Programming note: Watch Jonathan Chicas talk about his upcoming Friday night fight on CSN Bay Area’s Chronicle Live Tuesday afternoon at 5 p.m. Replays will air at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Thompson Falls, Montana, is a long way from San Francisco, and while many Bay Area natives would view a one-way trip to the scenic Plains as a relaxing getaway, all Jonathan Chicas could think about was the day he would be able to escape.
“At first, it was really depressing,” said Chicas (8-1, 4 KOs), who fights Arturo Brambila at the Redwood City Fox Theater Friday night. “I wasn’t there by choice, but I was running with the wrong crowd and getting involved in gangs back in the Bay.”
Chicas, a Salvadoran-American who grew up in the Mission District and attended Burton High School, ran afoul of the law as a teenager and found himself in San Francisco Juvenile Court.
“My parents were really concerned about what I was becoming,” Chicas said. “They told me, ‘If we don’t send you out, we’re either going to lose you to the streets or prison.’”
Rather than serving time in Juvenile Hall, however, the judge sent Chicas to the Spring Creek Lodge Academy, a boarding school located in Thompson Falls, Montana, for 10 months to get his life in order.
“It wasn’t quite jail, but in a way it was,” said Chicas, now 24. “I wasn’t even allowed to communicate with my family and friends on the phone. Everything was by letter, and that takes days to get there. It was really lonely.”
Ultimately, however, Chicas adapted to his surroundings and ultimately began to thrive for the rest of his stint in Thompson Falls.
“It was definitely an eye opener out there, having time to think about where I was and where I was going,” he said. “It got to a point where I realized that I was going to be here until I graduated or I left for the wrong reasons. I decided to go through with the program, made friends with people from different backgrounds, and came out of the 10 months a different person.”
Upon his return, Chicas was taking classes at Ida B. Wells Continuation School in Alamo Square when he heard about a boxing program that reached out to youth in his predicament.
“Karim Mayfield went to Ida B. Wells, and he was part of SFC Boxing with Ben Bautista. It was motivation to see if he could do it, I could do it, too,” Chicas said of the current 140-pound world rated contender. “I gave it a try, learned the basics and started to spar, and all of a sudden, I was good at it so I stuck with it.”
Soon, Chicas blossomed into one of the area’s top amateurs, going 30-8 before deciding to turn pro in 2011. More importantly, the 140-pound junior welterweight discovered himself between the ropes.
“Boxing became a positive way out,” he said. “It was a reliever for me to leave all my frustrations, emotions, and negative energy in the gym. By the time I got out of the gym, I was ready to go home and rest.
“I saw what was going on to the people I was hanging out with before, and I realized that without boxing, God only knows where I’d be.”
A versatile boxer-puncher with the ability to capture points on the outside or stand toe-to-toe and win a brawl, Chicas, now training at 3rd Street Gym under the tutelage of former light heavyweight world title challenger Oscar Rivadeneyra, raced out to eight victories with four knockouts to start his career.
“I see the hunger and desire to want to get better. He’s got that big appetite to learn,” said his adviser Johnny Nava, himself a former pro. “He’s familiar with different styles coming at him. He knows how to keep his distance in the ring like it’s second nature. He slips shots now instead of just picking them off, and he’s starting to shorten up his punches.”
But as all fighters learn coming up the ladder, one punch can change a whole trajectory. For Chicas, that first taste of adversity in the squared circle occurred last December, when he ran into heavy-handed Moris Rodriguez of Chico.
Though coming in as an underdog and arguably behind two rounds to zero on the judges’ scorecards, Rodriguez showed why several fighters have refused to fight him when he connected with a sledgehammer of a left hook in the third round that sent Chicas to the canvas for the first time in his career.
Rather than take a knee to gather his bearings, Chicas immediately rose to his feet, still on shaky ground. Rodriguez subsequently pounced on his foe, whose equilibrium had not returned. As Chicas fell once more, referee Ed Collantes called a halt to the bout, and the City fighter had earned the first blemish on his record.
“I should have clinched when I got up instead of trying to outmaneuver him,” Chicas said. “There are a lot of things I wish I had done, but that’s the type of fight that will get me mentally ready for any obstacles like that I face in the future.”
Does the future entail settling the score with Rodriguez?
“I definitely want a rematch with Moris by the end of this year,” he said.
Friday night marks Chicas’ first bout since his first defeat. This time, the opponent is Brambila (9-17-1, 4 KOs), a well-traveled Mexican journeyman who once shared a ring with former lightweight world titleholder Antonio DeMarco.
What makes Brambila more dangerous than usual is the fact that he snapped an eight-bout losing streak last December by securing a draw with previously 7-0 Jamie Ocegueda, even flooring the unbeaten favorite in the first.
“I have seen some film on Brambila,” Chicas said. “He comes forward and I’m expecting him to pressure me and throw a lot of punches. I’m going to have to use my boxing skills, slip his shots, and come back with some shots of my own.”
Chicas is well aware that Brambila is a fighter he should beat, and with at least 70 family members and friends in attendance to show their support at the Fox Theater, he feels that a victory would afford him a fresh start for 2013.
“My mindset is to get back in the win column and stay there,” Chicas said.
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 email@example.com, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.