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Undefeated prospects show their talent in open workout

27
Jul

Luis Ramos works the double-end bag at a recent open workout for the media. The undefeated lightweight prospect, who co-headlines Thursday's Fight Night Club, showed his versatility while shadow boxing and doing other floor expercises during the open workout. The next day Ramos showed his toughness during a sparring session with fellow prospect Carlos Molina, who is also in action on Thursday's Fight Night Club show. Photo / Tom Hogan

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FIGHT NIGHT CLUB: THE FACTS

What: Fight Night Club, a monthly boxing series featuring rising prospects at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles
Who: The featured young fighters hail from Southern California and beyond and all of them have the potential to be successful.
When: Thursday, July 30.
TV/Internet: The card will be televised on Versus and streamed live on RingTV.com and Yahoo! Sports. The first fight begins at 7 p.m. PT / 9 p.m. ET.
Future shows: Aug. 27 and Sept. 24 at Club Nokia, which is adjacent to Staples Center.

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“Open” workouts for the boxing media rarely include sparring sessions these days, but an interested observer can still learn a thing or two by closely watching the fighters who take part in the events.

That was the case last week when Charles Huerta, Luis Ramos, Carlos Molina and Ronny Rios — the featured prospects of Thursday’s second installment of “Fight Night Club” — shook out for the writers and photographers at the Westside Boxing Club in Los Angeles.

Before attending the open workout, I knew the young up-and-comers had a lot in common.

They all recently signed with Golden Boy Promotions, the company that came up with “Fight Night Club”, and they will likely become staples of the new monthly series from downtown L.A.’s Club Nokia.

They’re all former amateur standouts from various parts of Southern California, and they’re also clean cut, well spoken and friendly.

However, they aren’t clones. The young men have various levels of talent and different ring personalities that will eventually be revealed to fight fans who tune into “FNC” and follow their progression.

They also have different styles, which was evident during last Thursday’s workout.

You can learn a fair amount about a fighter’s style and foundation just by watching him shadowbox and hit the mitts. Obviously you won’t be able to tell how well he takes a punch or how good his endurance is under fight conditions, but if you know what to look for, you can gain a good sense of his fundamentals: his foot placement, balance, defensive and offensive technique, and to a lesser extent his rhythm and hand speed.

Years ago when I first watched Edwin Valero train I was instantly impressed with the Venezuelan southpaw even though it would be weeks before I saw him spar. Sure, his many gym wars with Urbano Antillon and Jose Armando Santa Cruz sold me on his potential, but I could tell that he was special by watching him go through his floor exercises.

Sometimes you can get a glimpse of a fighter’s personality and temperament during open workouts.

I remember watching David Reid train in front of the media at Joe Goossen’s gym in Van Nuys, Calif., before one of his title defenses. The 1996 Olympic gold medalist immediately froze up when video cameras were trained on him. The camcorders made the Philadelphian so uncomfortable he literally shook while shadow boxing in the ring.

Reid tried to hide from them as he worked the heavybag, but as he stepped around the big 150-pound bag, he was followed by the videographers until he abruptly stopped what he was doing and loudly demanded that everyone put the video cameras away.

Around the same time, the late 1990s, at the now-defunct L. A. Boxing Club, I recall Erik Morales directing one of his cronies to switch off a boom box that was blasting Hip-Hop and replace the rap music with a CD of Banda and Norte├▒o music.

Ramos, Huerta, Rios and Molina didn’t have a problem with video cameras — in fact, they all appeared to enjoy being interviewed by RingTV.com’s Jaime Cervantes and Daniel Morales — and they didn’t seem to mind the Hip-Hop that was blasting inside the Westside Boxing Club, either. Aside from 50 Cent’s first CD, it was mostly old-school rap like EPMD and Public Enemy that played during their workouts.

It was during Rob Base & E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” that I realized the music the young four were training to came out before most of them were born.

Rios was born in 1990. I’ve got T-shirts that are older than he is!

THE FUTURE FOUR

But I digress, here are my observations of Golden Boy’s “Future Four”:

Ramos (11-0, 6 knockouts)

The 21-year-old resident of Santa Ana, Calif., was the first to arrive and get his workout started in the ring. I’ve seen Ramos’ last two fights — a four-round decision over Anthony Martinez in March and a fifth-round KO of Baudel Cardenas on last month’s “Fight Night Club” premiere — and he’s best described as an aggressive southpaw boxer with heavy hands.

I’m fairly certain that he’s the most versatile of the four young guns.

The key to this versatility is good footwork. Just because he can punch doesn’t mean he’s a plodder. Ramos has the ability to get up on the balls of his feet and step in and out as he jabs, which helps him set up his power shots.

I don’t think he’s going to develop into a stick-and-move specialist. He’s no ballerina, but there’s a nice fluidity and rhythm to his movements that will serve him well in avoiding any head-on clash in which he doesn’t wish to engage.

And when it comes to offense, Ramos has the goods. He has a strong jab, a very quick straight left (which he often shoots to the chest or stomach of his opponents) and hard body shots. His punch delivery is very tight. His left is straight as an arrow, he turns his right hook over when he drops it and he bends his knees and gets his back and shoulders into every body shot.

If you missed Ramos’ impressive performance against Cardenas last month, you should check it out in RingTV’s “Fight Night Club” archive:

https://www.ringtv.com/video/ramos_vs_cardenas_fight_night_club/

This Thursday, Ramos takes on veteran journeyman Sandro Marcos (27-19-2, 23 KOs) in a six-round lightweight bout.

Rios (5-0, 2 KOs)

The next member of the Future Four to get into the ring was the “kid” of the bunch. I’ve never seen Rios fight but I’ve been told that the 19-year-old Santa Ana, Calif., resident is “a natural fighter.” He started boxing less than five years ago but he won a national Golden Gloves title and two U.S. amateur championships before he turned pro last October.

The first thing I noticed while Rios shadow boxed was that he doesn’t get on his toes as much as Ramos does, but he has good balance. His foot placement kind of reminds me of that bow-legged stance that Fernando Vargas had and that Victor Ortiz has to a lesser extent.

I could tell by his body language that Rios is very relaxed in the ring. His trainer Hector Lopez, who also trains Ramos, told me that Rios can box effectively from a distance but he often elects to fight on the inside. Lopez acknowledged that he’ll have to reign Rios in a little bit over the next year or so until the teen develops his “man muscle”.

Rios has good height and reach for a featherweight, but he likes to drop compact hooks and crosses. He worked a lot of block-and-counter moves while shadow boxing and while on the mitts with Lopez, so I expect him to do most of his damage in close.

This Thursday, Rios takes on Rodrigo Aranda (8-9, 2 KOs) in a four-round featherweight bout.

Huerta (11-0, 6 KOs)

I’m familiar with the 22-year-old Paramount, Calif., native. I’ve seen at least four of his pro fights, a few of his amateur bouts and I’ve practically watched him grow up at the Maywood Boxing Club.

Huerta always had a professional style. He’s an accurate-punching stalker who walks his opponents down behind a high guard and stiff jab until he can zero in with a debilitating body shot or power punch to the noggin. His style is refreshingly uncomplicated and a joy to watch.

Even while shadow boxing, it’s clear that every punch Huerta throws is hard and accurate. He usually looks to set up his hook (to the body or head), a punch he was known for in the amateurs, but he’s been developing his right cross since turning pro. He has very good offensive technique but his feet are a little bit flat and heavy; he can be offset by a mobile boxer with quick hands.

However, in his last bout, the co-feature on the first “FNC” card, Huerta counter punched well and effectively cut the ring off on Noe Lopez Jr., a former amateur standout from Mexico with a jab-and-move style.

If you missed Huerta’s impressive third-round KO of the undefeated southpaw, you can catch it at RingTV’s “Fight Night Club” archive:

https://www.ringtv.com/video/huerta_vs_lopez_fight_night_club/

On Thursday, Huerta will headline the show against another unbeaten amateur standout, Derrick Wilson (4-0-1, 1 KO), in a six-round featherweight bout.

Molina (7-0, 3 KOs)

I’ve never seen Molina fight live, but I know that like his brother, 2008 U.S. Olympian Javier Molina, the 23-year-old Commerce, Calif., resident had an extensive amateur career. However, unlike his brother, it appears that Molina is not a pure boxer.

I could tell right off from the manner in which he shadow boxed and worked the mitts with his trainer Clemente Medina that Molina likes to engage. He didn’t jab much during his shadow boxing warm up, but that changed when Medina instructed him on the mitts.

When Molina worked his jab, his style reminded me of Huerta’s, only he was a little bit quicker and had a higher punch output. Medina had Molina operating from a distance and getting maximum leverage on his power shots.

Molina has a good right hand, which is delivered straight and fast, but his hooker-cut (left hook-uppercut hybrid punch) is pure evil. I expect him to knock out a lot of guys with this shot.

On Thursday, Molina will face Colombian journeyman Eber Luis Perez (9-12, 7 KOs) in a four-round lightweight bout.

MAYWOOD BOXING CLUB

One of the many things shadow boxing and mitt work won’t tell you about a fighter is how well he adjusts to an opponent’s style. So when Lopez told me that Ramos would be sparring Molina at the Maywood Boxing Club on Friday I made it a point to be there to witness it.

I was curious to see how Molina would adjust to Ramos’ mobility and how the southpaw would deal with the orthodox fighter’s aggression.

One word described the climate inside the busy gym in the heart of Maywood, Calif. that Friday morning: Sweltering.

I noticed Ramos and Molina “warming up” for their sparring session on heavy bags as soon as I stepped inside the gym. Their tee-shirts were already soaked with sweat. Junior middleweight prospect Alfredo Angulo was pouring sweat as he got his hands wrapped.

I joked that someone forgot to turn on the air conditioner.

“This isn’t the Wild Card gym,” Angulo said in English. “Here are boxers, not stars.”

His trainer, Medina, added: “The best sparring is here, the best fighters are here.”

The sparring at the Maywood gym is definitely on par with what I’ve seen at the Wild Card Boxing Club, and despite its oven-like conditions in the summer, it’s more comfortable to observe fighters training because it’s a bigger space. However, I can’t agree with Medina’s statement that the MBC has better fighters than the Wild Card, which pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao calls home.

But who knows? Maybe the Maywood gym will one day host world champions and elite fighters. I saw four unbeaten prospects under the age of 23 as I scanned the room that Friday morning: Ramos, Molina, Huerta and 20-year-old bantamweight Leo Santa Cruz, the younger brother of former lightweight contender Jose Armando (who was there). Let’s see how far they go in two or three years.

Santa Cruz (9-0-1, 2 KOs) looked good outpointing Jonathan Velardez over six rounds in his last bout, which took place in Reno, Nev., on July 10. What I liked about Santa Cruz’s performance, aside from the fact that he was fighting a little bit under the weather, was that he showed versatility. He used his height and reach and boxed in the early rounds and then pressed the action over the second half of the bout in typical Santa Cruz swarming fashion.

Ramos and Molina also showed me versatility during their six-round sparring session, which speaks well of their futures in the ring.

Lopez told me that Ramos and Molina fought in the amateurs (Ramos won a closely contested bout) and have sparred many times in the past. Their familiarity was evident in the first round, as they took their time and gave each other respect.

However, there was still an intensity to the round as both fighters were clearly looking for that one opening to prompt a power shot. Molina was looking to land a hook over Ramos’ right jab, but the southpaw’s speed and timing allowed him to land that punch anyway. By the end of the round Molina found that he was able to land lead right hands to the chest of Ramos, backing the southpaw up.

I don’t think Ramos liked being backed up. He started the second round fast and aggressive, signaling the end of the “feeling out” process, which suited Molina just fine. They went tit for tat, exchanging fast and crisp combinations in close for the entire round.

In the third round I saw something from Molina that I would never observe during shadow boxing and mitt work — strategy. Molina stopped loading up with power shots and began to shoot a well-timed jab while stepping back. He wanted to lure Ramos into a counter punch. Medina liked what he saw but implored Molina to move his head while doing it. Molina listened and added a nice shoulder feint to his upper-body movement.

Guess what? The strategy and defensive movement worked. Molina landed a pair of lead right hands, which ignited an attack from Ramos that pushed him back into a corner where the two let their hands go for the final 20 seconds of the round.

Ramos stayed aggressive in the fourth round, forcing Molina to back up. However, Molina seemed to relish the contact and willingly traded body-head power shots with Ramos for the rest of the round. Ramos changed tactics in the fifth by getting on his toes and keeping Molina at the end of his educated jab. He had to be tricky with it knowing that Molina knows how to counter a southpaw jab. Ramos used a step feint to keep Molina guessing.

In the sixth and final round the two friends and stablemates — they’re not only Golden Boy fighters, they have the same manager in Frank Espinoza — elected to let it all hang out and go mano a mano in the center of the ring. There were no jabs and very little distance between the two lightweights, who were practically head to head.

Ramos got in shots from different angles, teeing off with his right hook to Molina’s body and head. Molina answered by tying Ramos up and walking him into a corner, where he blasted the southpaw with uppercut-right cross combinations.

It got downright wild during the final 30 seconds of the session. Molina appeared to hit harder but Ramos held his form better.

If the fights this Thursday are half as good as this sparring session, fans are in for a treat.

“We had to finish strong,” an out-of-breath Ramos said after the session. “This is the end of training camp and we still have almost a week until we fight. I want to know I’m ready for a hard fight if that’s what comes on Thursday.”

Molina was satisfied knowing that he went blow-for-blow with a smart fighter.

“With a fighter like Luis I have to think,” he said. “I can’t just throw anything his way and expect to land or get away with it.

“I love sparring with Luis. We’ve probably sparred 100 rounds. He reminds me that it’s not just about who’s stronger. Boxing is a thinking man’s game. It’s a sport of control.”

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

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