By Michael J. Campbell

Top Rank promotions and Lester Bedford brought their concept of ballpark boxing to Whataburger Field bayside in Corpus Christi, Texas. Fight fans were afforded free admission to the venue, then were able to upgrade to a reserved seat for just $5 or $10. The formula proved a great success in August at Quick Trip Ballpark outside of Dallas and the results were similar with a large crowd of 5000 plus in the new first class facility normally dedicated to the Corpus Christi Hooks who are the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros and operated by legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan.

TV Azteca handled the televised duties with Raul Marquez on hand doing color commentary. Brandon Rios came in from Oxnard, California to rematch his lone non-victory, a draw last year to Manuel Perez of Colorado. Led by trainers Eduardo and Roberto Garcia, Rios exacted his revenge by making a bloody mess of Perez’s face before an eventual mercy stoppage by referee Rafael Ramos in the 7th round. With blood pouring from both nostrils, Perez was unable to focus on and elude the attack from Rios who improves to 22-0-1 with 16 knockouts.

In the co-main event was Texas standout Raul Martinez, who returned to the ring for the first time since a fourth round loss to Nonito Donaire in a fight for the IBF Flyweight Title in April earlier this year. Colombian Jonathan Perez was set up before him and “El Cobrita” took out his frustrations from his first career loss on Perez’s head and body scoring multiple knockdowns until his foe couldn’t leave his corner to begin the fifth. Martinez improves to 25-1 with 15 knockouts. The fans on a packed concourse were thrilled by the display which got them warmed up for their local favorite son, “The Corpus Christi Kid” Jerry Belmontes.

Belmontes took the ring before a raucous crowd who has followed him since his exemplary amateur career including a deep run at the 2007 USA Olympic Trials. He didn’t disappoint the masses who’d assembled to witness his progression in only his second pro contest in this Texas coastal city. The bout was electric from start to finish with Belmontes throwing everything in his arsenal at his stout Mexican challenger, Adauto Gonzalez. Cornering his foe, Belmontes unloaded combinations and punches upstairs and downstairs to the crowd’s delight. Gonzalez hung on until the end though, and Belmontes adds a shutout victory to his record moving to 10-0. He is under the lead of South Texas stalwart manager Lou Mesorana.

Puerto Rican southpaw Mario Santiago was on the card facing a difficult African fighter Morris “Virus” Chule. Backed by trainer Evangelista Cotto, Santiago looked bored and flat versus the very busy Chule who took many of the early and middle rounds. Santiago methodically worked his way back into the fight finishing strong and earning a Split Decision nod to the voiced displeasure of the fight fans in attendance. The road warrior Chule took the decision in stride, continuing to dance and entertain even after the unpopular decision was announced.

Another fighter from the Mesorana stable and Top Rank standout prospect from the 2007 USA Olympic Trials, Dallas southpaw Super Bantamweight Roberto Marroquin showed off in dominant fashion toying with aging gatekeeper Jose Bernal. Unloading powerful combinations, Marroquin dropped his foe in the second round on his way to a clean shutout victory on all scorecards and also improves to 10-0.

Houston red hot prospect, Omar Henry continued his progression with his first victory to go beyond the first round. Awkward and rugged veteran Carlos Aballe tried every dirty trick he could get away with attempting to rattle the youngster. Charging out at the opening bell, Henry scoffed at Aballe’s offer to touch gloves to open the bout and landed a powerful left hook which he followed up a few seconds later with a body shot which backed up the older fighter. Unable to land traditional punches, Aballe swung his head back and forth, catching Henry with multiple headbutts, one of which wobbled Henry, probably the most significant shot landed by Aballe the whole fight. Touching the corner stool for the first time of his career, Henry realized another quick stoppage wouldn’t be in order tonight and used the opportunity to work his entire punch arsenal and keep developing a powerful jab. Aballe knew how to survive exemplified by his spitting out his mouthpiece after the bout’s only scored knockdown. The delay garnered significant rest resulting in a wide shutout decision for Henry who improves his ledger to 6-0 and should soon be moving on to six round contests.

The show was closed by Corpus Christi native Alfonso “El Tigre” Lopez who rematched Shreveport’s James Johnson and improved upon his previous fifth round TKO victory with a fourth round stoppage this time out. Lopez was born and raised in Corpus graduating from Moody High School before relocating to Huntsville, Texas to attend Sam Houston State University and taking up boxing under the tutelage of Henry Harris and Felix Ramirez at Cut N’ Shoot gym. Lopez had his way with Johnson who resorted to rabbit punches to land his most significant blows. Moving easily in and out of his punch zone, Lopez landed at will frustrating his opponent who was deducted points by referee Humberto Barrera for two separate infractions during the third stanza. After landing significant blows in the corner during the fourth round, Lopez stepped back with Johnson in tow clutching him low around the waist, and the referee stepped in to halt the contest. Lopez improves to 17-0 on his way to bigger challenges and imminent regional title fights.

The card was planned with a celebration of Corpus Christi boxing figures including the induction of Harold Ray Warren (43-15, 21 KOs) along with area trainers Bobby Garza and Emilio Sanchez into the local Boxing Hall of Fame.  Warren’s career included World Title fights versus Genaro Hernandez and Robert Garcia. He won NABF, USBA, & NABO title belts and faced off with Derrick Gainer, Tracy Harris Patterson and Hector Camacho, Jr.

Welcoming him into the Hall were fellow members and local boxing legends such as Warren’s brother Frankie “Panchito” Warren (30-2, 20 KOs) who claimed victories over future top trainers Ronnie Shields and Buddy McGirt, lost a world title fight in rematch with McGirt, and captured the USBA title by defeating Mickey Ward. Also on hand and pulling double duty as a referee was Humberto “Lefty” Barrera (18-3, 9 KOs) who was Team Captain of the 1960 USA Olympic squad competing at Flyweight. World title challengers Guadalupe Suarez (29-5-1, 23 KOs), Roberto Elizondo (32-6, 23 KOs), and Jesse Benavides (40-5-1, 25 KOs) also came out to welcome Harold Ray to their accomplished group.