Before getting started on the ranking of local boxers there are two points we want to establish. 1) When organizations from the Alphabet soup rank their professional fighters, there’s always going to be a credibility issue. On what information do they base their claims? Are they relying on their win, loss record or their ability to pay a sanctioning fee? Each boxer has faced a diverse group of competitors and often these boxers have never faced one another. Only someone who has sat ringside for the majority of their bouts can even venture a guess at whether a boxer has potential or whether that boxer can make it to the level of a contender.
2) The current blockbuster movie, Creed featuring Sylvester Stallone would have you believe the main character, heavyweight Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan, suddenly appears in Philadelphia after acquiring 15 heavyweight victories while fighting Tomato Cans or Tijuana Taxi Drivers in Tijuana, B. C., Mexico. Truth be known, as a commodity, heavyweight boxers are rare in Mexico. At present, only one, Mario Heredia, has any credibility. The thought that any heavyweight could amass 15 wins in the Tijuana Boxing venues in such a brief period of time is ludicrous. So, without further ado, we begin our ratings report on the professional boxers who train in San Diego, America’s Finest City, and for the benefit of Sylvester Stallone we’ll start with the heavyweights.
San Diego heavyweights (8)
Stephan Jabari Shaw (6-0, 5 KOs) of San Diego by way of Saint Louis, Missouri is currently the top heavyweight in town. Shaw had a banner year in 2015 with three wins, two first round stoppages and one four round unanimous decision. Just 23 years of age, the 6’5” Shaw has been losing the weight (20+ pounds) to improve not only his footwork but increase his hand speed. With over five years as an amateur and three as a pro, Shaw certainly has the pedigree. According to Ishmael H. Sistrunk of The St. Louis American, “Boxing isn’t just a hobby for Shaw, it’s in his DNA. For years he was trained by his grandfather Buddy Shaw, one of the top trainers in Missouri.” At this time, that responsibility is in the hands of the former USA Olympic Coach Basheer Abdullah who has Shaw working out at The Arena in Point Loma. Shaw has also been getting help from the former WBO & IBF World Heavyweight Champion Chris Byrd.
In his debut on October 23, 2015, heavyweight Keishan Hill of The Arena in Point Loma got off to a great start by showcasing his accuracy and power while stopping the 254 pound Matt McKinney (1-1-1) at the 2:24 mark of the third round. Hill then took a much easier route by taking on a 185 pound cruiserweight by the name of Ruben Porras (1-16-2) to improve his record to 2-0, 2 KOs. That second fight, a walk in the park, didn’t even get out of the first round. Porras had just one win in a career that spans nine years.
After going 2-0 in 2015 with two first-round stoppages, Trent Rawlins, the 29 year-old, former Aussie professional rugby player, has his share of believers. Rawlins put to good use the training he received from Chris Byrd, the 1992 Middleweight Silver Medalist at the Barcelona Olympics and former WBO and IBF World heavyweight champ.
As mentioned, the heavyweight division can be the toughest when it comes to finding work. Over the past three years, Matt McKinney (1-1-1) of the Art of Eight Training Center, has only been able to fight just once a year. When the offer to fight Keishan Hill came his way, he accepted even though Hill outweighed him by 23½ pounds and was nine years younger.
Rafael “El Grande” Rios (2-1) is 31 years of age and has yet to face any one of note. He fought Michael Robinson in March of 2015 and won an easy second round TKO victory.
On August 21, 2015, super heavyweight Abraham “El Marro” Cruz of San Diego (1-0, 308¾ lbs.) went south of the border to fight 21 year-old Ernesto “El Tanque Maravilla” Beltran (2-2, 231½ lbs.) of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. At the end of four rounds, Beltran, the hometown hero had himself another victory.
On September 25, Dakota Walker from Reseda, Calif., who is trained by Poway’s Tom DiFrancesco, made his debut a successful one with an unanimous decision victory over an out of shape, 246 pound Edgar Najera (0-4) of Tijuana.
Michael Robinson (1-1) is a 41 year-old boxing coach at the Encinitas Fitness Center who has sparred with many of the area’s heavyweights. Instead of becoming the next heavyweight champion of the world, he might just be competing for the sake of losing weight. Since he started, he’s lost well over 40 pounds.
And finally, heavyweight Antwan Stevens, weighing in at 306½ pounds, made his Pro debut against Misael Sanchez (251¼ lbs., 1-0-1) and was knocked out in the first round.
On November 28, 2015, the 32 year-old Jose Jesus Hurtado of San Ysidro earned himself a third round TKO victory over Jesus Llamas of Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, Mexico who was making his Pro debut. Prior to that fight, Hurtado hadn’t fought in three years. In 2011-2012 he lost four straight and was always considered a journeyman fighter.
In October, cruiserweight Ivan “Iceberg” Pineda, a fellow coach at the Tiger Smalls Boxing Gym, made his Pro debut against the 213¾ pound heavyweight Ruben Porras (1-15-2). In the third round, Pineda knocked Porras off his feet three times before the referee stepped in to stop the bout. As of this date, Porras has been knocked out 11 times.
Light heavyweights (3)
Denis Grachev (13-5-1, 8 KOs) of City Boxing, Downtown, now 33 years of age, took a break in 2015, after losing three in a row in 2014. Although it hasn’t been posted yet, there is talk he’s lined up an important fight in February.
Ulises Sierra (9-0-2, 5 KOs), a 26 year-old who is trained by Joe Vargas at The Arena had just one fight in 2015. Many believe Sierra, who has only fought three of his 11 fights at super middleweight, needs to maintain that lower weight in order to stay sharp and competitive.
Light heavyweight Jorge “El Bandido” Escalante of San Diego (3-0-1) went 1-0-1 in 2015. The present, combined record of his opponents (1-22-1).
Super Middleweights (4)
As far as the “fight of the year” for a San Diego boxer, the Jose “Bolivita” Uzcategui (24-1, 20 KOs) destruction of Julius Jackson (19-0, 15 KOs), has to be considered the top contender, the most impressive. Uzcategui’s second round TKO victory over the knockout artist came at 0:45 of round 2 in their scheduled 12 rounder. This exciting match was sent out live around the world from the Cowboys Dance Hall, San Antonio, Texas.
The 25 year-old Uzcategui and his manager came our way from El Vigia, Venezuela in search of a new trainer. After working with Jose Cital for a little over a year at the Undisputed Downtown gym, it appears the Venezuela bunch have become believers in Cital.
It does help that Cital’s wife, Brandy Augustine, is a renown nutritionist. She changed the boxer’s diet and with his hard work in the gym, great things have happened. Now ranked as the #1 contender by the IBF, Uzcategui is in line to fight the champion, James DeGale, for the title.
Super middleweight Dashon Johnson’s comeback is a fascinating story. After losing to Mike Gavronski (16-1-1) on January 9, Johnson won four bouts in a row to bring his record up to 19-19-3, 6 KOs. On August 27, he upset Elias Espadas to win the USA California State super welterweight title and on November 7, in a rematch with Gavronski, he won the vacant WBA-NABA USA Super middleweight title. With his own Rocky Balboa Story in midstream, Johnson is now getting all sorts of offers – one to fight in Canada plus an overture to fight Zac Dunn in Melbourne, Australia for the IBO World Super Middleweight title.
Just before posting this article it was learned Zac Dunn’s people arranged for 32 year-old Rogerio “Tyson” Damasco from Sao Paulo, Brazil to fight Dunn in that world title fight in Australia. It’s obvious, they had second thoughts about Johnson. Why else would they go from Johnson to Damasco. Damasco’s resume is a joke. Over his three year career, he’s fought 27 times. That news alone should draw a red flag. Despite having 22 wins, Damasco has only three wins over people with a winning record. If we eliminate all six of the people he fought who had a winning record, and combine the win and loss records of the rest of his opponents, you would be laughing out loud. After combining the records of just five of his opponents, we came up with 13 wins and 97 losses and the ages of these boxers: 43, 41 and 40.
Dunn himself has a questionable resume. In his last fight, the so-called World champion fought a late replacement by the name of Derrick Findley. Over the past five years, Findley’s record is: 4 wins, 11 losses, one draw and one no contest after failing a drug test. Dunn barely won their contest, winning by a split decision.
The 39 year-old Ernesto Martinez (11-10-1, 5 KOs) who doubles as a boxing instructor at The Arena went 1-2 in 2015 which was impressive considering the competition he faced.
Super middleweight Cristian “El Ruso” Olivas who lives in Mexicali but trains at Intensity MMA in South San Diego and competed in local USA Amateur shows, went 5-0 with 4 KOs in 2015. The only problem? His opponents had a combined record of 10-33-2 and only one had a winning record.
Super middleweight Loren “Rock” Myers (9-21-1, 2 KOs) is a 34 year old journeyman who has just two wins in his last 20 bouts. In 2015, he lost an unanimous decision to Ryan Bourland (8-1, 4 KOs).
Lester “El Cubanito” Gonzalez (12-17-4) turned 38 and went 0-1 in 2015 after losing to Alfonso Lopez (24-3-0). It’s now been five years since his last victory.
Super welterweights (1)
Antonio DeMarco (31-6-1, 23 KOs), the former WBC World Lightweight Champion, lost twice in 2015 to make it three losses in a row. It appears the 29 year-old southpaw can no longer make the weight limit at either lightweight (135 lbs.) or super lightweight (140 lbs.) and finds himself fighting much heftier men like Jessie Vargas, a welterweight and Omar Figueroa, a super welterweight. It appears the days of dominating his opponents have come to an end.
The 28 year-old Antonio “Relentless” Orozco of the House of Boxing followed up an impressive 2014 campaign with an even more impressive showing in 2015 with two unanimous decision victories, first over Emmanuel Taylor (18-3) and then over Humberto Soto (65-8-2) to move up in the world rankings to #14.
Welterweight Adrian Vargas of The Arena (12-0-1), 26 years-old, faced Jorge Marquez on October 23rd. After getting hit hard with a liver shot in round three, Vargas miraculously survived the round and returned the favor in the following round. After getting hit, Marquez dropped to his knees and the bout was over.
On March 27, the 27 year-old Brian Nevarez of Vista, Calif. (2-0) ran into the unexpected, a 29 year-old, southpaw by the name of Daurend Niyazbayev of Kazakhstan who was making his pro-debut after an extensive Amateur career of a 100+ fights. Nevarez took a beating in their center of the ring, toe to toe battle. After the fight Nevarez took a sabbatical from competing and opened his own gym. As a result of his sudden notoriety, Niyazbayev, who was in training at The Boxing Club in La Jolla was unable to secure another fight and most likely headed home to Kazakhstan.
The 37 year-old Mario Angeles (1-8-2) is another courageous journeyman who in 2015 was KO’d twice.
Super lightweights (6)
The 24 year-old Giovanni “Gallo de Oro” Santillan (18-0-0, 10 KOs) is a southpaw, super lightweight. He trains at the Art of Eight Training Center in Kearny Mesa with Danny “Dynamite” Perez. Even though he was limited by a hand injury, he did fight three times in 2015, going 3-0 with 2 KOs.
Southpaw Emmanuel “Renegade” Robles (14-0-1) who trains with Ernie Johnson at Old School Boxing in the College Area had another fine year. The 27 year-old soundly defeated Wilberth Lopez in April and then in October ended Leon Spinks III’s night early. With his KO victory over Spinks, Robles became the first opponent to put Spinks down for the count in his career. Since Robles was averaging three wins a year, his fans consider 2015 a bit of a letdown.
Super lightweight Joshua “Supaman” Marks (9-5-1, 8 KOs). The 28 year-old, nine year veteran, fought just once in 2015. In that fight he defeated Rich Neves (8-1-1) by an unanimous decision.
Both of the Arellano brothers, Israel (7-3, 6 KOs) and Antonio (7-3-1, 3 KOs) took a break in 2015.
Super lightweight Armando Tovar is another product of San Diego’s House of Boxing in Paradise Hills. After an above average Amateur run, Tovar has gone 2-0 with two knockouts as a Pro. Some insiders feel Tovar shows a lot of promise.
Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta (29-1-2, 16 KOs) is a 28 year-old southpaw from San Diego by way of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines who went 1-0-1 in 2015, after a draw with Carlos Molina (17-2-1) and an unanimous decision victory over Miguel Angel Mendoza (22-6-2). In that Mendoza fight, Gesta had to overcome this slip in the second round which the referee mistakenly ruled a knockdown.
In 2015, the 27 year-old Alex “Frijolito” Vargas made his pro debut and went 2-0 by defeating two gents who were also making their debuts. First, there was the TKO victory over Victor “Miclo” Martinez and then a mixed decision victory over Emmanuel Ruiz.
Johnny Rivera (3-1) is a 25 year-old, southpaw who trains at the Tiger Smalls Boxing Gym on Mission Gorge Road. The one person who beat Rivera, Carlos “The Solution” Morales (10-1-3) is also the only person Rivera has faced who had a winning record. Rivera’s next fight is scheduled for January 23 in Tijuana against Cristian Felix (0-5). After going 0 for 5 in five contests all within 113 days and being a victim of two TKOs and one knockout, it appears Felix falls into the category known as journeyman.
Super featherweights (9)
Angel “Humilde” Rodriguez (13-1, 5 K0s) from the Undisputed Downtown gym by way of Irapa, Sucre, Venezuela is a 28 year-old boxer extraordinaire. In 2015, he scored three wins against competition with a combined record of 37-9-3. His only loss was to Carlos Diaz Ramirez (18-0,10 KOs).
In 2015, Prince “Tiger” Smalls (9-0-1) went 3-0 with 2 KOs against opponents who at the time of their meeting had a combined record of 1 win and 22 losses and 10 of those losses were by either by KO or TKO. In his November contest, Smalls broke his right hand early in round two and then miraculously continued on for four rounds outboxing the veteran Antonio Villa to gain the victory. At just 20 years of age, Smalls, with his natural skills, height and reach advantage, ability to maintain weight, and guidance from his dad, should be able to follow in the footsteps of someone like Antonio DeMarco and be a champion in the not so distant future.
Roque Ramos (6-0-1, 1 KO) fought just once in 2015. That fight was against southpaw Raymond Chacon who since January 28, 2012, almost four years ago, has just one win in 18 fights.
Emmanuel Diaz (1-0, 1 KO), now 25 years-old, did not fight in 2014 or 2015. As an amateur he was a standout.
The 26 year-old Adrian Morilla (0-0-1) out of the City of Champions gym, is also a well established Muay Thai fighter. On October 23, Morilla learned how difficult it is to go toe to toe with a boxer, even if that boxer is Misael Chacon (1-11). After starting off well Morilla faded. He faded just enough to allow Chacon to get back in the contest and earn himself a draw.
After three years as a professional, 31 year-old Michael Haigood of the House of Boxing is still floundering. In 2015, he went 1-1 to improve his record to 1-4.
With lightweight Anecito Gesta (2-3), super lightweight Norberto Pantaleon (1-2-2) and super lightweight Riccy Hood (1-1) inactive in 2015, it appears they may have given up on the sport.
The 29 year-old Christopher Martin (28-6-3, 9 KOs), who has trained with both Sergio Melendrez of the Alliance Training Center and Joe Vargas of The Arena, went 0-1 in 2015. In May, with all the marbles on the line, he lost to Danny Roman (14-2-1) a fellow signee of Ken Thompson Promotions who just a few years ago wouldn’t have had a shot at beating Martin. With the loss, Martin’s third in a row, he has had to rethink his career path. Now, eight months from that loss, he’s scheduled to face a promising up and comer Julian “El Camaron” Ramirez at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles on January 29th for the vacant WBC Youth Silver featherweight title. How hard he trains will say a lot about his future.
Jorge “Tito” Ruiz (9-2, 3 KOs) is a 24 year-old featherweight from San Diego who trains at the Undisputed Downtown Gym. He went 2-0 in 2015 while facing opponents with a combined record of 1-17. Ruiz, who has yet to face an opponent with a winning record, has now signed with Thompson Promotions and in doing so they will certainly test him with a difficult first fight.
Marcos “No Money” Rios (12-1-1) is a 21 year old featherweight fabrication. If you add up the wins and losses of the 13 people he has faced before losing to Joet Gonzalez on November 6, you get the pathetic record of 18 wins, 100 losses and 4 draws. On January 29th, the undefeated Rios (10-0) fought club fighter Pedro Palma (4-12) to a draw.
Super Bantamweights (5)
Smokin’ Joe Perez (7-2-1) of San Diego had two victories and one defeat in 2015 against opponents with a combined record of 5-21-1. If we combine the records of all the people he has faced over his four year career and subtract the records of the two gents to whom he lost, we end up with a combined record of 3-64-1.
Jose Luis “Tapitas” Araiza (31-14-2, 22 KOs) is a 36 year-old super bantamweight from Tecate, B. C., Mexico who trains locally in San Diego. After going 0-4-1 in 2015 you could say it’s time for him to hang up the gloves.
Pablo Cupul (8-19, 5 KOs) is a 28 year old journeyman who trains at the Marron Boxing Camp in Lakeside, Calif. He has filled in as a super bantamweight all the way up to lightweight. At this juncture, Cupul, still an above average boxer, has lost seven in a row.
Mulapi “The African Mexican” Enjani (1-1-2) is a 28 year-old super bantamweight from San Diego by way of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He went 1-1 in 2015 and has a fight coming up on January 23rd in Tijuana. With his style of close-in-fighting, the bouts are often difficult to score.
Roberto “El Pollito” Lopez (31-28-1, 12 KOs) has won just three bouts over the last seven years and went 0-2 in 2015 against twenty year-olds with both losses coming by way of an early stoppage.
Jose Toribio (6-2, 1 KO) is 23 years-old and trains with Joe Vargas at The Arena in Point Loma. He went 1-1 in 2015. His two career losses came against above average competition, Oscar “Chapito” Vasquez, the best flyweight in the state of Nevada and Saul “Bebe” Hernandez of Tijuana who certainly has heavy hands. His biggest win thus far, a second round TKO victory in his debut against Francisco “Rayito” Pedroza who is now (9-4-2, 5 KOs).
On June 25, 2015, flyweight Johnathan “Johnny Boy” Quiroz of Vista, lost his second fight in a row when he went up against club fighter Leonardo Reyes (0-7) of Tijuana. The end came at the 1:10 mark of round three. With the loss, his record dropped to 5-3 with 1 KO and he did not fight the rest of the year. As a result of this upset and his new found confidence, Reyes finished the 2015 with a total of three wins against just one loss.
Light flyweight Jolene Blackshear (9-7, 4 KOs) had a rough year taking on two of the toughest light flyweights in the sport. In January, the 45 year-old Blackshear lost a sixth round mixed decision to 33 year-old Maria Suarez and in November she lost to the 26 year-old WBC champion Ibeth Zamora Silva who stopped her at :10 seconds of the seventh round in their 10 round WBC World title fight.
After an injury sidelined her for most of 2015, light flyweight Amaris “Diamond Girl” Quintana (9-2-2, 1 KO) finished 2015 with an unanimous decision victory over the tough, in your face Selene Lopez (3-3-3).
At the start of the year, Riverside’s Sindy Amador (12-1-1, 1 KO) one of the most popular boxers ever, retired on top as the IFBA World Light Flyweight Champion. Aside from her unquestionable beauty, you can say this about Sindy Amador: she has always been a credit to the sport, always involved in the most fierce battles and always right there in the center of the ring.