Best I Faced: Danny Romero
Danny Romero ended America’s 60-year wait for a flyweight world champion in 1995. He also went on to win a title at junior bantamweight during a fine career.
Romero was born in Albuquerque on July 12, 1974. He grew up in the tough North Valley and was introduced to boxing by his father Danny Sr., who ran a local gym when his son was five years old. His grandfather boxed professionally.
“I had loving parents,” Romero told RingTV.com. “I know now my parents were struggling to keep the lights on. I remember we used to eat beans, rice and tortillas but I learned that was more than some people had.
“You see situations that are worse than yours. I was around drugs, gangs; we grew up in the barrios but I always knew I could fight my way out of it.That shaped and grounded me for what I am doing now.”
Romero won nine national amateur titles. He lost in the quarterfinals of the 1992 Olympic Trials at 119 pounds to Sandtanner Lewis. He turned professional after going 146-5 in the unpaid ranks.
“Kid Dynamite” moved quickly, winning the NABF title at 112 and 115 pounds, over the first three years of his career.
Romero met IBF 112-pound titlist Francisco Tejedor as chief support to the George Foreman-Axel Schultz heavyweight title fight in April 1995. After a slow start, Romero’s greater size told the tale and he won a unanimous decision.
Midget Wolgast was the last American to hold a flyweight title, losing it to Small Montana in July of 1935. Since then, seven Americans had unsuccessfully tried and failed before Romero prevailed.
September 22, 1938 – Peter Kane UD 15 Jackie Jurich, Liverpool, England
November 22, 1986 – Hi Sup Shin KO 13 Henry Brent, Chunchon, South Korea.
October 2, 1988 – Fidel Bassa UD 12 Ray Medel, San Antonio, Texas
March 8, 1989 – Duke McKenzie KO 4 Tony DeLuca, London, England
March 17, 1990 – Dave McAuley UD 12 Louis Curtis, Belfast, Northern Ireland
July 16, 1993 – Yuri Arbachakov UD 12 Isaias Zamudio, Kobe, Japan
January 23, 1994 – Phichit Sithbangprachan UD 12 Arthur Johnson, Thani, Thailand.
April 22, 1995 – Danny Romero UD 12 Francisco Tejedor, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A.
“That whole time was wonderful,” said Romero, who earned the key to the city of Albuquerque with the win. “I needed to break that jinx; I needed to bring it back to New Mexico. It was pressure I’d never felt in my entire life until that time.”
The Mexican-American made a successful defense before headlining on ESPN in a non-title bout against Willy Salazar in Spetember of 1995. Disaster struck early on.
“In the first round, he hit me with a curvy right hand, snapped it right over my left hand and one punch broke the orbital bone, part of my cheek,” Romero said. It was a crazy first round. He beat my ass for the first minute-and-a-half and when everything calmed down, the pain so devastating. It was horrible.
“I got back to the corner and told my dad, ‘I can’t see anything.’ In the second round I made adjustments to get away from the right hand. He was launching everything. Finally it went numb and I started winning the fight. I told them I could see. I didn’t want to give up.
“(Dr.) Margaret Goodman kept looking in my eye. I found out later from my pops, every time they would looked into my eye, the eyeball was sitting down. I couldn’t see, I kept saying, ‘Please one more round.’ I almost had him out in the fifth and sixth.”
“They stopped the fight,” Romero continued. “I said, ‘If I’m going to lose, I want to go out on my back; he’s got to knock me out. I can’t go out on an injury. It was devastating. They thought my career was done. Some doctors said I wasn’t going to fight again.”
Romero had surgery to reconstruct the left side of his face before making a comeback less than six months later.
After two low-key wins he met IBF 115-pound titlist Harold Grey in Albuquerque, in August of 1996. Romero jumped on the Colombian titleholder dropping him three times in the opening round and again in the second round.
Romero won The Ring Magazine’s “Comeback of the Year.” He turned back two challengers while the drums began to beat for an inevitable crosstown unification with former friend-turned-enemy, WBO ruler Johnny Tapia.
The two factions converged on Las Vegas in July 1997 and at the conclusion of 12 nip-and-tuck rounds, Tapia won by close but unanimous decision.
“It was people outside; they weren’t giving us the right advice,” he said of the discord. “Johnny and me were friends since we were kids; my father had trained him. During fight time, we wanted to beat each other’s ass.
“I was so upset; I was so mad. I wanted to hit him so hard with every shot when I should have let my hands go. He kept control and boxed beautifully.”
Three comeback victories later, Romero unsuccessfully challenged long-reigning IBF junior featherweight titleholder Vuyani Bungu, losing a close majority decision.
He stayed active over the following couple of years before his next big opportunity came against Ratanchai Sor Vorapin in New York, on the undercard of the rescheduled Bernard Hopkins-Felix Trinidad bout, post-9/11, losing a majority decision.
He made one final title run, getting stopped in four rounds due to an eye injury against WBO bantamweight titlist Cruz Carbajal. He retired with a record of (45-5-2, 38 knockouts) in 2006.
Romero, now 44, lives in Albuquerque with his girlfriend; he has two children and a grandchild. He remains involved in boxing as the CEO of Danny Romero’s Hideout, Inc. a program that helps provide after-school opportunities for children with disabilities and those in the city’s youth and foster care systems, helping to keep close to 1,000 students a year stay off the streets.
He graciously took time to speak to RingTV.com about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
FRANCISCO TEJEDOR: I can still feel that jab right now. He was a lot taller than I was and he snapped out his very educated jab. I could see them coming and I was still getting hit in the nose. For the first four rounds, I couldn’t do anything against them.
VUYANI BUNGU: His defensive skills were extremely underrated as a world champion. Every time I hit him, it was rolling off and nothing was happening. I would see an opening – his big liver. My hand would go in and go out – nothing. He was such an inside defensive fighter. He was so slick that I couldn’t knock him out.
JOHNNY TAPIA: I’d known Johnny since we were kids when he trained with my father. I used to see what they were working on and I could see he was able to do very quick, fluent punches, snappy and very fast without losing his balance. They worked on that a lot and he had the talent.
TAPIA: He had both together: Fast hands and feet. I threw a jab at Johnny and Johnny would be somewhere over there. He was so fast.
JOE MANZANO: I hit Joe Manzano clean and hard. I was watching my shots go right on him but he didn’t fall. His eyes always came back. I hit him hard; it buzzed him and he straightened up quickly. I didn’t go the distance very many times but he was one where I did.
ENRIQUE JUPITER: He knew all the tricks. He was very smart. If the punch was coming, he would slide over, move the face. Whenever I hurt him, he would react. He would grab my arm, lay his weight on me, walk me back, push me into a wet corner to get me sliding and lose my footing.
BUNGU: Vuyani Bungu was a beast (laughs). Especially as I moved up in weight, I bumped into him and I bounced right back. That was one strong man.
RICHARD DINKINS: As soon as the bell rang, he came out flying with both hands. He hit me with left and right hooks. Then everything went quiet. For a split-second, my legs weren’t doing the dance but I felt them doing it. I knew I was going to get knocked out, ‘OK,’ I said, ‘now you take mine.’ I hit him and put him out. To this day, I know he was the hardest puncher who ever hit me.
BEST BOXING SKILLS
RATANACHAI SOR VORAPIN: Johnny had great boxing skills but I didn’t really learn any new skills from him. I’m talking about those experiences that help you later on. For that I can credit world champion southpaw Ratanachai Sor Vorapin. He had a nice jab, could slip and was a good puncher. He boxed beautifully.
HAROLD GREY: He was the best fighter, pound-for-pound, I ever fought. I think Harold Grey had the best total package of them all. Don’t get me wrong; Johnny was a tremendous fighter. Vuyani Bungu was another great fighter but coming into that fight with Harold Grey, where he had been in his career, it was something where it may have been a whole different outlook if he had got past the second round and I don’t know if I’d have been able to win that fight. He did a tremendous amount of damage in that weight class against great fighters and going sometimes to their backyards. He came over here to Albuquerque; he didn’t care. I was back and forth between him and Vuyani Bungu; he was the man. He beat Kennedy McKinney and he had tons of defenses against tough fighters. I still believe it was Harold Grey.
Colleen Aycock helped coordinate and make this feature possible. RingTV.com appreciates her assistance.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright.
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