By Thomas Gerbasi
New York. Frank Sinatra sang that if you could make it there, you could make it anywhere. It’s a city made for the dreamer, but while many dreams come true in the Big Apple, just as many, if not more, are crushed.
On December 16th, a Californian makes his way east in search of keeping his boxing dream alive. It won’t be easy for Mike Anchondo as he steps into the ring at the Roseland Ballroom to take on a hometown favorite in Dmitriy Salita. In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster, a cruel joke waiting to be played on one of the sport’s remaining good guys.
Because frankly, Anchondo isn’t being brought across the country to test Salita in their bout for the vacant IBA welterweight title; he’s expected to be the sacrificial lamb, fed to Salita to get the Brooklyn product back on the road to prominence and a big fight in his second bout since his 76 second loss to Amir Khan nearly a year ago.
A few years back, this wouldn’t have been the case. Back in 2004, Anchondo was a world champion – undefeated, charismatic, exciting, and on track to becoming the next big thing in boxing. Six years later, he’s still exciting in the ring, still charismatic, but the “0” is gone, the title belt is gone, the big time promoter (Golden Boy Promotions) is gone, and following a fourth round TKO loss to Freddy Hernandez in September, the buzz has all but faded.
Yet there’s still a sparkle in Anchondo’s eye, a lift in his voice when he talks about what he still has to offer in the ring, and the beating of a fighter’s heart. And though he may not have wanted to admit it at times when the sport didn’t give him back what he put into it, he’s still a fighter, and – despite what the critics might believe – far from done.
“I love boxing and I’m just gonna go out and do my thing,” he said. “And I’m gonna win this fight.”
It’s what you expect to hear from a professional prizefighter, whether he believes it or not. And while Anchondo has always been a straight shooter, something that endeared him to the boxing media when he first burst on the scene, he admits that sometimes the wear and tear of a life spent with gloves on would render him almost numb to what was going on around him, leaving him to go through the motions in the gym. But after a few wake-up calls, including stints working in real estate and at Home Depot, and the three knockout losses on his record against Hernandez, Jorge Rodrigo Barrios, and Darling Jimenez, he feels like he’s got everything finally figured out.
“Now it’s time – I’m settled and I’m ready to go.”
Haven’t you told that to us before though?
“I’m telling myself now,” he laughs, and thankfully, Anchondo hasn’t lost his sense of humor or ability to even make fun of himself. His story isn’t one revolving around a ‘woe is me’ theme. He’s got a wife who loves him and who he loves right back, a niece he can’t stop talking about, and a trainer in Justin Fortune that he has clicked with.
But it wasn’t always roses, and as he discusses his niece, you get a brief glimpse into some of the things he’s dealt with over the years.
“She’s awesome and I see me,” he beams. “And I was fighting at that time, six, seven, eight years old. I was a little circus act, and it was cool, but after that I just wanted to do my thing for a minute, and I asked them to let me breathe. And they didn’t.”
His voice trails off for a moment before returning the conversation back to an upbeat tone. So the question is, how do you keep loving boxing when it hasn’t always returned that love?
“It has, then it hasn’t, then it has, then it hasn’t,” he said. “Maybe we haven’t had the most loving relationship, but it’s been a relationship. There has to be something there.”
And when it’s on, what is it like?
“When it’s on for me, I’m focused, dedicated, I work extremely hard, and I know that I’m gonna win,” he said without hesitation. “Nothing compares to that. And that’s why boxers do what they do. We love the roar of the crowd and the adrenalin rush.”
What about when it’s not on, and you’ve got some kid bashing you on a boxing message board?
“That’s a bitch because you can’t fight online.”
There were plenty of virtual obituaries written about Anchondo after the Hernandez fight, which took place with the La Puente resident weighing in at 148.5 pounds, nearly 20 pounds north of where he won his super featherweight title back in 2004. Slower and without the explosive pop he had at 130 pounds, Anchondo became a sitting target, despite winning three in a row in his return to the ring in 2009 after a nearly two year layoff. But after getting halted in the fourth round, there was no talk of packing it in.
“No, absolutely not,” he said. “It woke me up kind of. I was glad that me and Justin are on the same page, and I decided that I’m gonna put everything that I have into this. I’ve grown up now and now it’s time to do it right.”
And this may be his last stand. The Salita fight is the perfect opportunity for him to break back into the public’s consciousness, but it comes with its caveats, including fighting in hostile territory against a fighter who will likely get the hometown nod in any close rounds. But knowing the enemy is half the battle, and Anchondo knows what he’s walking into.
“I’m glad because the element of surprise is the only way that I’d be able to overcome whatever obstacles I’ve run into, and I’ve run into many,” he said, and when asked what it’s been like to basically be running his own show over the last few years, he can only chuckle before responding.
“Me against the world,” he said. “There haven’t been any gimmes, I’ll tell you that, and I look back now and say ‘well, I was asking for it.’”
On the flipside though, Anchondo is not some beat up pug trying to pull things together for one last victory against King Kong. The Salita fight – though still at 147 pounds – is a winnable one for the 28-year old.
“I see a kid who fights like an amateur, at best,” said Anchondo of Salita. “He’s gonna come in and do the old school style and try to pepper me with as many punches as he can, and that’s fine. I’m fast too and we’re working on that. You’ll just see. I’ve talked too much as it is and that’s why people want me to shut up (Laughs), so I’m just gonna fight and put my money where my mouth is.”
“I’m gonna whup him,” he says, then remembers his earlier statement, “but I’m gonna do the best I can.”
Another laugh from Mike Anchondo, and it’s good to know that boxing hasn’t beaten the joy out of him just yet. Sure, he’s had his ups and downs, but he’s still standing, and that counts for something, and that’s a story he wants to pass on.
“I work a lot with the youth, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I just want to be a great example,” he said. “Sometimes I’m not, everybody goes through their changes, but for the most part, I have been. I haven’t been the worst guy in the world; I just want to go on and make a living in what I do well. I’m a fighter, and I’m gonna fight.”