By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Math class. English class. Science class. Lunch.
It’s just another Tuesday at just another Texas high school.
But while some join classmates at band practice or friends on the football field at day’s end, Ray Ximenez Jr. continues laying groundwork toward a far different post-commencement career:
World champion boxer.
“I’m just a regular kid, really, like anyone else there. I hang out with friends and I try to get good grades,” said the 18-year-old, a student at John Leslie Patton Jr. Academic Center in Dallas. “But when I get home, I go to the gym and I work. That’s my job and I don’t miss a day.”
Ximenez punched the pro clock for the second time last week and was the star of ESPN’s pre-Super Bowl show, dominating Alfredo Berto for every second of four rounds en route to a unanimous decision in the second of a three-bout Friday Night Fights card at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
The win, four months after his one-sided defeat of Cristoval Larrazolo in a nearby Grand Prairie debut, ran the precocious youngster’s record to 2-0 and warranted the nearly 12 straight minutes of praise it drew from an obviously impressed Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas.
But even SportsCenter highlights won’t get him out of doing homework.
“He’s a good kid. He’s focused. He doesn’t give us any trouble. And we want to make sure he stays that way,” said Ximenez’s watchful father, Ray Sr., who trains the youngest of his four children. “We try to strike a balance and we give him his freedom, and there’s never once been a problem.”
The two first went to the gym together eight years ago and, unlike Ray Sr., who said his own participation in the sport waned when an alcoholic father stopped taking him to a gym with a bar inside, Ray Jr. was a quick study with both staying power and a level head.
“He goes to school and even though there are kids who are going to want to try him, he always walks away. Even when he knows he could probably beat them up, he doesn’t look for it. And whenever there are things that come up, he comes to me with them. We have a great relationship.”
And after a few amateur fights, both knew greater things were possible.
“I picked up the moves pretty quickly and I knew liked it a lot better than playing football, because it’s just me in there,” Ximenez said. “I was excited about it right away and I wanted it to be my career and I wanted to try and go all the way with it.”
His father agreed, adding “He’s real smart in the ring and he could figure out the other fighters pretty quickly. He was always forward, forward, forward, like a little bull. There was never any ‘I don’t want to do this’ or anything like that. You could always tell how much he wanted it.”
Ximenez weighed in at 117 pounds against the 30-year-old Berto and seemed on the verge of a stoppage after dropping his foe in the opening round. He scaled back the attack in the subsequent three rounds, however, and appeared content to work on form rather than go all-out for a KO.
The initial fight with Larrazolo followed a similar script, with Ximenez scoring knockdowns in rounds one and two before settling for a wide win on the scorecards after four – 40-33, 40-34 and 40-34.
All three judges scored Friday’s bout in his favor, 40-36.
“I could tell after the first that (Berto) was a tough guy,” he said. “I didn’t stop being aggressive or stop trying to land punches, but I knew I could pick my shots and work on putting things together without having to just knock him out. I wanted to keep doing what I was already doing well.”
The tentative plan has him back in the ring in either late February or early March, though both father and son claim no particular preoccupation with climbing the ladder too quickly.
Instead, they said, Ximenez Jr. will continue his day job as an A-B student, while Ximenez Sr. adds the role of media relations person to preexisting jobs as parent and chief second.
“My No. 1 responsibility is to look out for him, and that’s not going to stop no matter what happens,” the father said. “He’s young and everyone knows that, but there won’t be a situation here where someone comes in just to use him up to make a couple bucks along the way.
“He’s going to have a solid career and I’m going to make sure of that.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC strawweight title – Kobe, Japan
Oleydong Sithsamerchai (champion) vs. Kazuto Ioka (No. 10 contender)
Sithsamerchai (35-0-1, 13 KO): Seventh title defense; Second fight in Japan (1-0, 0 KO)
Ioka (6-0, 4 KO): First title fight; First fight outside hometown of Osaka
Fitzbitz says: “Veteran champ too big a step for youngster in home country.” Sithsamerchai by decision
IBF cruiserweight title – Muelheim, Germany
Steve Cunningham (champion) vs. Enad Licina (No. 1 contender)
Cunningham (23-2, 12 KO): First title defense, second reign; Held IBF title from 2007-08
Licina (19-2, 10 KO): First title fight; Sixth fight at 12-round distance (4-1, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Rescheduled fight shouldn’t slow incumbent Cunningham.” Cunningham by decision
WBO junior bantamweight title – Monte Hermoso, Argentina
Omar Narvaez (champion) vs. Victor Zaleta (No. 11 contender )
Narvaez (32-0-2, 19 KO): First title defense; Held WBO at 112 pounds from 2002-09
Zaleta (17-1, 9 KO): First title fight; Eleven-fight win streak since 2008 (11-0, 6 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Homeland advantage should be enough for title-fight veteran.” Narvaez by decision
Last week’s picks: 0-1
Overall picks record: 174-57 (75.3 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .