, conceding that the knockdown in round eight made the difference. Without the knockdown, Roman would’ve won the round, making the fight even.

“This was definitely one of my toughest fights,” said Escalante, wearing sunglasses to hide the bruises. “I thought I won the fight and the judges thought I won the fight.

“I hurt him a few times during the fight, including the knockdown. I’m not one of those fighters that says he didn’t get hurt at all – I admit he did hurt me a couple of times throughout the fight, but I used my legs and boxing skills to overcome his aggressiveness.”

Escalante, now 23-12, 14 KOs, does not rule out a rematch.

“I respect Miguel Roman – he came to give a great fight,” said Escalante. “We both gave 120% and neither fighter deserved to lose. My body was not responding as usual and if I were to fight him again, it would be a much easier rematch for me.

“I would definitely give him a rematch.”

Roman reciprocated the respect, agreeing that it was a tough fight.

“He did not win convincingly,” said Roman, who felt he’d done enough to pull off the victory. “My face is clean – his is not. Escalante was not sure at the end of the fight whether he’d won or not. He was not smiling.”

Roman, now 28-7, 20 KOs, said the knockdown had been a result of being off-balance.

“If I was to get a rematch, I wouldn’t change any part of my strategy,” said Roman. “It was a winning strategy. I won the last rounds and he was just running from me at the end.”

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Theophane, the bane of Garcia

In the co-main event, finding himself in deep waters with Ashley Theophane, from across the Big Pond, Danny Garcia of Philadelphia eked and squeaked by to win a ten-round split decision.

The U.S.-debuting Theophane was a lateral move in opposition – but extending himself in his first distance fight at ten rounds nearly proved Garcia’s undoing.

While Garcia stalked his prey in the first, Theophane found a target for his single-thrown rights and left hooks. In the second, Garcia closed the distance, landing rights up and downstairs.

The third was somewhat even, Theophane landing overhand rights at range while Garcia worked his jab. Garcia started to land with consistency in the fourth, then mixed it up with body shots in the fifth.

In round six, Theophane, not quite fading, was presenting a stern test for Garcia. Though landing overhand rights, Theophane showed he could take Garcia’s rights and occasional left uppercuts.

Theophane was briefly in trouble in the seventh, from a right, but, one round later, Garcia started to fade. Taking advantage of his tiring foe, Theophane had his best round yet.

Though winning most of the ninth, Garcia suffered what was, at least on two cards, a one-point deduction for hitting low. Though calling time, Referee Robert Velez never really indicated the point deduction; one judge took it as a warning.

In the tenth round, Garcia, looking battered and bleeding from his nose, mixed it up with Theophane/ in the round’s best action. Both landed hooks, but Theophane’s punches carried more steam.

At the end of ten, the scores read 95-94, 94-95 and 96-94, for Garcia, winner by split decision.

Fightnews had it 95-95, five rounds apiece, disregarding the referee’s notions of a low blow as an official warning and not a point off. Had the ref been clearer, holding up a finger to indicate a point off, Theophane would’ve won, 95-94.

“It was definitely my toughest fight,” said Garcia, now 16-0, 10 KOs.

“I thought it was close but thought I pulled it off. He has a lot of experience and expected a tough fight.”

Mike Michael of Cestus, Theophane’s management, called it a hometown decision.

“I thought I won,” said Theophane, now 25-4-1, 7 KOs. “I outworked him and landed the better, the cleaner shots. He was blowing at the end.

“It happens – this is Texas.”

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Grajeda decisions Rojas

All four undercard bouts followed the televised main and co-main, beginning with a sixer-cut-to-four between Luis Grajeda (9-0, 7 Kos), of Chihuahua, and Osvaldo Rojas (6-2-1, 2 KOs), of Portland, Ore.

Though both were tall, long welters, Grajeda’s straighter punches and cool, calculating style made the difference. Rojas was floored in the first in a flash knockdown. Though he bounced back in the third with a pressured attack, Grajeda continued to outbox him through the remainder.

Scores were 40-35 twice and 39-36, all for Grajeda.

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Morales spanks ‘Baby’

In a six-round lightweight bout, Saul Morales (8-1, 4 Kos), of Durango, Mexico, stopped Julian “Baby” Rodriguez (17-18-4, 12 KOs), of Juarez.

Round one was competitive, with both landing big left hooks. In the second, though, Morales landed a big hook that floored the shopworn Rodriguez.

Rodriguez tried to get to his feet but the bout was waved off at 1:19.

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‘The Lion’ roars in El Paso

In a six-round lightweight bout, undefeated Las Vegan Sharif “The Lion” Bogare (14-0, 8 KOs) had little trouble with bigger, taller Jose Hernandez (10-2, 4 KOs), of Ft. Worth, Texas.

Hernandez had all the physical attributes to beat Bogere – height, size, reach, nearly everything, but chin and power. The smaller, calmer Bogere stalked his prey, worked his way in and out, and floored Hernandez early in round one with a right.

In the second, Bogere, easily avoiding Hernandez’s slo-mo, telegraphed punches, took his time outboxing his foe. In the third, Bogere decided to end it, battering down Hernandez in a barrage of punches.

Hernandez was too stunned to continue and Referee Rocky Burke called it off at :44.

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Bautista turns pro

In a sluggish swing snoozer, chubby El Paso heavyweight Augustine Bautista (1-0) barely won his pro debut with an uninspiring split decision over Oklahoma’s Chad Johnson (0-2).

Johnson, sporting a peculiar pair of hiking boots as footwear, proved as easy to hit as Bautista’s belly, which he pounded on through four rounds. Bautista, clearly the better boxer, with 167 amateur bouts behind him, threw nada but tap-tap arm punches.

Most rounds were even – or good/bad enough to go either way – and the final tallies read 40-36, 36-40 and 39-37, for the local kid.

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2010 by Fightnews.com.