Andy Vences: A young fighter with an old soul
Tonight’s ESPN co-feature is a junior lightweight match-up between prospects looking to take the next step up in their careers. Andy “El Tiburon” Vences and Erick De Leon are in each other’s way and if there was any indication of how important this fight is to them, they had to be separated on Friday, after weighing in. At a media workout held at the Wild Card West Gym, in Santa Monica, California, this past Wednesday afternoon, Vences spoke with UCNLive.com before his biggest fight to date.
“So right after that fight, I kind of knew (De Leon) was going to be a candidate (to face),” Vences recalled, when watching his foe’s most recent fight, versus Adones Aguelo, at ringside last August. Vences had already turned in an impressive third round knockout over Eliseo Sesma, on the same night and, coincidentally, watched De Leon’s fight ringside with this writer. “A couple weeks later, I came back to the gym and things were going around. I think, in December, we were already practicing things in the gym for this fight. Once that fight was finalized, we were already golden. We were on program, sparring, everything, so that’s one thing that is making a difference in this fight. We already in sync with who we were going to fight. Before it got announced, we were doing it because, might as well anyways – fighting a southpaw and all those little things that are different. We’re were already on it, so, when the fight got announced, it was perfect. We’re good.”
Vences, 20-0 (12), lives in San Jose but can be found all over Northern California, having to drive around between home, regular job and training. However this his no hindrance to the typical life of a relatively unknon fighter looking for his shot.
“So Monday, Wednesday, Friday, it’s five hours on the road,” Vences explained. “It’s the traffic that makes it that long but, yeah, it’s five hours, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and two hours every other day – except Sundays. From San Jose to Martinez and San Jose to San Carlos, I got used to it. I learned to like it. I use the driving as a way to just kind of run things through my head, think things through. It kind of relieves stress and I’m able to be by myself a little bit.”
Surely Vences has been thinking a lot about the biggest fight of his career tonight, especially since, as he put it, he’s been getting bored of listening to rap on the long drives, as of late. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity for the 26-year-old and, going in-depth on the match-up, he made it clear what’s been on his mind.
“This is a fight where, you look at us in pictures and look at us on paper,” said Vences, “it’s two athletes that are undefeated, two athletes that look in tremendous shape. What’s going to make the difference here is the technical aspect. Who’s doing what and who’s doing what after they punch and who’s initiating, who’s reacting after. This is where the technical side kicks in and this is where I tell people, my technique is going to kick in and they’re gonna realize it’s different. Not that (De Leon’s) not a great fighter – he’s a good fighter – but he’s not an elite fighter. I feel I’m an elite fighter. I’ve got fundamentals to fight from distance, inside, southpaw, orthodox – there’s times I don’t even know when I’m going to turn southpaw. It just happens. I kind of go based on reaction. I trained myself for the 10 rounds; now the knockout is gonna happen based on the reaction. If I land uppercuts and straights and see that he can’t take them, then he’s out. But if he’s taking the rights, the straights, well, then I’m going to be smart and break him down and eventually take him out. If not, then it’s the decision. I feel like, either way, I’m going to win – it’s just a matter of how I’m going to do it and how it’s going to unravel. The game plan is jumping on him from the get-go, first round, going off his reactions and constantly just being there. Whether he breaks after six or before six, that’s on him. We’re trying to manipulate the distance, control him early and do what we want from the get-go.”
De Leon, 17-0 (10), is the second undefeated fighter Vences will face in his career and, in talking about fighting on ESPN for the first time, he revealed he can right a wrong from that last occasion.
“I feel like I always rise to that occasion when I’m put on that spot,” he said. “The fight before I got signed to Top Rank, the fight at the Save Mart Center, where there was 25,000 people roaring and cheering. That fight was over in like three rounds. I just feel those spotlights; those stages where it’s a really important fight, I come through. The only fight where I didn’t do that was the Casey Ramos fight and that was because I had difficulties with the weight. After that fight, I made a big change that changed my whole life. It’s changed my career since.”
On what changed, and asked if that was when he joined Victor Conte’s SNAC family, Vences explained, “I was with SNAC but I finally opened up to them. As far as listening on how to make the weight, listening on how to follow the program, listening and just becoming a student that doesn’t know anything, becoming a pupil and doing whatever they said.”
Vences won’t be quitting his regular job as a security guard, should he win this fight.
“Nah,” he smirked when asked. “I don’t think I’ll be able to quit my job because of insurance. It is a goal but until I’m at a stage where it’s good enough, I have plans in the future. I have a wedding coming up. I have things that I want to do in life, so this victory is going to get me to bigger stages but I need to keep being as hungry and remain the same. So I will go back to work after the fight and keep the same focus. Keep it the same.”
The final question proposed to Vences wasn’t even so much a question, just the name Herb Stone, Andy’s late manager, who passed away nearly a year ago. Stone was given three weeks to live, once finding out cancer had taken over his body and Andy said he was the type of person who didn’t let go until making sure he said goodbye to everyone. As Vences would later put it, Stone hung on for the last two weeks on no water or food, just a phone and a long list of contacts that would all get a call. He’d later admit that it’s still an emotional subject for him but his initial response to that name indicated Stone was the driving force behind all the maturity and confidence heading into tonight’s bout.
“Oh man, Herb Stone is with me,” Vences said. “It’s been very hard since. A lot of the things leading up to this fight, I feel, have prepped me for this fight. I feel I’ve been challenged early in my career for many reasons but it’s all true what he said, that when that big fight comes, everything that I’ve learned, you just gotta put it all together. He was just the greatest manager and the greatest man I could’ve met. I got to Top Rank and I know all these people – Brad Goodman, Lee Samuels, Bruce Trampler – because of Herb. If it wasn’t for Herb…it was like that movie ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ where the boxer ends up dying at the end. I feel it’s the same story. He gave me that shot. I was hungry and I was motivated but he ended up leaving me at the end of my movie. Now it’s up to me to keep going because I know that’s what he really wanted.”