Tragedy strikes, Mendez keeps fighting


Tragedy strikes, Mendez keeps fighting

Programming note: Watch Paul Mendez on Chronicle Live at 5 p.m. PT Thursday, with replays at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Boxing is a sport that tests one’s limits.  Whether the task at hand entails incurring nonstop punishment to the skull and ribcage, or convincing the mind that enduring another three minutes of it is possible, a professional practitioner of the sweet science is often lauded for his valor under such severe conditions.

Middleweight Paul Mendez (10-2-1, 4 KOs) has battled through bruised limbs and bloody cuts gushing down his face.  Without even blinking, however, he’ll tell you that it all pales in comparison to the fight that 10-year-old Sy Sherman of Salinas faces every breathing second.

“No doubt Sy’s the bravest member of our team,” said Mendez, who takes on Lester Gonzalez at the Salinas Storm House Saturday night (TeleFutura, 11 p.m.).  “I don’t know how he does it, but he’s just got so much heart.”

For the past two years, Sy has had to live with hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer.  The vibrant former youth league shortstop would soon lose copious amounts of weight and his hair, the latter mainly a result of countless rounds of chemotherapy at Stanford Hospital.

“Around Thanksgiving, his health declined even worse than before, and he can’t walk anymore,” said Matt Sherman, Sy’s father.  “His respiratory system’s real bad now and his heart is struggling.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the five-year relative survival rate for liver cancer is a shade over 19 percent.  Two weekends ago, doctors gloomily told his parents, Matt and Veronica, that their son’s time had come.

But Sy has continued to show the unrelenting tenacity of a champion, staring death in the face with his signature smile and informing Mendez that he would be in attendance cheering him on against Gonzalez.

“Doctors don’t even know to what to say anymore,” Matt said. “They’ve given him about 10 expiration dates and Sy just keeps beating them.”

Mendez has been regularly visiting Sy since June, when he left his home in Walnut Creek to train in Salinas at the Garcia family’s gym, which is conveniently located across the street from the Sherman household.

“Sy’s a big boxing fan, and our relationship with Garcia Boxing first started with another of their former fighters, Eloy Perez,” Matt said.  “After that, the whole team has been visiting him all the time.  There aren’t any cameras here.  I think they’re the reason why he’s still alive.”

One of those team members is Sam Garcia, who assists his father Max Garcia and Dean Familton with training duties.  He also aids his mother Kathy, who manages Mendez on the business side.

“One thing about Sy is that he’s such a caring kid,” said Sam, who also spent a lot of his childhood at Stanford Hospital getting treatment for a congenital heart defect.  “He’s lying there in bed going through the fight of his life, but he’s always asking us about how my mom and dad are, or my baby niece, or how our other fighters are doing.  He’s just so mature beyond his years.”

Mendez draws inspiration from his adolescent friend in his daily endeavors.

“It’s so hard to see him like this, but I know he wants me to see him, so I do,” Mendez said.  “Whenever I have a rough day training, or I feel like I can’t do an extra round of sparring, or run that extra mile, I think of Sy surviving every day and I remind myself that I have no excuses.  If he can get through that, I can’t let him down.”

So far, the 23-year-old, 160-pounder has shown vast improvement under the Garcias’ tutelage with his handspeed and combination punching.  He holds a 3-0 record during this period, including a knockout win over DonYil Livingston in September where Mendez seemed to have landed a low blow to end the contest but was still ahead on the cards.

“Gonzalez is going to be a good test for Paul to end the year,” said Mendez’s promoter, Hall of Famer Don Chargin.  “Paul’s also fighting for a [minor] title belt for the first time.  With everything that’s gone on recently, he definitely has a lot to fight for.”

In the midst of preparation for Gonzalez (12-7-4, 6 KOs), a rugged southpaw who once took 2011 Prospect of the Year Brandon Gonzales the distance, Mendez suffered even more cancer-related heartache last month.  Mike Dallas Sr., Mendez’s amateur coach in Bakersfield, passed away after a long bout with leukemia.

“Man, that was tough,” Mendez said.  “[Mike] was a mentor to me.  He was always there to talk about anything, not just boxing, and you knew he really cared…We’re all going to keep on doing what we learned from him and keep his memory alive.

“It’s crazy.  You just never know when it’s over.  You have to make the most of your life every day.  I guess now you can say I have two causes to fight for on Saturday.”

According to Chargin, the spectators are expected to pack the Storm House close to its 1,200-seat capacity.  When they enter the venue, there will be no mistake about the guest of honor’s identity.

Mendez will don a green ribbon for liver cancer awareness adorned with Sy’s name on his robe and trunks.  The ring’s corner cushions will have a similar design.  Finally, the entire Garcia Boxing team will sell T-shirts emblazoned with their slogan, “From the Ground Up.”  The proceeds will go toward helping pay for Sy’s ongoing treatment.

“100 percent of the sales will go toward helping Sy,” Sam Garcia said.  “We want him to know that he’s a part of our family and that we’re proud of him for never giving up.”

Although Saturday’s less than 48 hours away, Sy’s parents don’t want to get ahead of themselves.

“I hope no one has to go through what he does,” Matt said of his courageous son.  “I’m more scared than he is about everything. I look forward to Saturday, but I can’t think of it until the day of.  We look at it one day at a time.”

The little slugger did give his father a prediction for Mendez-Gonzalez.

“Sy says Paul will knock him out,” Matt said.

Learn more about Sy’s story and how to donate to his cause.

Participate in Garcia Boxing’s t-shirt fundraiser on their Facebook page.

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, check out his blog at, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

Iguodala relives LeBron's Game 7 block: JR Smith 'made the play'

Iguodala relives LeBron's Game 7 block: JR Smith 'made the play'

With a little less than two minutes remaining in Game 7 of last year's NBA Finals, Andre Iguodala thought he had a dunk or a layup.

But LeBron James sprinted back in transition and delivered an iconic blocked shot.

Iguodala recently spoke with ESPN's Chris Haynes about the play.

"If J.R. (Smith) is not there, I'm dunking it," Iguodala declared. "Well, I don't know if I'm dunking, though, because I was about to die out there. But I give him all respect. When he blocked it, I thought somebody got shot. I laugh about it all the time. People try to joke on me. I still get mentions all day from fans always talking about the block.

"I'm like, 'Man, that s--- was so dope to me, too.' I was a fan. That s--- was amazing. When he blocked it, I was like, 'Damn, somebody got shot.' I thought it was funny. Somebody just made a good play. What you want me to do? If you enjoy the game of basketball, you should just be like, 'Dude made a great play. F--- it.'"

In a new commercial, LeBron calls the block the "defining moment" of his career.

According to Iguodala, LeBron needs to thank J.R. Smith.

"I looked back at it too, and had I came in from a different angle, I could have [dunked it]," Iguodala explained to Haynes. "But you know who made the play? J.R. made the play. Because I came in thinking dunk and then I took off and he swiped and I had to move the ball. If you look, I moved the ball. I just tried to finish the play.

"People don't realize, somebody just made a great play. There's nothing to change about somebody making a great play because I even thought I could have went off to the other side [of the rim], but [LeBron] was so high over the rim, he would have had both sides covered. I mean, I wouldn't have changed anything about it. If somebody just makes a great play, you just give them respect for making a great play."

Steve Kerr doesn't really care that much about blowout loss to Spurs

Steve Kerr doesn't really care that much about blowout loss to Spurs

The Warriors will play their second game of the season on Friday night in New Orleans.

But that doesn't mean they are done talking about the 29-point loss to the Spurs on Opening Night.

"We played a team that just came in and beat the crap out of us, frankly," Kerr told 95.7 The Game's Damon Bruce on Thursday. "They're the one team I would say, when you're adding a lot of new parts and pieces like we are, you either don't want to play the Spurs on Opening Night or you do. The reason you don't want to play them is because of what happened the other night -- they're gonna execute, they know who they are, they got all that continuity from the roster that they've had for years.

"The reason you do want to play them is because they'll expose your weaknesses right away. I don't really care that much about the loss to be honest with you. I felt bad for the fans, who had to suffer through that. But as far as our team goes, even though it was embarrassing and humiliating and nobody slept very well that night, it really opened up every weakness that we had. And it'll sharpen our focus, and we'll be able to work on a lot of things based on that game."

[RELATED: Antawn Jamison: Warriors really miss Andrew Bogut]

In the game's aftermath, a lot of the focus was centered around the idea that the Warriors missed Andrew Bogut's presence on the defensive end.

The Warriors surrendered 21 offensive rebounds and acknowledged they miscommunicated many times within their scheme.

"Every team that you put together is gonna be different," Kerr explained. "Obviously, we had to move Andrew (Bogut) in order to get Kevin Durant. Even Boges himself said, 'Hey, if I'm the GM, I'd do that, too' ... we were really lucky to get Zaza (Pachulia) and David West, and they're gonna play huge roles on our team, but they're different players.

"It's our job as coaches to figure out what works best and the players have to get to know one another. And they'll get more comfortable as they go. We should be a very good defensive team. We won't have that shot blocking at the rim but we'll have a lot of other really good components to work with and we'll figure it out."

[POOLE: Rebooted Warriors in trial-and-error phase]

Kerr also discussed the team's mentality in regards to the regular season. Is 74 wins possible?

"I think that record is impossible to break. I don't care who we have on our team. What we did last year to break the 72-win record was incredible. I don't think that record will ever be broken, but of course, we're gonna be asked about it because we've got Kevin Durant.

"It's unfathomable for any team to win 74 games ... anybody who predicted that we were gonna win 74 games, doesn't get the NBA. It doesn't work that way ... it's not even something that enters our mind.

"The most important thing for us is to win when it matters in June. We didn't do that last year, so that's the focus."