By Austin Killeen
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Las Cruces, New Mexico has always had it’s share of exciting boxers and heated rivalries with their neighbors to the north in Albuquerque. In the early eighties it was flashy lightweight Louie Burke, with hands by his sides and a smiling face extended for his opponents to try and hit. But when the punches arrived the smiling face was no longer there, as Louie had just slipped another punch to the frustration of his opponent. In a career against the likes of Freddie Roach, Charlie Brown, Hector Camacho and Rosendo Alonso, Burke was the darling of “The City of the Crosses.” Ten years ago Austin “No Doubt” Trout became the new torch bearer for Las Cruces; ironically he is trained by Louie Burke. Trout would win the WBC version of the world junior middleweight championship and defeat amongst others Miguel Cotto in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Trout is still one of the leading fighters in the world today, but a new native son from Las Cruces is now seeking world recognition; his name is Jose “Shorty” Salinas.
I was witness to Salinas’ pro debut and would travel to El Paso, Texas to see him fight along with another undefeated prospect Oscar Valenzuela on several occasions. Both boxers were mowing down the competition and appeared to be on a collision course at some future date. Attending a boxing card at the Country Coliseum in El Paso in 2014, I was surprised to see Salinas matched against home town hero Valenzuela so early in their careers. Seconds after the opening bell a left hook to the head dropped Salinas on the seat of his pants. Instead of looking to clinch after beating the count the Las Cruces warrior went looking for his own knockout. The bout saw some furious exchanges by both participants but after being dropped for a third time in the fifth round, Referee Rocky Burke wisely halted proceeding at 2:02 of the stanza. Burke allowed the bout to go into the fifth because Salinas was throwing hard accurate punches, with a live chance of turning the fight around. This is why Burke is one of the best referees in the country and the bout was the Fight of the Night on that particular evening.
A set back like that can have a devastating effect on the psychological outlook of a boxer and only time would show how Jose Salinas would react. Along with his brother/trainer Hugo, Jose regrouped, taking one step at a time. Traveling to Hobbs, New Mexico he faced hometown hero Edgar Zubia, not an easy assignment to take. In addition to being a good boxer himself, Zubia is the king of the one liner; making one liners that have a way of unsettling his rivals. Zubia is a lot more than a big mouth; he backs his words up with action. It was a thrilling fight punctuated with offensive and defensive skills by both combatants. At the end of six hard fought rounds, Salinas won a close but deserved unanimous decision that was well received by Zubia’s fan base.
2016 would prove to be a breakout year for Salinas, a year that took his career to the next level. Traveling to New York he faced Billel Dib who had a record of (18-1-0, 9 KO’s), obviously the Las Cruces boxer was hired to play the role of opponent. Salinas failed to read the script, fought his heart out and lost a majority decision. A decision that many in the audience felt he won. Although it was a loss on his record, it attracted the attention of Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. He was offered a nationally televised bout against Dardan Zenunaj (12-1-0, 9 KO’s) of Kosovo. Once again he was to play the role of opponent and once again he failed to read the script. From the opening round he attacked his rival and it wasn’t until the third round that Zenunaj started to fight back. After eight rounds it sure looked like Salinas merited the verdict, all three judges agreed and he was awarded a unanimous decision.
Once again Salinas has been hired to play his recurring role of opponent. Doesn’t anybody realize that he doesn’t know how to read a script? Playing opposite him tomorrow night will be Eric De Leon (14-0-0, 8 KO’s) in the role of hero. De Leon, former three time national golden gloves champion, is the real deal and trained by Roberto Garcia and promoted by Top Rank. I watched De Leon destroy Fidel Navarete (8-1-2, 4 KO’s) in less than one round, this southpaw can fight. Early in the round De Leon was relaxed, using footwork to keep his opponent off balance. When Navarete charged in throwing punches with bad intentions, De Leon answered with a devastating right cross to close the show.
In preparation for tomorrow night’s fight to be held at the Sportsman’s Lodge, Studio City, California the Salinas brothers have spent a great deal of time in Albuquerque training with Fidel Maldonado Sr. and Jr. The sparring with Fidel Jr. was excellent with Salinas looking to create openings and not slugging away foolishly. Additionally, Fidel Sr. has been offering him sound advice to maximize his full potential, while minimizing his mistakes. What I liked about Hugo, Salinas’ trainer/brother, was his confidence in accepting Fidel Sr. ideas and not being worried that people might think he’s not qualified for the position. I have no doubts about Hugo, he’s an excellent teacher. Hugo invited Fidel Sr. to travel to California with them for Friday’s fight and he accepted.
As always I will remain unbiased and not have a cheering interest in either boxer. GO S-A-L-I-N-A-S!!!
The contest will be on the ‘Solo Boxeo’ card and will be televised on UniMás and Univision Deportés.
According to my television guide the show will begin at 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night.