San Francisco today is not known as a fight town it is once was. According to local media fans of sweet science get treated to a live professional boxing show only once or twice a year. Walking into a Longshoremen’s Hall on Friday night I had a feeling of Déjà vu. It reminded me of a smaller version of Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. No, it reminded me of Robert Howard’s novels character, Steve Costigan, a sailor and a boxing champion and halls he used to fight at. Or maybe it is how I imagined and old school boxing venue where the air is thick with smoke of cigars and blood sweat and tears of fighters. Betting action flows and money exchanges hands every round and the intensity of action inside the squared circle matches the tension outside the ring.
A block away from legendary Fisherman’s Wharf, Longshoremen’s Hall was filled over its capacity of about 800. I had to excuse myself to get closer to the ring more times than I care to recount. Smoking is not allowed in the hall these days but the atmosphere was filled with electricity. When I finally made it close to the ring I ran into a welterweight champion Shawn Porter and his father and trainer Kenny Porter. Both were glued to the action in the ring but had time for fist pumps.
As soon as I got my seat on the other side of the ring, Andrei Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter parked his rear and his two lady friends’ right next to me. That’s when I knew that it was going to be a special night. Just listening to Virgil’s comments during fights is very educational and much more informative than snobby remarks you get from Teddy Atlas during broadcasts of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. Developing one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world, Andrei Ward from the beginning, Virgil Hunter has been regarded as one of the top trainers in the sport as of late. With that distinction comes work. Hunter’s gym in San Leandro is now full of top fighters, such as Alfredo Angulo, Amir Khan, Andre Berto, Abner Mares etc… Virgil graciously invited me to visit his gym next day.
Oh and by the way, in the main event of the evening, televised by Fox Sports, Mercito ” No Mercy” Gesta(28-1-1,16KO’S) pummeled his over matched, but too tough for his own good opponent from Tijuana, Mexico, Luis Arceo (28-13-4,18KO’S) for seven brutal and one sided rounds. The fight was mercifully stopped in between rounds seven and eight.
The fight that got my juices flowing and the knowledgeable boxing crowd in frenzy was an eight round junior welterweight scrap between San Francisco’s Jonathan Chicas and San Diego’s Emanuel Robles. Two undefeated young guns left their hearts and souls in the ring and engaged each other and the crowd in a dynamic slugfest with momentum shifts and non-stop action. Emanuel Robles (11-0-1,3KO’S) scored a knocked down in the seventh stanza with perfectly placed uppercut. It proved to be a difference in the fight as judges awarded a split decision victory in favor of Robles: 76-75 twice and 75-76. This is when I knew the arena was filled with hardcore boxing fans. They did not boo the split decision that went against a local favorite Jonathan Chicas (13-1-1,6KO’S) who suffered his first professional loss.
The fight that got Virgil Hunter excited was a six round middleweight skirmish between local favorite Ricardo Pinell and Jamal Harris from Los Angeles. Usually I get really annoyed when someone yells out instructions from the stands, but this was Virgil Hunter, advising with passion. So, I listened and Ricardo Pinell listened too. Ricardo didn’t even look at his corner. He just kept looking at Virgil. Despite the lack of amateur experience Ricardo Pinell dominated the fight and did everything that Virgil asked him except score an early stoppage.
This magical night of boxing was promoted by Golden Boy Promotions in association with Don Chargin and Paco Presents. Don Chargin was ringside and so was Paco. Golden Boy himself,Oscar De La Hoya wasn’t there, but his assistant, Golden Boy’s queen of Public Relations, Monica Sears was front row directing traffic and making sure the show went as smooth as the wind over San Francisco Bay. Veteran PR man from Golden Boy, Bill Kaplan was on hand to help with media and fans. Considering how many top fighters are now training in the Bay Area, could this be the beginning of the revival of San Francisco’s fight scene? Stay tuned.