By Austin Killeen November 12, 2016
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When you consider the population of New Mexico versus the other forty nine states, its impact on boxing history is rather amazing. In Bob Foster and Johnny Tapia it has given us two all time great champions. Foster and Tapia ruled their divisions with an iron fist, willing to face the best and succeeding for many years. The “Land of Enchantment” has many aspiring young pugilists hoping to emulate their success, as can be seen by the number of gyms around the state. For many youngsters those dreams end with the first punch that crashes against their nose. For others not as easily discouraged, it is still a difficult road to travel; a road that usually turns out to be a dead end. In spite of the long odds, Brian Mendoza has accepted the challenge hoping to succeed where most meet failure. But he recognizes that the boxing landscape has many undefeated prospects with the same dream. As a result he has a plan “B.” Brian is in his junior year of college, attending the University of New Mexico on a part time basis.
A lifelong resident of Rio Rancho, NM Mendoza drew his first breath on February 13, 1994. He didn’t have his first amateur bout until he was sixteen, which is old compared to most amateurs. It not unusual for youngsters to have their first bout as early as nine or ten years of age; meaning he was facing opponents with fifty or more contests when he was entering competition for the first time. I asked him how many bouts he had and he responded: “I had less than thirty fights with a record of about 20 and 7. I have to find my book (Brian was referring to his amateur book which all youngsters have to carry with them to competitions) to figure out my actual record. Even though I didn’t have many fights I got the best out of it, because I was fighting ranked fighters.”
The first time I witnessed Mendoza in action was in the state golden gloves finals in 2013. To say I was impressed would be an understatement, as he was facing a very talented Ronald Jones at 152 pounds. Both boxers came to win, with Jones taking the action to his rival putting Mendoza in a defensive posture. Suddenly the Rio Rancho fighter exploded a left hook off the midsection of his rival, sending him reeling into the ropes. Jones appeared paralyzed, as if bitten by a venomous snake. A left hook to the head spilled the game boxer onto his back. It has to be one of the most spectacular knockouts I’ve witness in sixty six years of watching the sport. I knew at that moment I was watching somebody who was a very special talent. In the years since nothing has changed my mind.
In discussing Brian’s amateur career I was shocked to find out he fought Jose “Shorty” Salinas twice. For readers with short memories, Salinas scored the biggest win of 2016 by any boxer in the state. Salinas upset Dardan Zenunaj of Kosovo by unanimous decision at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut on national television. Commenting on his two fights with Salinas, Brian stated;”It was my first fight in the golden gloves, he beat me there. It was my fifth fight I believe, I knocked him down in the third round but I didn’t pull out the decision. We fought again two weeks later at the US Men’s and I beat him there at 140 lbs.” In the pros Brian fights at 147 pounds while Salinas campaigns at 130 pounds, so it’s unlikely that their paths will cross again.
In May of 2014 Mendoza turned pro; destroying his first two opponents faster than you could blink. In his third pro bout he faced Lazaro Dominquez of Roswell and it appeared that Brian would win an easy decision. With less than thirty seconds remaining in the fight, Dominquez landed a clean punch on the jaw of Mendoza. Suddenly New Mexico’s latest can’t miss prospect was walking the deck of the Titanic, right after it collided with an iceberg. The bell rang before Dominquez could follow up his advantage and Mendoza remained undefeated.
New Mexico fans support their heroes, but even heroes have their naysayers at the slightest sign of an imperfection. Brian was now a member of that club, he couldn’t take a punch. I hope these critics don’t find out about Superman’s reaction to kryptonite. It was a good lesson for the fighter they call “La Bala” because nobody is bullet proof and being careless has its price. For the uninformed “La Bala’ means “The Bullet” and New Mexico’s newest hero continued to roll along, winning his next seven fights, five by knockout.
In December of 2015, Mendoza traveled to Hobbs, NM to face Anthony Hill holder of a one and fourteen record. Boxing is all about risk versus reward and anything less than a first round knockout would be a big disappointment. I’d seen Hill fight on several occasions and knew he was much tougher than his record would indicate. Hill has a bizarre style and you could never find a sparring partner capable of imitating it. Additionally Hill had gone the distance with the aforementioned Jose “Shorty” Salinas in Salinas’ home town of Los Cruces. There was no way Mendoza would ever please the naysayers in this matchup. Commenting on the bout Brian stated;”the whole fight I was just trying to set up openings and stuff, but he’s real slick and he would get out of the way. We were matched up a couple of days before and I didn’t get to study him. My studying was done when we got in the ring.” That night Brian proved he had the ability to size up an opponent in the ring and the maturity not to force the action. But once again there was a few comments regarding his power; which proves you can’t please everybody.
In his next two fights Mendoza flashed some power, stopping both his opponents before the final bell. This resulted in Brian finally getting to fight in front of his home town fans in Rio Rancho against Daniel Calzada. Calzada has a build that reminds me of a kitchen appliance; hint: think of where you like to keep your food cold. The first two rounds the bull like Mendoza used his muscle to force Mendoza around the ring. Mendoza used lateral movement to create openings, allowing him to score with his left jab. In the third round Mendoza stopped throwing his jab, going all out to score a knockout. This proved to be a bad idea as the Dona Ana boxer finally started landing some hard body shots and overhand rights to the head. At the end of the round, both boxers had ideas of extending the round, but the third man in the ring had a different idea.
In the 4th Mendoza went back to his jab, which would prove to be the difference in the fight. It seemed to disrupt the rhythm of Calzada, making his punches go off target much of the time. Both boxers threw some brutal body shots, but Mendoza was able to block many of his rival’s punches with his tight defense while his punches got behind the elbows of Calzada. This would continue to the end of the fight. The pace of the contest was furious with little clinching, but Mendoza had the superior jab and a solid defense. This was an excellent test for Mendoza and he passed it with flying colors.
Brian is trained Fidel Maldonado, Sr. and his assistant Manual Anaya. Brian spars with Fidel Maldonado, Jr., Matthew “Diamond Boy” Griego and Josh “Pitbull” Torres on a regular base, sparring which plays a big role in his success. Lately Brian has been traveling to Fit Gym to spar with Tim “Dirty Bird” Means, a UFC cage fighter. Means will be facing Alex Oliveira in UFC 207 on December 30th, on the undercard of the Amanda Nunes vs Ronda Rousey bout. Means is a bigger version of Mendoza and is a southpaw. These sparring sessions are good for both combatants, as it places them in uncomfortable positions which they have to figure out. As a result they will both be better prepared when then enter their next competition.
In addition to his boxing and schooling Brian finds time to spend with his girlfriend of two and half years, Katrina Llamas. Like Brian, Katrina attends college and will be transferring to the University of New Mexico for the start of her junior year. Their relationship keeps Brian grounded, reminding him there is life outside the ring. As the saying goes: “The rich get richer” and Brian seems to be having success on all fronts. If you can’t figure out which one in the photo is Katrina Llamas, you’ve got to get to an eye doctor fast!
As for Mendoza’s boxing future it appears that he is someone to contend with. He is taller than average for a welterweight, with rope like muscles, excellent endurance, solid defense and an explosive punch. I have seen more than half of his fights and he clearly has shown improvement during that time period. In addition he is very observant of what takes place around him. After a sparring session I saw him speak to Matthew “Diamond Boy” Griego about being lazy with his feet. Griego is very good at slipping punches, but was failing to move his feet afterwards. With foot movement Griego would be more difficult to hit and would create openings for his punches. All the fighters at the gym help one another and Brian is just as willing to accept advice as dispense it. Reaching the success of Bob Foster and Johnny Tapia is a lofty goal and Brian Mendoza is designing a blue print to reach that target.
But the most important thing about Brian Mendoza is; although he’s fierce in the ring, he is a nice young man out of the square circle.