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.

Smith leads Chiefs in nail biter over Saints


Smith leads Chiefs in nail biter over Saints


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes in another efficient outing, Daniel Sorensen returned an interception of Drew Brees for another touchdown and the Kansas City Chiefs held off the mistake-prone New Orleans Saints 27-21 on Sunday.

Spencer Ware ran for 77 yards to go with his 46-yard touchdown reception, and Tyreek Hill made an acrobat 38-yard TD catch to help the Chiefs (4-2) win their ninth straight at home.

Brees got the Saints (2-4) within 24-21 with his touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman with 2:33 left, but the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds. Kansas City added a 41-yard field goal, and the Saints could do nothing in the final 28 seconds to change the outcome.

Brees finished with 367 yards and three TD passes, but much of that offense came while he was trying to rally the Saints. It was actually another uneven performance away from the Superdome for the star quarterback, who was coming off a 465-yard game last week against Carolina.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs showed some mettle after falling into an early 7-0 hole. Ware's touchdown on a screen pass and Sorensen's pick-six off a batted ball quickly turned the momentum, and Hill added his long touchdown reception to make it 21-7 at the break.

The Saints drew within a touchdown on Mark Ingram's catch midway through the third quarter, but the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner fumbled inside the Kansas City 10 with 8:26 left in the game and the Chiefs leading 24-14.

New Orleans got the ball back and eventually scored, but the wasted time proved costly.


The Saints struggled with the crowd noise in Arrowhead Stadium, getting flagged for four false starts and a delay of game. They also got hit with two unnecessary roughness penalties, including one with just over two minutes left that kept them from getting the ball back.


The Chiefs' Andy Reid coached his 300th game Sunday. Most of those were over his 14 seasons in Philadelphia, where he was 140-102-1. He is now 36-21 in his fourth season in Kansas City.


Saints: LB Dannell Ellerbe (quad), LB Stephone Anthony (hamstring) and CB Delvin Breaux (broken leg) left New Orleans without three defensive starters, while starting LG Andrus Peat (groin) was also out. Backup LG Senio Kelemete later left with a stinger, forcing Tim Lelito into the lineup.

Chiefs: Starting CB Phillip Gaines (knee) was inactive, while RB Jamaal Charles (knee swelling) was active in a limited role. He had just one carry early in the game.

Instant Replay: Raiders beat lowly Jaguars, stay perfect on road


Instant Replay: Raiders beat lowly Jaguars, stay perfect on road


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Raiders have been good coming from behind this season, but they haven’t shown a killer instinct.

They’ll create a lead, let it slip and then rally (or not) at the finish.

That didn’t happen this time. They jumped out to a two-score halftime lead, sat on it and never got up in a 33-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This result was a mandatory against a poor Jaguars team with some talent and no cohesion.

A maligned Raiders defense needed this one, even if a solid showing came against a terrible Jaguars attack.

The Raiders kept Jacksonville out of the end zone for 56 minutes and largely corralled quarterback Blake Bortles and speedy receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns with coverage and an improved pass rush.

The offense scored twice in the second quarter, but didn’t do much for most of the second half. Seabastian Janikowski inflated the score with four field goals that kept Jacksonville at arm’s length, and Latavius Murray finally swung the axe on a 9-yard touchdown run with three minutes left

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr wasn’t great but got the job done. He was 23-of-37 passing for 200 yards and a touchdown. Amari Cooper didn’t do much while shadowed by Jaguars corner Jalen Ramsey, but Michael Crabtree came through in the clutch with eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.

This win wasn’t pretty, but they all count the same.

The Raiders move to 5-2 this season, with another chance to win against Tampa Bay next week in this two-game Florida swing.

The offense chose to eliminate risk while up multiple scores in the second half, milk the clock, punt and allow the defense to grind out a victory. They did exactly that, though a Julius Thomas touchdown catch trimmed the lead some with four minutes remaining.

The Raiders struggled to find the end zone early on, but scored steadily and eventually hit pay dirt twice late in the second quarter. They scored 14 points in the final 5 minutes, 32 seconds, which changed the complexion of this game.

The Raiders put together a long, sustained drive, with 63 of its 75 yards gained on the ground. Latavius Murray concluded proceedings with a 2-yard touchdown run that put his team up 13-3.

Jacksonville responded with a field goal, but left too much time on the clock for Carr.

He took the Raiders 75 yards downfield, largely on one perfect over-the-shoulder strike to Michael Crabtree. Crabtree mopped up three plays later with a 2-yard touchdown catch on a well-timed slant.

A barely watchable third quarter produced a field goal for each side as the game grinded to a halt.

Murray’s return helps run game: The Raiders running game hit a lull the past few weeks after a hot start, but it got cranking again in Jacksonville. Latavius Murray’s return and a high carry volume got things going against a middle-of-the-road Jaguars run defense.

The Raiders had 144 yards on 34 rushes, averaging 4.2 yards per carry in this one. Murray led the way with 59 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

Lots of yellow: There were a ton of penalties and a few ejections in this game. Johnny Holton and Jalen Ramsey were thrown out for fighting. Malik Jackson was ejected for multiple personal fouls complaining about a roughing the passer penalty.

The Raiders made several mistakes, and were penalized 11 times for 117 yards. The Jaguars were flagged 13 times for 122 yards. The 239 combined penalty yards are a single-game high this season.

Sitting it out: Right tackle Menelik Watson needs a bit more time to recover from a groin injury suffered in Week 3 against Tennessee. He was limited all week but not considered ready to play. Austin Howard started, and Matt McCants was his backup after missing five games with a knee injury. Vadal Alexander also missed work with an ankle injury.

The Raiders were also without core special teams players Brynden Trawick and Taiwan Jones, both down with injury.

What’s next: The Raiders will stay in Florida between Sunday’s game and next week’s contest at Tampa Bay. They’ll practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton and stay at a nice hotel in Sarasota in the interim to prepare for the Buccaneers.