By Austin Killeen August 30, 2016
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In boxing if you want to get to the top you have to take risks. Translation: your opponents have to be dangerous, meaning they have faced live opposition with a degree of success; they don’t fall down with the first hard punch that you land; when you add up their wins and losses the win column is larger; when opportunity knocks, you’re willing to travel to your rival’s back yard. There’s a second option, fight a dozen dead bodies to pad you record with easy wins most of which come by knockout. When you finally have to face a live body for a big payday, you’ll land a lucky punch and stay undefeated. Historically option #2 has mostly resulted in resounding failure. Jose “Shorty” Salinas and his brother Hugo who is his trainer/manager have taken the difficult journey; willing to fight on the road against opponents with winning records. On Thursday at the Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut Jose Salinas will face power punching Dardan Zenunaj in a bout scheduled for eight rounds.
There are many aspiring boxers in New Mexico, but three stand out from the rest; Austin Trout, Fidel Maldonado Jr. and Josh Torres. Look at their respective opponents and the locations of many of their fights and it’s clear the three clearly meet the requirements of option #1. If Jose “Shorty” Salinas can pull off an upset on Thursday, it may be necessary to add his name to that list. Of his twelve bouts, six have been out of state, two in Mexico and at least five of those contests came with a high risk factor. In his last fight he faced Billel Dib of Sydney, Australia, who has a twenty and one record. The result of that contest was a majority decision awarded to Dib that many fans found controversial. I didn’t see the video of the fight so I can only relay what I heard regarding the contest.
Zenunaj, who fights under the DiBella banner, represents high risk/high reward for Salinas. Born in Kosovo, he moved to Belgium where most of his professional bouts took place. Last year Zenunaj moved to the United States to pursue greater opportunities. Watching videos of the Kosovo native I see a young prospect that appears to be the complete package. He can box, has a solid punch, throws a punishing jab, is a good judge of distance and throws uppercuts that can leave an opponent in complete darkness. His defensive skills are also impressive, as he blocks most of his opponent’s offense on his elbows, forearms and shoulders. Comparing records of the two fighters, I’d have to give the edge to Zenunaj.
I’ve seen Salinas box on seven occasions and hold him in high regard. What really impressed me about “Shorty” was his TKO loss to Oscar Valenzuela in a battle of unbeatens in El Paso, Texas. In what was the fight of the night, Salinas was dropped early in the first round by a Valenzuela left hook. I wasn’t sure Salinas would get up, much less continue to fight, but there was no quit in him. Referee Rocky Burke, an excellent third man, could see there was a lot of fight left in Salinas and allowed the contest to continue. This was Valenzuela’s night and he would drop the New Mexico invader twice more from left hooks before referee Burke stopped the contest in the fifth round. But Jose was always dangerous, seemingly just one punch away from turning the fight around. I’ve seen Salinas fight on three occasions since the Valenzuela bout and his defense against the left hook has greatly improved.
In one of the best contests I witnessed in 2014 was the fight between Salinas and Hobbs, NM ticket seller extraordinaire Edgar Zubia. In an exciting contest with little clinching, Salinas won by unanimous decision over the local hero. By the end of the night boos had turned to cheers and the visitor from Las Cruces had won the respect of the home town crowd. Additionally, very few left hooks penetrated Salinas’ defense, showing me he had learned his lesson from the Valenzuela bout. As a side to the fight itself, is the contrast in personally of the two boxers. Zubia has never stopped talking since saying Mama as a baby, while Salinas rarely says a word. In addition to being a non-stop talker, Zubia was gracious in defeat when he raised his rival’s hand in acknowledgement of the fights outcome. Hearing that Zubia wound be fighting next month for the first time since their bout, Salinas wanted it known that he wished his former rival success. (Zubia survived a horrific truck accident last year which I wrote about in my last column.)
Last week I drove to Roswell, NM to watch Salinas train with his older brother Hugo, who is his trainer/manager. They worked together seamlessly, as if they were of one mind. Hugo was getting Jose to throw two new punches, which he wanted him to add to his arsenal. Hugo was very patient with his younger brother, going over the drill repeatedly but in a positive manner. I’ve always been impressed with the conditioning of Jose, but after watching big brother Hugo in the ring, he was physically impressive also. I asked both brothers about their amateur background and they both said they had over eighty amateur bouts each. Hugo never won a GG’s title as he was boxing with a green card, but Jose holds three state GG’s titles. I asked Hugo how he deals with his emotions when his brother is in a difficult fight. He responded; “Jose is no longer my brother, but a boxer whose corner I’m working. But I would never let him get hurt; I’m concerned about the well being of any boxer whose corner I work.”
In addition to his quest to fulfill a dream in the square circle, Jose has a plan ‘B’; He attends New Mexico State University in Las Cruces with a major in Physical Education. He is in his second year at the University and hopes to become a teacher after his ring career is over. Hopefully his post boxing career plans can inspire other fighters to think about life after boxing, not just for themself but for their family. Jose is married to the lovely Arlene, who was a big help in providing information for this story. They have two beautiful children; a son Ilaya and a daughter Kaylene. I warned Jose he better have these names spelled right, because I don’t want to get into trouble with Arlene. I would also like to thank DiBella Promotions and Foxwoods Casino for their contributions to this story.
I’ve never met Dardan Zenunaj, but have the utmost respect for him. Watching videos of his fights it’s obvious that he is a very talented boxer with a bright future. Entering Thursdays contest I’m sure that he is considered the favorite. Additionally, DiBella Promotions didn’t build value in their name by backing losers. But I’m backing the Salinas brothers because I’ve followed Jose’s career for the past four years. Jose wants success and knows that it won’t come by facing opponents who have little market value. He’s willing to take calculated risks in the pursuit of his goals and that is my definition of a winner.
So until Thursday night. . .