By Francisco Salazar
The city of Oxnard has become synonymous with boxing. What else is new? Seems as though the city cultivates boxers the same way strawberries are that surround the city.
While other fighters come from abroad to train in Oxnard, one fighter wants to join the list of fighters from the city of Oxnard who won championship gold.
Whether he will get there or not, Hugo Centeno could be on the right path to get there.
Centeno will meet fellow junior middleweight prospect KeAndrae Leatherwood in a scheduled 10 round bout tonight at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, CA.
The bout will headline a Golden Boy Promotions card and be televised as part of Showtime’s popular “ShoBox: The New Generation” series.
In his last fight on December 15th, Centeno stopped Allen Conyers after the sixth round of their scheduled eight round bout.
Conyers was a good measuring stick for the 22 year old fighter. While Conyers may not be the same fighter who dropped James Kirkland about five years ago, it was still an impressive victory for Centeno.
Matched soft early in his career, manager Joel De La Hoya has begun to match Centeno tougher in recent fights. De La Hoya wants to see if his charge can surpass any obstacle.
Leatherwood would be the next test for Centeno, although it was supposed to be unbeaten Daquan Arnett, who pulled out of the fight. Unbeaten in his last four bouts since his technical knockout loss to John Jackson, Leatherwood does have pop in his arsenal that could be a threat to Centeno, who has yet to taste the canvas in his career.
However, Centeno believes his plan against Leatherwood will be effective.
“I know that he is a strong fighter and throws hard one-two punches,” Centeno told Boxingscene.com earlier this week over the phone. “He starts strong early in fights, but fades as the fight continues. It’d be to my advantage to take him to the later rounds and get him tired. I will get him out of his comfort zone.”
Those are bold words from a young fighter some may think has not fought a fringe contender or noteworthy fighter for that matter. However, Centeno has gained a great deal of experience sparring against some of boxing’s top fighters at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood.
Centeno also trains at the KO Gym in downtown Oxnard.
Sparring against the likes of Peter Quillin, Nobuhiro Ishida, and Michael Medina has given Centeno a confidence he had not experienced in boxing before.
“The sparring I got in this training camp has helped me physically and mentally,” said Centeno, a 2009 Oxnard High School graduate. “I’ve matured mentally and I feel much more comfortable in the ring. I’ve really benefited a lot from it.”
Aside from the sparring, Centeno has received compliments from world title holders Paul Malignaggi and Brian Viloria. While a number of 22-year-olds may gain a false sense of invincibility due to similar comments, Centeno does not want to get caught up in the hype.
Then again, there are those temptations. Centeno was recently asked to be a guest speaker at his alma mater for a recent assembly. Centeno spoke about walking through the same hallways as a student, but stressed the importance of education and pursuing personal goals.
“I’m really a normal guy. I was raised to be humble and I want to remain the same. It meant a lot to me that my school asked me to be a motivational speaker at a young age. There’s no motivation in life for them, so I give advice about motivation and I listen to what I say because I was in their shoes at one time.”
It is okay to become a fan of Centeno, who says he will remain at 154 for the next year or so. So far, he has said the right things in securing victories and an important fight date like tonight.
He has a growing fan base outside of his family, friends, and those in the 805 area code. That area code was first made famous by Fernando Vargas, who along with Robert Garcia and Miguel Angel Garcia, were born and raised in Oxnard and became world champions (Brandon Rios migrated to Oxnard after living in Kansas and was born in Lubbock, TX).
Centeno would love to add his name to that list. Whether that will become a reality or not is in the hands of Centeno. But he knows that the pride of representing Oxnard does go hand in hand.
“As a fighter, I feel proud to represent Oxnard. It’s a hotbed for boxing and proud to say that I’m born and raised there.”
Could Oxnard see another future champion in the making? That remains to be seen. Whether Centeno does strap championship gold around his waist or not, it is more impressive that he has found his calling and passion in life at a young age.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Centeno believes that his future has arrived tonight and a victory will make his future that much clearer.