Heavy hands, heavy heart for Mendez

Heavy hands, heavy heart for Mendez
May 27, 2013, 11:15 am
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"You lose friend after friend in such a short time, and you wonder if it’s ever going to end." -- Paul Mendez (Erik Killin)

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

Life continues to deal Paul Mendez a tough hand, but the promising middleweight from Walnut Creek refuses to fold.

“You lose friend after friend in such a short time, and you wonder if it’s ever going to end,” Mendez (11-2-1, 5 KOs) told CSNBayArea.com before Saturday night’s 10-rounder in Redwood City’s Fox Theater against Alfredo Contreras.  

In a span of five months, Mendez attended a trio of funerals to pay his final respects to three friends.  First, Mike Dallas Sr., the man who coached him in the amateurs, succumbed to leukemia last November.

[RELATED: Tragedy strikes, Mendez keeps fighting]

One month later, Mendez was back in black after 10-year-old Sy Sherman, whom he befriended during one of his training camps in Salinas, passed away after a two-year fight with liver cancer.

“That was hard to lose Sy,” Mendez said.  “He’s in a better place now, but he just wouldn’t give up.  When you see a kid go through something like that, how can you not want to leave it all in the ring for him?”

The trail of sorrow continued in March when Mendez’s roommate Preston Freeman, a 20-year-old up-and-coming welterweight from St. Louis, was gunned down outside a club during a trip back to his hometown.  

In a fateful tragedy, Freeman had been scheduled to fight that week at the Fox Theater, but decided to pull out of the sold-out card and head back to the Midwest out of homesickness.

“He was like my little brother,” Mendez said of Freeman.  “It’s crazy.  One day, you’re running with him on the streets, and the next day, he’s gone.  You walk by his room, and there’s no one at his bed anymore.  But in a way, the boxing keeps me going.”

The 24-year-old has found solace in Salinas, where he has moved to live and train with family-operated Garcia Boxing.  While Kathy Garcia manages Mendez and other fighters, her husband Max and son Sam handle the training duties out of a makeshift gym in the back of their home.

“To be honest, it seemed all of this happened one week after the other, and I didn’t want to fight,” Mendez said.  “I was scheduled to fight in February, but it fell through, and I’m glad it did because I needed that time to collect myself.  It’s been great being here with the Garcias because they treat me like I’m part of their family.”

So far under the Garcia banner, Mendez has showed off a set of improved boxing skills and a newfound ability to finish foes; he has gone 4-0 during this span, with his last three outings ending no later than the seventh round.  

“Paul’s been getting sharper and sharper with his power, the speed, and most importantly, he’s learning the Don Familton way of to hit and not get hit,” said Max Garcia.

Mendez sports two losses on his record, but both were close split decisions, and ironically, could actually help him land a big opportunity in the long run.

“I think it’s a blessing for me because promoters will see my two losses and think I’ll be an easy opponent for their prospects,” Mendez said.  “My team was in talks for me to fight guys like J’Leon Love, and one day, I’d love the opportunity to fight Daniel Jacobs, who I fought in the amateurs.”

This week, the challenge is Contreras (13-15-2, 5 KOs), a veteran from Los Mochis, Mex., who has gone the distance with several top prospects and hopes to play spoiler.  However, Mendez enters the clash a heavy favorite and his confidence matches the expectations.  

“He’s coming to fight, but I’m going to break him mentally and physically,” Mendez said.  “I’m going to apply the pressure, sense when he’s wincing and thinking defense more than offense, and go for the knockout.”

Considering everything Mendez has endured as of late, he’s approaching the rest of his boxing career with nothing to lose.

“I still think of everyone I’ve lost every day,” he said.  “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to really heal from it, but you just have to move forward, dedicate what you do to their memory, and give it all you got while you can.”


San Carlos junior bantamweight Bruno Escalante was the headliner at the last Fox Theater show in March and did not disappoint, expertly outpointing Rigoberto Casillas in front of almost 1,400 fans.

Now Escalante (7-1-1, 3 KOs), the 5’2’’ dynamo whom CSNBayArea.com christened “The Little Stick of Dynamite,” returns against Christian Salgado (4-1, 1 KO) of Ensanada, Mex., in an eight-round battle of 115-pound prospects that will be labeled the co-main event.  

“I’m getting stronger and faster every camp,” said Escalante, who trains out of the Undisputed Gym in San Carlos with Brian Schwartz and Mike Bazzel. “Now I’m also working with [nutritionist] Victor Conte and [sprint coach] Remi Korchemy, and I feel like I can spar 15 rounds without getting tired.”

The rest of the card is laden with Northern California fighters.  San Francisco junior welterweight Jonathan Chicas (9-1, 4 KOs) takes on Mexico City’s Adolfo Landeros (22-30-2, 10 KOs) in a six-rounder.  

Junior middleweight Ricardo Pinell (3-0-1, 2 KOs), who won his native San Francisco Golden Gloves twice as an amateur, meets Antioch’s Mike Alexander (2-6-3) in a four-rounder.

Featherweight Jesus Sandoval (2-1-2) will defend his home turf of Redwood City in a four-round tilt against Christian Silva (1-2, 1 KO), who will travel north from Sun Valley.

Opening Saturday’s show will be junior lightweight Andy Vences (1-0) of San Jose, who fights debutant Lennin Herrera of Santa Rosa.

Tickets range from $35-60 and can be purchased at foxrwc.com or by calling (650) 631-3781.  The free public weigh-in will take place Friday at 5 p.m. at the Undisputed Gym in San Carlos.

Ryan Maquiñana is the Boxing Insider at CSNBayArea.com.  Follow him on Twitter @RMaq28.