After a surprising Season One
for the Los Angeles Matadors, a young boxing team in the
new World Series of Boxing league, Head Coach Manny Robles, some returnees and
even some new ones are gearing up for another go-round. Robles, a young veteran
of the game who apprenticed under his father, Manuel “Chato” Robles, is quietly
known as one of the better up-and-coming trainers in the sport. He may not have
the run of guys like Freddie Roach or Robert Garcia just yet but to those in
the know, he is mentioned as a young talent who, with the right fighter, could
develop into a top trainer. Fortunately for Robles, he has several young,
promising fighters under his tutelage in his Matadors. Last year, he took a
young fighter in Joseph Diaz Jr. and helped him along to the point he is today:
one of the youngest Olympians the US Boxing team has ever had. This year, with
the help of team captains Rau’Shee “Baby Pit” Warren (now the first
three-time Olympian the US boxing team has ever boasted) and Javier “The
Monster” Torres, Robles and his team look to build on an inaugural season that
saw them make it to the playoffs only to fall just short of the team
“[We did well] considering that
last year was new to all of us,” Robles told me and my co-host David Duenez
recently on Leave-it-in-the-ring.com radio show. “The WSB and all of us
were getting our feet wet learning the system. Now we know what we are up
against. We made some changes to the team. We have some new guys. We know we
aren’t just facing the Americas conference. We are out there to face
the world. It’s going to be tough. There’s a lot of good quality boxers
from all over the world, so I am trying to get the new boxers and the boxers
returning to understand what we are up against.”
The WSB is a little different
this year. Whereas before, the league was divided into different conferences,
now the competition is opened up worldwide. Rather than go with different
conferences such as last year’s Americas conference or the Asia Conference,
this year, The WSB is comprised of two groups, A and B.
Group A features the Matadors, Astana Arlans, Dynamo
Moscow, Milano Thunder, Mumbai Fighters,
and out of Bangkok, Thailand, the Pohang Poseidons.
Group B consists of Baku Fires, Mexico City Guerreros, Leipzig Leopards, Paris United, Beijing Rocfly
Boxing Club, and the Istanbul Bosphorus.
This new configuration opens up
the league to pure worldwide competition, once again giving fans a chance to
get exposed to top amateur talents from National champs to Olympians before
they ever turn pro. They fights are still five-rounders with three-minute
rounds fought under pro rules with no headgear and smaller gloves. Like before,
the winners of each group face off in a playoff and the top fighters meet after
that in an individual championship.
For Robles, an LA native, coaching the Matadors and
working in the WSB is a chance to help bring boxing’s future fighters to the
fore, something most fans grew up with.
“I got the call one day if I
wanted to work with the LA Matadors and working with the WSB and alongside AIBA
(International Boxing Association),” said Robles. “I thought this was something
that could not only benefit me as a trainer but the amateur boxers at a local
and international level. So here we are today.”
If the first season was about
getting his young team experience on the international level, this year is
about taking it to the next level. Last year’s playoff appearance seemed to be
a surprise. Hanging around the Matador training camp during a media day, I got
the sense that no one was happy just to be here. Winning it all is the goal
“I am getting the boxers
returning to talk to the new guys and explain, ‘Hey, it’s not going to be easy.
It’s going to get harder as we go along.’ Right now, we are having a blast, a
lot of smiles. We are all having a good time working hard but who knows where
we will be four or five months from now? So I am trying to keep them as focused
and as loose as possible now and then. This is a team aspect of boxing. It’s
still an individual sport but we are working together as a team.”
The hardest part for any amateur
going pro is essentially relearning the game. In the amateurs, going for points
is the name of the game. “Hit and don’t be hit” is the maxim. In pro style boxing,
getting hit is inevitable; doing damage is essential and entertaining the crowd
is now part of the equation.
“Being able to make the
transition from amateur to pro is probably what’s been the most difficult
aspect,” said Robles, “but at the same time, we have been pretty successful in
getting them to understand it’s now a five-round fight, eight-ounce gloves.
Getting them to understand there is nothing semi-pro about this.”
For Robles, one of the best
aspects of this league is that unlike a young pro whose first ten fights are
generally freebies as he gets some experience, all of these fights are against
top amateurs. No one is matched soft. While that can make for award fights,
more often than not, it makes for tight competition.
“These are all evenly matched
fights. It’s hard to get a knockout against a high-caliber opponent. These are
not punching bags,” said Robles. “These guys aren’t ‘Hey, this guy will come
out and you will knock him out in two rounds to build up your record.’ Not in
this league. Sometimes you have two Olympians fighting. What are the odds of
someone getting knocked when these are very high level amateurs and both are in
Not very high at all. L.A.
Matador lightweight “Fearless” Eric Fowler was the knockout leader last year
going 4-1 with 3 KOs. The Houston native is a go-for -broke fighter who
may make for an entertaining pro with his heavy hands and all-action style. On Monday night’s season opener in Hollywood, CA, Fowler started fast but it
ended up costing him as he faded a bit down the stretch and was edged out
by Astana Arlans’ Adlet
Yegizekov in a majority decision of 48-47 twice to one 48-47 score for Fowler.
However, on an entertainment level, Fowler did not disappoint.
Things look grim for the
Matadors when their second boxer of the night, late addition Jeff Camp, who
flew in the day before to join the team, dropped a TKO loss at 2:24 of the fourth round to middleweight
Kanat Slam. It was a tough fight that saw Camp start fast and then get
overwhelmed by Slam as the rounds wore on. With just a day to prepare, perhaps Camp’s conditioning
hurt him. He certainly appeared to have a skill set that will garner him some
wins as the season progresses.
The way the matches are set up,
it’s five weight classes, bantamweight, lightweight, middleweight, light heavyweight
and heavyweight in a “best of five” set. Down two games to nothing, it was go
time for the Matadors and Vyacheslav “The Ukraine Pain Train” Shabransky knew it. In a
rematch with the man who beat him last year, Shabransky took it to Ramzjon
Ahmedov early and often behind a stiff jab, a hard right hand and what was
essentially a volume attack, scoring a unanimous decision to get the Matadors
back in the match.
That set the table for captains
Torres and Warren to do their thing.
“We looked at each other in the
dressing room,” Warren told me afterward. “We gotta take it home. This is your
home. I’m trying to make it my home. Even though I am from Cincinnati, I am
trying to get fans all over because when I go to the Olympics, I am not just
representing Cincinnati. I am representing the United States.
The earned their captains’
stripes as each man came out and took it to his opponent. Torres, a heavyweight
who added about 15 pounds in the off season, looked strong and fit as he used a
stiff jab and right hand at a distance to keep the awkward Doszhan Ospanov off
balance on the outside and wondering what to do with the behemoth in front of
I just went in there real
confident,” said the LA native Torres. “Rau’Shee looked at me and said, ‘You
gotta get it together. This is your home. This is your people. I’m also trying
to make it my home. You have to go out there hard. When you have to bite down,
you bite down. Make sure you throw those extra punches. Make sure you throw a
gang of bunches and
that’s exactly what I did.”
Torres went at Ospanov and
despite letting him escape off the ropes a bit much, he took every card,
winning a unanimous decision by scores of 50-45, 49-46, and 48-47.
Then it was time for Warren,
who was walked into the ring by Andre Berto, to take it home.
“He kept trying to take me out
of my game and turn it into a brawl,” said Warren later of tough opponent
The fight was a tough one that
had the Matadors holding their collective breath. Warren is a slick, pure
southpaw boxer who adjusts on the fly. His opponent was a straightforward
brawler who never took “No” for an answer. Early on in the first, Warren rocked
him but the kid just came right back at him.
“In the third, he threw a wild
shot. It kinda hit me like, ‘BOOM!,’” said Warren. “It hit me in my eye and my
contact came out.”
Warren was knocked nearly
through the ropes but he survived the rough moment and down the stretch, the
counterpuncher began to lead. It was tight but he pulled it out for his team by
scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46 to secure the 3-2 match win for the Matadors.
Next up is a trip to Milan against the Thunder.
“When I see stuff like that,
Andre Berto walking me out and stuff like that, they are showing me I am
earning my way instead of taking the easy way out,” said Warren. “I could have
taken the easy way out and turned pro and maybe be a champion but I am still
chasing my dream of getting an Olympic Gold medal. The WSB is something that
guys who are pro now say if it was around when they were amateurs, it is
something they would have done. We brought it home. We got a long way to go.”
The Matadors started off strong
last season and faded a bit down the stretch before getting a crucial win to
make the playoffs. Can they do it again? We’ll see.
“The best thing is I have a group of hardworking young men,” said Robles.
With new additions like Jason
Quigley out of Ireland, Raynell Williams
from Cleveland, Ohio and the returning vets, the Matadors
are certainly poised for another successful season.