'Little Stick of Dynamite' returns to ring Friday

'Little Stick of Dynamite' returns to ring Friday
March 6, 2013, 3:00 pm
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ESCALANTE vs. CASILLAS
CHICAS vs. BRAMBILA
When: Friday, March 8
Where: Fox Theater, Redwood City
First Fight: 7 p.m.
Promoter: Don Chargin/Paco Presents
Tickets: foxrwc.com

• San Carlos’ Bruno Escalante (6-1-1, 3 KOs) vs. Rigoberto Casillas (8-9-1, 6 KOs), 8 rds., jr. bantamweights.
• S.F.’s Jonathan Chicas (8-1, 4 KOs) vs. Arturo Brambila (9-17-1, 4 KOs), 6 rds., jr. welterweights.
• San Bruno’s Joe Gumina (4-1, 2 KOs) vs. Lee Holloman (1-4-1), 4 rds., cruiserweights.
• Sacramento’s Alberto Torres (2-0) vs. Redwood City’s Jesus Partida (2-1-1), 4 rds., featherweights.
• S.F.’s Ricardo Pinell (1-0-1, 1 KO) vs. Madera’s Nathaniel Richardson (debut), 4 rds., jr. middleweights.
• S.F.’s Jhonnathan Zamudio (1-1-1, 1 KO) vs. Sacramento’s Juan Martinez (0-2), 4 rds., jr. welterweights.

Programming note: Watch Bruno Escalante on Chronicle Live Wednesday at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Replays will air at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

SAN CARLOS -- Bruno Escalante can’t take five steps in the Undisputed Boxing Gym without receiving a warm pat on the back from a forty-something woman or shaking a teenager’s hand.

With his baby-faced looks and amiable demeanor, it would be easy to dismiss the idea of a 5-foot-2’, 115-pound Hawaiian transplant who calls himself “The Aloha Kid” as a walking, breathing machine of destruction. Outside the ring, you’d be right.

But once Escalante laces his gloves, enters the squared circle, and starts bashing his knuckles together as he paces frantically around the blue canvas, his previous peaceful persona is but a distant memory. When that happens, "The Aloha Kid" becomes his alter-ego -- "The Little Stick of Dynamite."

[RELATED: S.F.’s Chicas trades street life for ring fame]

This Friday at the Redwood City Fox Theater, the southpaw Escalante (6-1-1, 3 KOs) plans for his left cross to detonate on veteran Rigoberto Casillas’ chin in the main event.

“I don’t know, but it’s just totally different when I get in there to fight,” the 24-year-old Escalante told CSNBayArea.com, shrugging his shoulders in typical shy-guy fashion.  “It really is a different me in there.  It’s nothing personal, but when it’s time to fight, I want to take my opponents out, and I hope to do it again this time.”

After blasting three foes in swift succession in 2011, Escalante had trouble finding anyone willing to meet him at his natural junior bantamweight limit of 115 pounds.

His eagerness to accept all comers might have cost him his unbeaten record, when last June, Escalante took on fellow power-punching prospect Matt Villanueva. Though Escalante won the first two rounds, the taller Villanueva was able to use his reach advantage and bully his way toward a decision victory.

“It was a tough matchup for Bruno,” said Brian Schwartz, who works the corner with Mike Bazzel. “But he’s learned a lot from that fight, and he’ll be ready for a guy like Villanueva in the future. His left hand’s always been there. It’s just a matter of improving everything else in his game, and we’ve been doing that for this camp.”

Casillas (8-9-1, 6 KOs) is a rugged Mexican veteran from Tijuana who loves to pressure his opponents and trade bombs in the center of the ring. Such a style plays right into Escalante’s hands.

“From what I saw, he likes to come forward and throw a lot of punches,” Escalante said.  “I’m going to try to see if he’ll walk into my left hand.”

Perhaps the additions of manager Herb Stone and adviser Johnny Nava will serve as the catalyst for Escalante’s rise in 2013.  Friday marks his second fight in four months with his new team, as well as the first time he has earned top billing on the poster as the featured attraction.

“I feel so thankful just to be in this position right now,” said Escalante, who lived in Cebu, Philippines, until he was 8 years old.  “This is like my time to show my parents and siblings that all their sacrifices were worth it.  I want to pay it back to them in the ring and be able to take care of them one day.”

Growing up as the self-admitted “baby” among 10 siblings, Escalante and his family struggled to survive in the Philippines to the point where they were unable to afford to eat meat every day.  As a result, they moved to Waimanalo, Hawaii, where the Escalantes carved their own version of the American Dream.

“We all worked to support our family,” Escalante said.  “My work ethic is because of the example they set.  I did everything while I was boxing as an amateur—paint cars, deliver pizzas, whatever—anything to help each other out.”

That amateur career included stints as a 2008 U.S. Olympic Team alternate, but with money tight, the promising Escalante yearned to turn pro.  By chance, he was discovered by a fellow Filipino-American fighter who believed in the kid’s potential enough to take him under his wing and house him in the Bay Area.

“Nonito Donaire thought I had skills, and he brought me here,” Escalante said of the reigning World Fighter of the Year.  “He’s kind of been like my mentor.  I’ve loved it here.  The people are so nice to me, and I haven’t had trouble making friends.”

Donaire, the current junior featherweight world champion, is undoubtedly the most famous alumnus to fight out of the Undisputed Gym, and his protégé’s popularity is partially the reason for Friday’s expected sellout crowd.  According to Schwartz, the gym has sold over 400 tickets alone to people who are coming solely to support Escalante.

“Everybody loves Bruno,” Schwartz said.  “He’s just that type of guy.  He takes time out to say hi to everyone and takes a genuine interest in you.  He’s one of the real good guys of the sport.”

The appreciation is reciprocated, Escalante insists, but once he hears that opening bell on Friday, “The Aloha Kid” who they’ve come to know and love will take a temporary vacation.

“I’m excited to be back in front of all these people,” he said.  “On Friday, once the fight starts, I’m going to turn on my killer instinct, but the second that it’s over, it’s back to smiling again.”

The weigh-in for Escalante-Casillas and all the fights on the card will be open to the public on Thursday and will take place at the Undisputed Gym (883 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos) at 5 p.m.

CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board.  E-mail him at rmaquinana@gmail.com, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.