Tiara Brown & Pedro Roque. Photos by Sarah Deming for StiffJab.com
by Sarah Deming
OXNARD, Calif.—It’s hard to care about boxing when the results seem randomly generated. It was the finals for the elite men and women at the Police Athletic League National Championships, and the Oxnard PAL stadium was almost empty.
Things got off to a deceptively good start when Marlen Esparza blew away Sacred Downing in the women’s flyweight final, looking like a different fighter than she had in her sub-par semifinal against Virginia Fuchs. Maybe it was true that she’d been jetlagged from appearances as a motivational speaker.
Then came the first awful decision. Although bantamweight Christina Cruz was my roommate, I was halfway rooting for Jamie Mitchell. I always dig underdogs and was charmed by the photos Mitchell had shown me of her five-year-old son Sahe. The first two rounds, Mitchell attacked wildly and Cruz boxed. There was some rough stuff in the clinches, and the referee cautioned Mitchell for talking.
Sometimes Cruz boxes too defensively, but she picked up the pace in the third, showing more effective aggression than I have ever seen from her. By the fourth she had taken center ring and was backing Mitchell up to the ropes with strong, straight combinations. Naturally, everyone was shocked when the verdict went to Mitchell. I saw two of the better officials look at each other in disbelief. This became a common sight throughout the evening.
Michael Stoute of Heavy Hitters looked excellent in the all-New York bantamweight final, out-slugging the fast Danny “Jungle Boy” Sandoz. Both young men showed excellent sportsmanship in and out of the ring.
Headbanger’s star Tiara Brown (top) controlled every second of her title defense. Her opponent, Julie Marabella, was exceptionally large for featherweight, so Brown kept moving, pot-shotting and avoiding counters. It was deliberate, disciplined work that built to a fourth-round crescendo.
“Tiara is the best,” USA Boxing head coach Pedro Roque said.
Lightweight Mikaela Mayer (above) weathered an unexpectedly stiff challenge from short, aggressive southpaw Melissa Parker. Parker moved forward throughout, controlling the rhythm and getting looping shots through Mayer’s guard. I thought Parker deserved the nod, but the decision wasn’t the worst of the evening.
I can’t argue with Mayer winning Boxer of the Tournament. She put on a beautiful display of technique, and both her bouts were thrilling. Lightweight remains the most intriguing of the women’s divisions and will only deepen when the powerful Rashida Ellis ages into the elites.
Marquis Moore seemed quite clearly the winner of the men’s middleweight slugfest, but the judges gave it to Kyrone Davis, who was subsequently awarded Fighter of the Tournament. Moore’s corner of Army coaches fumed.
By this point in the evening I was alternating between depression and Teddy-Atlas-level-apoplexy, so it’s not like I was scoring every round. But I thought the women’s heavyweight decision was awful, too. Denise Rico (above) is a great fighter who has won gold for the U.S. at the Americas Championships, but she showed up out of condition and was outworked by the tough, game Cheyna Christian (below). The judges gave it to Rico.
Earl “Flash” Newman of my home club, Atlas Cops and Kids, says he hears music when he fights. He captured the heavyweight title – and ensured our second straight Best Team trophy – with a soulful victory over Joseph Martinez of Duarte Boxing.
Our superheavyweight Nkosi “Big Black” Solomon was stopped in the first round by the Army’s Stephan Shaw. A rough end to a rough night.
Coach Sosa (below, wrapping Solomon’s hands) told him to hold up his head: “A bigger man will come out of you.”