Story and photos by David Finger
Roswell, New Mexico hasn’t been the easiest place to promote a boxing show since it’s heyday in the 1910s and 1920s, when a handful of local fighters briefly flirted with regional contention. From 1912-1913 a local boxer named Al Higgins fought three times in his hometown, winning all three fights. But his run as a local prospect ended in fight #4 when he was knocked out by Hungarian journeyman Jack Herrick in Ciudad Juarez on September 28, 1913. The following decade it was a fighter named Jack Rubio who kicked off his career with four straight wins in his hometown. But losses to Charlie Cobb and Kid Mex in Roswell followed and by 1930 Rubio was also finished as a professional prizefighter.
Since then boxing promoters have stopped by Roswell to test the waters, but few stayed long in the central New Mexico city best known as the location of the 1947 Roswell UFO Incident.
That is, until now.
School of Hard Knocks Promotions returns to Roswell on July 22nd with its second show in that city, billed as “Throwdown in Alien Town.” Much like their last show in 2012, this card will prominently feature one of New Mexico’s most durable boxers: journeyman John “Smiley” Herrera (4-17-2, 2 KOs). The last time Herrera fought in his backyard he was seen as something of a gritty journeyman with a longshot chance at pulling it together to make a run as a regional contender. Herrera capitalized on the opportunity and made sure to leave his local fans satisfied. Smiley scored a devastating knockout over Cristoval Larrazolo, giving Roswell boxing fans a hope that Herrera’s career was about to turn a corner. However, it would not be the case for the likeable Herrera, who would go winless in his next fourteen fights. But although contention may not be in the cards for Herrera, a win is certainly a real possibility as he takes on another gritty journeyman in Gene Perez (1-9-1, 0 KOS) from Belen. Although neither fighter possesses much of a record on paper, their grit and durability are well known in New Mexico where both fighters have given noted undefeated prospect Brandon Holmes a trio of tough fight (Perez lost a pair of decisions to Holmes in 2016 and 2017 while Herrera lost a majority decision to Holmes in 2014). In fact, both fighter’s record is littered with tough decision losses to top prospects. Perez has gone the distance in six of his nine losses, including decision losses to Patrick Holmes and Alex Holguin. Herrera has gone the distance in all but one of his seventeen losses and has held highly touted Arizona prospect Keenan Carbajal to a draw in 2014.
“My opponent, he’s just like me.” Herrera said at a recent press conference announcing the fight card. “I know he’s going to come. We’re going to put on a show.”
Although the Herrera-Perez fight card has the makings of being a crowd pleasing brawl, few fans are expecting the winner to emerge as a contender. The same can’t be said about one of the chief undercard fights. Undefeated prospect Isidro Castillo Jr. (6-0, 3 KOs) inches closer to the world rankings as he takes on the ever dangerous TBA in a middleweight fight. Castillo hails from nearby Hobbs, New Mexico and already is being seen as one of the best prospects in New Mexico. Also on the card will be another prospect, Lazaro Jay Dominguez, 1-1 1 KO. Lazaro’s career has been plagued by inactivity, fighting only twice since turning pro in 2010. But what is unmistakable is the talent the young man possesses. In November of 2014 Dominguez took on fellow prospect Brain Mendoza in Phoenix, Arizona. Mendoza, who was fighting for the third time in six months, won a unanimous decision over Dominguez, who was coming in off a four and a half year layoff going into the fight. Dominguez has not fought since the loss to Mendoza, whose record now stands at 15-0. For many fight fans in the Southwest, there is a recognition that Dominguez has the talent to make a run as a prospect, but he doesn’t have much time and can ill-afford another long layoff. A big win in Roswell will be the first step at any run for contention.
“It’s a motivation,” Dominguez said about seeing his one-time rival now knocking at the door of the world rankings. “It reminds me how great I could have been. Life caught up to me, but it is motivation: seek and destroy.”
Dominguez will be fighting Shem Prieto (0-2) of El Paso in a welterweight fight.
Rounding off the card are some local fighters who are taking advantage of the opportunity to fight in their hometown. Undefeated Richard Villa (1-0-1, 0 KOs) of Roswell takes on the tough-as-nails MMA fighter turned boxer: Cesar Zamarripa (0-1) of Juarez. Zamarripa’s only professional boxing match saw him lose a razor thin decision to prospect Gerardo Quintana in Hobbs back in February and he is looking to pick up his first win over Villa in his hometown.
“I don’t know much about him,” Villa said of the Mexican road warrior he will be facing on July 22nd. “Didn’t really impress me much. He’s tough, but I promise you we won’t go all four rounds.”
Also on the card heavyweight Israel Huerta (1-2, 0 KOs) looks to avenge a previous loss in the cage against Omar Acosta (0-1) of Herford, Texas. Acosta proved to be durable as a boxer when he took undefeated prospect Elijo Sena the distance back in May of 2016. And he is going in with the knowledge that he already defeated Huerta in the cage.
“I’ve got a grudge against my opponent,” Huerta admitted. “He beat me in the cage a few years ago. But I have better hands then ground work. I want revenge. He ain’t a boxer. My father was a boxer. My brother was. It’s in the blood. I’ll have my revenge and if he wants a rematch in the cage, I’ll give it to him. I know he ain’t going to hurt me.”
Junior middleweight Steven “Thunderlips” Serrano may not have the best record, but he showed at the press conference that he already mastered the art of self-promotion. Serrano, who lost his only professional fight by knockout back in 2012 to prospect Gerardo Quintana in Roswell is looking to capture his first professional win against Belen’s Derek Perez (0-6). Although Perez doesn’t have much of a record either, he is fairly active and in his last fight he took undefeated Isidro Castillo Jr. the distance, indicating he has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. But Serrano is unfazed and remains confident that he will win in front of his local fans.
“Last fight ended in a knockout, but it was on the wrong side.” Serrano said at the press conference. “But we’re going to put on a good show. Remember the name Thunderlips, ‘cause you are going to hear Thunder in the arena!”
Hard luck Javier Cepeda (0-5) looks to win his first fight in his hometown against winless Jorrel Sparenberg (0-3) of Hobbs, New Mexico in a lightweight fight. Although neither fighter has much of a record, few can knock Cepeda for the level of opposition he’s fought. After losing his first four fights by decision to four fighters with a combined record of 8-0 at press time, Cepeda stepped up against top prospect Jerry Perez in Las Vegas on the undercard of the Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz fight in January. The streak of taking undefeated fighters the distance ended as Cepeda was brutally stopped in the opening round.
“I learned just to stay calm,” Cepeda said of his loss on one of the highest profile fight cards of the year. “A lot of nerves were going through my body. I felt like I was walking on air.”
Also on the card, debuting Raymond Lara from Roswell takes on debuting Tim “Tool man” Ruiz of Herford, Texas in a welterweight fight.
“I know it’s going to be a heck of a fight,” Lara said at the press conference. “It’s going to be a war.”
“We want fight of the night,” Ruiz added. “I’m coming here for a win.”
Rounding off the card is a middleweight fight between Roswell’s Augustin Perez, who will be making his professional debut, against Paco Castillo (0-4). In a fight in the 122-pound weight division Joseph Cuellar of Tulare, California will take on Ramon Lopez (0-2) of El Paso.
Tickets of the even go on sale one week from today (May 22nd) and start at $30 for general admission. Ringside will be $60 and VIP tables are also available. The card will be held at the Roswell Convention and Civic Center at 912 N. Main in Roswell, New Mexico.
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