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Arizona Boxing Takes a Hit

La Estrella de Tucsn, News Report, By Natalia Lopera, Translated by Elena Shore // Photos by Dean Knuth Posted: Jul 11, 2009

Traduccin al espaol

TUCSON - Despite its proximity to the talented boxers of Mexico, and its large numbers of Hispanic fans, boxing in Arizona is on the decline.
No Lpez, Jr.No Lpez, Jr. is a Mexican boxer who can't fight in Arizona
because he doesn't have a P1 visa.

Since Arizona implemented the employer sanctions law, the Arizona Boxing Commission has started requiring all foreign boxers to present a work visa, something that could cost up to $5,000.

The new requirement is preventing boxers on the other side of the border from boxing in Arizona, literally changing the face of the sport.

John H. Montao, interim director of the Arizona Boxing Commission, estimates that since they started requiring the P1 visa -- a temporary work visa for athletes and artists -- the number of foreign applicants to Arizona boxing matches has dropped in half.

Local boxing commentator Ramn Cartaya says the measure is more than just a problem for the sport. In a recent interview with Roberto Daz, matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions, Cartaya found out that Erislandy Lara, a Cuban boxer who was supposed to be in one of the all-star fights at the Desert Diamond Casino, might not be able to participate because his P1 visa hadnt arrived on time.

This is one more sign that these are discriminatory laws that reflect the states anti-immigrant sentiment. Its shameful, the commentator said.

Daz said in the interview that Lara, who was originally from Guantamano, Cuba, is in the country legally but he doesnt have his papers in order to be able to work in Arizona. Were racing against the clock. The papers were submitted three weeks ago.

On his radio program, Cartaya said that Arizonas strict enforcement of the employer sanctions law will cause promotion companies like Golden Boy to leave the area.

As of the close of this edition, Laras name was expected to be removed from the match at the Desert Diamond Casino, where scar De La Hoya organizes boxing matches through his company Golden Boy Promotions.

In 2007, before the work visas were required, some local Golden Boy fights had as many as five foreign boxers, the majority of them Mexican.
David David "The Destroyer" Lpez (right) with his son,
David Lopez, Jr., displays the belts he has won.

Since the new requirement was implemented at the beginning of 2008, David "The Destroyer" Lpez and Johnny Gonzlez are the only two Mexicans who have fought at Desert Diamond. Lpez has fought in three matches there; Gonzlez has fought in one.

The visa requirement happened at a bad time for the boxing world. Coupled with the countrys economic situation, it has lead to a decline in the frequency of fights.

They hit us at the same time, says Montao, who estimates that the number of boxing matches in the state has dropped considerably by about 70 percent.

Golden Boy has also taken a blow. In the last few years, weve had an average of about six matches a year at Desert Diamond," said Eric Gmez, vice president and matchmaker for Golden Boy. We have four planned for this year (2009).

Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who chairs the Arizona Boxing Commission, agreed that the new requirement is having a negative impact on boxing in Arizona.

It hurts the sport if you cant bring good competition from the other side of the border, she says. There are excellent fighters in Mexico.

Thwarted Dreams

No "Chamaco" (The Kid) Lpez, a boxer from the Mexican city of Nogales, has been invited to Arizona on several occasions, but he isnt able to fight because he doesnt have a visa.

The "Chamaco" was part of Mexicos national qualifying team for the Beijing Olympic Games. But he wasnt able to participate because of an injury. With an amateur record of 82-9 (35 KO), he decided to become a professional boxer.

The 20-year-old boxer, who has a professional record of 4-1 (3 KO), is among the many Mexican fighters who hope to find a career in the United States, where boxers earn three times as much as they make in Mexico.

Those are the most important fights of my career. From there I can go forward and move up. And unfortunately, because of the visa, I havent been able to do that.
GymNo Lpez, Jr. (in white) trains with Isaac Hidalgo (in black) at a Tucson gym.
His father, also named No Lpez, who is his trainer and the chairman of the Nogales Professional Boxing and Wrestling Committee, said the visa is a serious obstacle.

I see it as a really big barrier here in Arizona, he said, watching his son train in a gym built in the backyard of Isaac Hidalgos South Tucson home.

The Lpezes leave Nogales regularly in order to practice.

Twice a week, after a days work in Nogales, the "Chamaco" and his father cross the border to box with Hidalgo in Viejo Pueblo, where they can find good competitors to train with.

I come here to train because of the level of the boxers. In Nogales there are good boxers. Its just that we already know almost all of them, said the boxer.

Even The Destroyer, the only boxer in Nogales who has been able to fight in Tucson, has felt the repercussions of the visa requirements. On several occasions, his opponent has been replaced at the last minute.

You study the opponent youre going to fight, and all of a sudden they change it on you because he doesnt have a work visa, said the boxer who has a record of 38, 12, 23 KO, and trains at a city gym named after him.

You could lose the fight because youre prepared to fight one boxer, said the boxer who lives in Nogales and works as a water pump repairman. Youve been studying him, and then when the time comes, you have to come up with another strategy to fight someone you dont know.

The Visa Controversy

Boxers used to be allowed to fight in Arizona after presenting a tourist visa, even though it wasnt technically enough, said Roger Woods, a matchmaker for Golden Boy.

Technically, all boxers who come here to make money in a fight need to have a P1 visa, explained Tarik Sultan, an immigration lawyer who works with the firm Wolf & Sultan.

Since they started implementing the employer sanctions law, Montao says, a boxer who wants to get a license to fight in Arizona has to prove that he is a legal resident of the country and that he has a work visa.

Gmez, vice president of Golden Boy, said Arizona is the only state that follows this law.

Obviously Arizona is doing its part. Its the only state in the country that is enforcing this and following the rules, because all athletes are supposed to have this anyway, he said.
RingRudy Valdez (left) blocks punches from Karl Dargan at a
Golden Boy fight in the Desert Diamond Casino.

Although the vice president of Golden Boy points out that it is good to follow the rules, he adds that this has caused some difficulties. The company has had to resort to bringing in boxers from other states, instead of young people from Mexico, to fight in Arizona. Apart from being costly, the visa is hard to get.

You have to be well-known, or be a top-rated athlete, explained Gmez. Its really hard for boxers who are just on the other side of the border, because it costs a lot of money and you have to have letters of recommendation.

In order to get the visa, a boxing promotion company like Golden Boy has to hire the boxer who is soliciting the visa, said Jos Santos Moreno, "The Destroyers" trainer.

Even though the Chamacos father has been in talks with American promoters like Thunder Promotions and Latin Boxing Sport, the young boxer doesnt have a contract with anyone. He also doesnt have enough money to pay for the visa.

According to attorney Tarik Sultan, the visa can cost between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on the fees and how much the lawyer charges.

Weve been trying to get a visa since I debuted as a professional boxer in April of last year, said the Chamaco, who works with his father at his familys seafood restaurant.

The "Chamaco," who recently became a father himself, says that as a full-time cook, waiter and dishwasher, he makes $110 a week. This means it would take him 10 months, without spending any money at all, to save up the amount he would need to get a visa.

Its a cost that companies refuse to pay for new boxers and that is impossible for beginners to afford, says Moreno.

The Destroyers trainer estimates that a professional boxer can make $800 in a four-round fight in the United States.

A boxer who doesnt have a good sponsor to invest in him is going to have a really hard time paying so much (for a visa). Its practically impossible, he says.

Its the boxers who are just starting out who are affected the most, according to Wilcox. Because of this punitive law we have, its really hard for people without much experience to come here, he says.

The requirements also lead boxers to look for fights in other states that are less strict, said Moreno.

These guys who are trying to box are looking everywhere, he said. Theyre going to keep boxing; theyre professionals. Theyre just going to go somewhere else to fight.

That is exactly what the "Chamaco" did at the beginning of June, when he fought in his first U.S. match in Los Angeles. From there, he was able to start negotiating with Golden Boy Promotions about the possibility of signing a contract and getting a visa. But nothings for sure. In the meantime, hes going to keep fighting.

Watch the Photo Slideshow Tale of Two Gyms by Dean Knuth / La Estrella de Tucsn

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The Good, the Bad and the Promoter

Is Pacquiao a "Mexican" Boxer?

Round 13: Fight Moves from Ring to Ethnic Media

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