By Ryan Maquinana
Bruno Escalante ran his winning streak to eight by capturing a 10-round unanimous decision over fellow junior bantamweight Victor Ruiz on Saturday night in Brooks, Calif., but it was far from an easy endeavor.
A sellout crowd at Cache Creek Casino and Resort witnessed a gutty performance from Escalante (13-1-1, 6 KOs), who overcame a steady diet of looping right hands and subsequent left hooks from Ruiz -- and a likely broken left hand – to box his way to victory.
Scores were 98-92, 97-93 and 96-94.
“It was crazy. It was kind of like a test,” Escalante told BoxingScene.com following the triumph. “But I’m confident in my boxing skills. Even though I only had one hand, I knew I could beat him with a variety of ways.
“I’m thankful to my team for emphasizing my head movement in camp because I made him miss a lot. I hit him with the right jab, but I was definitely hurting him with the right hook to the body, even when he blocked it. We worked on that in camp, too.”
Sporting a face resembling a bloody mask after taking a clean shot to the nose in the fifth frame, Escalante, from San Carlos, Calif., via Cebu, Philippines, was forced to adjust his game plan against the hard-charging Ruiz (12-3, 9 KOs) of Tijuana, Mexico, who had won nine out of his last 10 bouts heading into Saturday.
Escalante’s team pointed to a stiff right jab, consistent body work and the ability to turn Ruiz in the center of the ring as keys behind the win. Ultimately, though, it was the fighter’s unwavering grit that carried him through the 10-round distance.
“Bruno was at a crossroads in that second round. He could’ve easily said he was done,” said Brian Schwartz, Escalante’s trainer. “But he decided he was going to win his fight. From the third round on, he was using his right hand for everything. We told him about his options, as far as using different angles and going to the body.
“Above all, we told him in the corner he needed to fight like a champion and not to let this opportunity slip by, and he responded.”
Escalante’s promoter, Don Chargin, was just as impressed with the Filipino southpaw’s determination.
“Bruno really gave the fans a show given what he had to fight through,” Chargin said. “He hurt (Ruiz) in the seventh and the eighth round even though (Escalante’s manager) Herb (Stone) said it looks like he broke his hand, especially with the way it was swollen after the fight.”
Escalante relived his furious finish to the clash.
“(Assistant trainer) Mike Bazzel and I had been working on kind of like a Bruce Lee six-inch punch in training, and when I made (Ruiz) miss in the seventh round, I saw an opening inside, got creative and hurt him with that,” Escalante said. “This fight really made me learn about myself.”
In the co-feature, Paul Mendez (16-2-2, 7 KOs) extended his unbeaten string to 11 with an eight-round unanimous decision over Los Angeles’ Santiago Perez (12-3, 3 KOs). The bout took place just over the middleweight limit.
Mendez, from Salinas, Calif., via Delano, Calif., was coming off back-to-back appearances on Fox Sports 1. This time, he was facing a fighter who had entered the ring just twice in the last five years. However, though Perez was competitive early, Mendez would soon take control. Despite Perez’s constant pressure, Mendez outboxed his Mexican opponent en route to a shutout on the cards.
All three judges scored the bout 80-72.
“I had a problem with my left shoulder at the start of the fight,” Mendez said. “I wanted to trade punches with him to make it more exciting, but I had to listen to my corner and box him. He’s just a compact guy but he covers up well. He’s a durable guy, but I’m glad that I won.”
“After round two, Paul’s shoulder wasn’t reacting like normal,” said Sam Garcia, Mendez’s assistant trainer. “It was something that first showed up in camp, and that’s why it made it hard for him to throw his left hook. It impressed us that he showed enough mental toughness, even though he wasn’t 100 percent against this guy.”
The undercard was stacked with local talent; all four winners represented Northern California.
Junior lightweight prospect Guy Robb (13-1, 5 KOs) defeated previously undefeated Daniel Ramirez (10-1, 4 KOs) of Tijuana by unanimous decision. Robb, a Sacramento native, has now won six bouts in a row after losing a thrilling war to Joel Diaz Jr. on Showtime’s “ShoBox” series in 2012.
San Francisco middleweight Ricardo Pinell (8-1-1, 6 KOs) won his third straight fight since a shocking stoppage loss last year as one counter left hand from the southpaw put Sacramento’s Darren Mallard (2-1) down for good.
They were in tight quarters,” said Eddie Croft, Pinell’s trainer and a former world title challenger. “Mallard threw a punch and missed. Ricardo slipped under it and hit him with a short overhand left that ended the fight.
“He’s in better shape. He’s taking conditioning a lot better. He still has a long way to go, but he’s still showing the tip of the iceberg of what he can do. … I’d still like to see the elusive head movement and footwork that I’m looking for.”
In a four-rounder that occurred just a shade about the featherweight limit, Fresno’s Luis Ambrosio (4-0-1, 3 KOs) remained unbeaten but incurred the first blemish of his record in a four-round majority draw with Los Angeles’ Cesar Martinez (4-2-2, 1 KO).
Local cruiserweight Ryan Bourland (2-0, 1 KO) from nearby Vacaville took a four-round majority decision over Zlatko Ledic (0-2-1), who made the trip from the Southern California city of Oxnard.
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a boxing column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and Ring Magazine's Ratings Panel. E-mail him at [email protected], check out his blog at Norcalboxing.com or follow him on [email protected]