Sugar Ray Leonard hosts Fight Card at Pala Casino

Fight of the Night and possible Fight of the Year goes to the battle between Christian Gonzalez (L) and Danny Martinez (R) who fought Saturday, June 24 on the fight card promoted by Ringside Ticket. Photo: J. Wyatt

Saturday night at the Events Center inside the Pala Casino, Spa and Resort, the venue was rocking. With the packed house and Sugar Ray Leonard in attendance, the boxers must have felt the need to give a little extra because that’s just what they did. Of course having Patrick Ortiz of Ringside Ticket and matchmaker Jerry Alfano in charge of the promotion almost guarantees success; the two have a reputation for putting on quality fights with competitive match-ups.


Dashon Johnson has his arm raised in victory by referee David Mendoza after winning an unanimous decision victory over Bernardo Guereca. Photo: Jim Wyatt

In the main event welterweight Dashon Johnson from Escondido, who’s in the Leonard mold, had his hands full with Bernardo Guereca of El Paso, Texas. After being the victim of a flash knockdown in round one, Guereca became tenacious and kept pressing forward and trying to trap the elusive Johnson in a corner or against the ropes. He even turned southpaw in an attempt to confuse the younger fighter. Each time Johnson landed a flurry of punches, Guereca tried in vain to answer in kind. In the final two rounds, with Johnson clearly ahead on the scorecards, it became apparent that Guereca was swinging for the fences. This is when Johnson drew the ire of the crowd and got on his bicycle.

Bernardo Guereca, on one knee, collects his thoughts after being knocked down by Dashon Johnson in Round #1. Photo: Jim Wyatt.

The pampered crowd wanted another knockdown, and didn’t understand why Johnson, ahead on points, didn’t go for the jugular. At the press conference later, Johnson admitted, “At that point, I was tired and running out of gas.”   Final tallies read 78-73, 77-74, and 76-75, all for Johnson who improves to 13-4-3 with 4 KOs, while Guereca drops to 16-11.

After Christian Gonzalez (L) delivered a left hook, his opponent Danny Martinez (R) begins the process of landing his own. Back and forth it went. Photo: J. Wyatt

The fight of the night was a four rounder between junior lightweights Danny Martinez (2-0) of Durate, CA versus Christian Gonzalez (2-1) of Bakersfield, CA. Back in 2008, great things were projected for Martinez, then he suddenly dropped off the radar. This was his long awaited return after being away three years, two months and eight days. Being that he was nervous and rusty, his support staff wasn’t sure what to expect. The Gonzalez camp figured they could exploit his uneasiness and came out with an all or nothing attack in round one. The action became so furious, so back and forth, that from that point on the crowd responded with one standing ovation after another.

In the fourth round, Christian Gonzalez (R) saw an opening and caught Danny Martinez (L) right on the button to score the knockdown. Photo: Jim Wyatt

While Martinez opted for the looping power shots, Gonzalez remained disciplined and used his shorter right and left crosses. Every time you felt Gonzalez had gained the upper hand, back came Martinez with a power shot giving the impression he was in charge. This was one of those fights that gives gamblers a heart attack. Early in Round #4, Gonzales, the boxer, surprised everyone by landing a right uppercut on the slugger’s chin to score the only knockdown of the fight. The final scores from the three judges read 40-35, and 39-36 twice, all for Gonzalez.

Prefight, Thomas Haines (R) and his coach posed for a photo in the dressing room. Photo: Jim Wyatt

Tyrell "Hollywood" Hendrix has his arm raised in victory by referee David Mendoza after defeating the former football player, Thomas Haines.

The six rounder between light heavyweights Tyrell “Hollywood” Hendrix and Thomas “The Hurricane” Haines gave everyone a chance to settle down, a moment for oldtimers to check their pacemaker. The two big punchers were either in the clinches or circling about waiting for an opportunity to land the big blow. In the end, it was Hendrix, the more accurate puncher, dominating with his quickness and reach advantage to outpoint Haines 40-36 and 39-37 twice to gain an unanimous decision victory.

Aris Ambriz (L) throws a stiff jab at his opponent Juan Santiago (R). Photo: Jim Wyatt

After the breather, the fight card heated up again when Ariz Ambriz of Duarte, CA and Juan Santiago of Denver, Colorado went at it. Both men were coming off disappointing TKO losses in step-up fights and were committed to getting their careers back on track. Santiago lost to Marvin Quintero on April 15 at Pechanga Resort  and Casino up the road and Ambriz lost to Pier Olivier Cote on May 7 in Las Vegas.       In Saturday’s contest neither would allow the other to take control for any length of time. Ambriz was clearly the sharper of the two in Round #1, then Santiago came on in Round #2. Ambriz lead with his solid left hooks to the body while Santiago appeared quicker and used his head snapping jab to set up his combinations.

Aris Ambriz (L) has his arm raised in victory by referee Pat Russell after defeating the very tough Juan Santiago. Photo: Jim Wyatt

After Ambriz took Round #3, back came Santiago in Round #4. There was no overconfidence shown, no showboating, just one powerful exchange after another. After six rounds, the scoring read 57-57 and 59-55 twice for Ambriz who improves to (16-2-1) while Santiago falls to (13-8-1).

In the dressing room before the fight, Jesus Hernandez is flanked by his coach Priest Tiger Smalls (L) and Tiger's son, Idris Smalls (R). Photo: Jim Wyatt

The first bout of the evening featured two junior welterweights. Making his debut, Jesus Hernandez, trained by Priest Tiger Smalls of the San Diego Fight Academy, versus Jesse Isais (1-1) who was returning to boxing after a two year hiatus which included a wedding and a honeymoon that lasted two years. Isais is trained by his father, Francesco Isais at the Chula Vista Boxing Club. Many moons ago, the two fought as USA Amateurs with Hernandez outpointing Isais. The gents were anxious to see how far they had progressed. The fight turned out to be a war; the bout was so tightly contested that all three judges scored it 38-38, a draw.

Jesus Hernandez (L) and Jesse Isais (R) have their arms raised after the announcement their bout was ruled a draw. Photo: Jim Wyatt

After taking more than a few power shots to the head, Hernandez’s nose was bleeding and he had two less teeth. Even though he was outboxed, Isais remained unscathed. The damage to him was to his psychic. He missed several golden opportunities to land the “W” by wavering, being too tentative and not cutting off the ring. Meanwhile, you had Hernandez floating about and looking the part of the busier fighter. Ninety percent of the time the judges are going to award the decision to the boxer rather than the one punch knockout artist.

Manuel Morales (R) is shown delivering an overhand right to the head of Danny Ruiz (L) in their four round lightweight bout at the Pala Events Center on Saturday evening, June 24, 2011. Photo: Jim Wyatt

Danny Ruiz has his arm raised in victory by referee David Mendoza after it was announced he had defeated Manuel Morales. Photo: J. Wyatt

In another hotly contested bout Danny Ruiz of Riverside, CA got his second victory after defeating the fearless and hard hitting Manuel Morales of Fresno, CA. Like the other bouts, this rockem-sockem battle went back and forth and had the crowd gasping. Ruiz prevailed by using his leverage to land the more powerful blows, especially the hard left hooks, while Morales’ plan involved standing toe to toe in the middle of the ring and trying to outwork Ruiz. With the majority decision, Ruiz goes to (2-0) while Morales dropped to (0-2). Getting back to our guest of honor, Sugar Ray Leonard: Leonard was in town to promote his new book, The Big Fight: My Life in and Out of the Ring. We’re all familiar with the cliche, “Been there, done that” and yet no one can say that with more conviction than Leonard. With the help of writer Michael Arkush, Leonard didn’t hold anything back. It appears he’s as fearless out of the ring as he was in it. The book speaks of his sexual abuse, alcohol and drug use, his many affairs, and the boxing achievements, the well-known battles with Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, plus his gold medal in the 1976 Olympics.

At intermission, Sugar Ray Leonard (center) joined boxing promoter, Patrick Ortiz (left) and ring announcer Mike Gale (right) in the center of the ring to address the crowd. Photo: Jim Wyatt

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