March 11, 2011
The 2012 London Games are just around the corner, and boxing fans across America will soon be introduced to the next crop of future stars at next years U.S. Olympic Trials.
This Saturday marks the first step toward anointing the next Andre Ward, as San Franciscos Fight and Fitness Club plays host to the Region 11 Golden Gloves Championship, which will pit some of the best amateurs of Northern California against their Central California counterparts.
The winners will move on to April 2s State Golden Gloves Tournament in Vacaville, whose victors will fight in the National Golden Gloves Tournament in Indianapolis on April 25. It is here where the ultimate champions of each weight division will automatically earn one of the eight coveted spots for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
Among the diverse group of hopefuls to watch include an accomplished Starbucks barista, a converted martial artist, and a former cast member of MTVs Road Rules.
Jose Ramirez, Avenal
As an unofficial halfway point between the Bay Area and Southern California, Kettleman City has become a pivotal rest stop for the weary traveler looking for a rejuvenating jolt of caffeine before continuing the journey down I-5.
What most coffee aficionados might not know is that the guy behind the counter making their caramel macchiatos is the defending national champion at lightweight.
I really don't mention boxing, unless they happen to recognize me and they bring up the subject, says Jose Ramirez of nearby Avenal.
The 18-year-old isnt as anonymous in boxing circles anymore after his magical run through the 132-pound field at the 2010 U.S. Nationals. After winning gold, Ramirez has become a prime candidate to don the Stars and Stripes in London next year.
My goal is to make the Olympic team, win a gold medal, and then turn professional, he said. It would be an honor for me to represent my community and my country with pride.
Ramirez has a lot on his plate. In addition to his barista duties at Kettleman City and training with Armando Mancinas, he somehow finds time to commute to Fresno State, where he attends freshman classes three days a week.
However, dont look for any excuses on Joses end as he marches toward Saturdays showdown with former Philippine national team member Adam Fiel of Vacaville.
I dont really feel the pressure of having a target on my back. I just prepare myself well for all my bouts because I know other good athletes in my weight class are doing the same, said Ramirez.
Joses got a great work ethic, said trainer Armando Mancinas. Youd think after winning nationals that hed slack off a little bit, but now hes more dedicated to his training and schooling than ever before.
Andy Vences, San Jose
Longtime San Jose PAL head coach Candy Lopez has been around the amateur scene longer than all of his current fighters have been alive. When he singles out someone for special mention, its worth a listen.
Andy Vences is a good one, Lopez tells me, pointing to the 141-pounder firing off combinations on the heavy bag. He has some great potential if he can put it all together.
Vences, a nearby Lincoln High graduate who currently attends San Jose City College, has fought his way from practicing kung-fu to becoming a nationally-ranked light welterweight, a reputation he will seek to uphold when he faces Vicente Guzman of Tulare.
Supposedly hes an aggressive fighter coming at me, said Vences. Were focusing on boxing by using the jab and giving him angles.
Much like Ramirez, Vences balances a job in addition to his studies and gymwork, helping pay for his tuition with a job at Subway. As a result, the 19-year-old has exhibited a maturity that has served him well both in and out of the ring.
Its a pretty long road ahead to the Olympics, he said. I think about it as a step-by-step process, and the more you sweat in the gym, the less you bleed in the ring.
Darrell Taylor, Sacramento
Its not often youll find someone willingly give up television stardom for the sights and smells of the dingy boxing gym. For Darrell Taylor, however, the transition to relative anonymity was just what he needed.
Ive been boxing since I was 12, said the 31-year-old, who starred on MTVs Road Rules. But then I was doing shows, drinking and partying, and I got sidetracked with my focus.
Taylor can be hardly be classified as a novice to the sport. Under the tutelage of his uncle, former pro Manny Fernandez, he learned the ropes and found himself sparring with the likes of Andre Ward at Oaklands Kings Gym in 1999.
Andre used to whup my ass real bad, Taylor said, laughing. But I eventually got better.
Alas, the cameras came calling and Taylor put his boxing career on hold until recently, when he hooked up with Sacramento trainer Seifudeen Mateen and fought well enough to earn his spot in Saturdays regional final against Tulares Ruben Mendoza.
Hes a good boxer-puncher with a powerful right hand, said Mateen. With his TV background, he doesnt lack confidence, and hes a winner.
Perhaps Taylors decision to return to the ring is a testament to his renewed resolve as a person as well.
Ive turned down two reality show offers from MTV for this shot at the Olympics, he shared. I realized Im getting too old for that stuff. Ive never had the discipline before to train for four straight months, so I guess you can say Im back to my first love.