Manuel Avila: Built the old-fashioned way
Given last week’s pay-per-view moneypalooza, it is easy to forget all the work and career-planning that goes into a boxer before he becomes a profit-making venture. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are the lottery jackpots of boxing, while the vast majority (even some highly-hyped prospects) never make it to main event status on HBO or Showtime. Tonight, Manuel Avila, 16-0 (7), headlines “LA Fight Club” on FOX Sports 1 (10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT); the series is a first rung up the television ladder but no less important, given a loss eliminates premium TV options for a considerable time. Golden Boy Promotions has high ambitions for Avila, hoping their investment sees Avila move up the boxing hierarchy to ultimately become the television mainstay his action style seems to demand.
Unlike many prominent Hispanic boxers, “Tino” is a Northern California product; his high-volume style reflective of the working-class rural background he comes from, where people perform backbreaking labor from sunrise to sunset. There is no inner-city Los Angeles machismo or that overall Southern California glitz about Avila but don’t be fooled into thinking he lacks grit since he has shown enough toughness inside a ring to survive any venue. Avila has traveled south before to spar elite boxers like Nonito Donaire and made his pro debut at LA’s Nokia Theater as well. Still, Avila is that rare boxing commodity, an excellent local draw who Golden Boy wants to build into an international presence following the blueprint of current star and WBO junior welterweight titlist Terence Crawford.
Avila also sees Northern California as his home and launching pad to greatness, with a stated ambition to be “the greatest boxer of my generation.” Yes, those words come off egotistical on the printed page for fans used to hearing it from the mouth of someone like Mayweather or a Hector Camacho type. Not so with Avila, who makes the pronouncement in a matter-of-fact way, stressing the hard labor he foresees to become that kind of champion, knowing he is not blessed with sensational speed or paralyzing power. What Avila has are great boxing instincts, undervalued commodities like sense of distance or innate timing that works just as much for his defense as offense. A jab that covers calculated retreats as competently as when Avila steps into a double jab to blind opponents for the inevitable hook. Skills that don’t translate to SportsCenter highlight clips but fostered Hall of Fame greats like Larry Holmes or Miguel Canto.
Since Avila was not an outstanding amateur, never winning a national tourney or even regional trophy (estimates his record at 48-6), he did not register with boxing’s money brokers. It was longtime boxing manager Cameron Dunkin, a name that came up as much as Al Haymon’s five to 10 years ago, who unearthed Avila. It is a testament to Avila’s ring character that Dunkin was motivated to sign him after watching Avila lose to Victor Pasillas in a Golden Gloves competition. Dunkin told prolific boxing writer Anson Wainwright of his discovery, “I saw Manuel fight in the amateur days. I always liked his style and believed he had a pro style. I’ve brought many guys along who were rough diamonds like Danny Romero, Diego Corrales and Freddie Norwood. I’m not saying he’s as good as those guys yet but he’s coming along under the radar and I’m happy with him.”
Avila has been “coming along” steadily as a boxer since age 10; growing up with two older sisters, he gravitated toward soccer and baseball as preferred athletic endeavors. His father encouraged Avila to box with the ulterior motive that boxing had no seasons thus keeping his child away from temptations on the street, year-round. Avila and trainer Al Legardo (best known for his work with former champion Willie Jorrin) found each other the first day in the gym and have been working together ever since. Even in those initial boxing forays, Avila had a pro style, relying on volume and pressure instead of accuracy, which does win style points with amateur judges. It was a key reason Avila turned down an opportunity to compete for a spot on Team USA for the 2012 Olympics in favor of a five-year contract with Dunkin.
After turning pro, Avila’s upward trajectory has only been curtailed by injury (some hand problems and a car accident), the main factor as to why tonight’s appearance marks the first fight in nearly nine months for Avila. He is anxious get back in the trenches and it is undoubtedly frustrating for a boxer who feeds off activity and sparring countless rounds in the gym to be inactive. It reminds Avila of his teens, when his father would punish him by not allowing him to go to the gym and box. Hard work, in or out of the ring, is a key character trait for Avila, who works the graveyard shift at a local fitness center to supplement his income.
Avila has used his downtime wisely, talking about how much he has learned watching film of boxing legends. Perhaps not the ones you are thinking of, saying he and his trainer watch old black-and-white fights of legends like Jack Johnson, Archie Moore and Emile Griffith. Trainer Legardo told respected boxing writer Ryan Maquiñana, “I implemented some old styles in Manuel. We want him fighting like Benny Leonard with the way he used his left hand or like how Archie Moore used his left shoulder. I also like the style of Emile Griffith for his body punching inside and how he smothered fighters and Jack Johnson for how he would just catch fighters’ gloves in the air.”
Returning to the here and now, Avila has to deal with late replacement Erik Ruiz, 13-2 (6), who steps in for Filipino veteran Rolly Lunas, who withdrew after a sustaining an injury in training. While Ruiz lacks the high level experience of Lunas, he took blue-chip prospect Jessie Magdaleno the full eight rounds which represents a quality yardstick since many believe Magdaleno is a surefire future champion. Facing a more durable opponent may favor Avila in the long run since he needs to get some quality rounds and shake off the ring rust that built up in 2014. Ideally, Avila says he would like fight a minimum of six times a year for the next two years.
Ruiz should test Avila’s offensive prowess but he does not represent the biggest test of Avila, who is still figuring out how to maximize his physical assets, standing 5-foot-7 and sporting a 66-inch reach. That distinction goes to two-time world title challenger David De La Mora (then-54-fight former title challenger Jhon Alberto Molina from Colombia was a good win in Avila’s 10th fight), who Avila blew out in two rounds, scoring three knockdowns. Sure, De La Mora may be a spent force but at no point was the stocky power puncher able to use his experience to confuse or frustrate Avila. In what may be Avila’s most complete performance, he showed late power against fellow prospect Ricky Lopez, roaring down the stretch to drop Lopez twice in the final round to earn a stoppage victory.
The Lopez victory showed Avila knows when to turn up the aggression and, despite only stopping seven of 16 foes, Avila’s punches sting, stopping three of his last four opponents. As importantly, Avila has displayed other intangibles such as boxing his way to a decision and protecting his eye after it was cut (bone deep) from a headbutt, circling smartly away from his opponent’s hooks once the blood started to flow. Has ventured the 10-round distance as well, winning all but two against Enrique Quevedo, who defeated the difficult Christopher Martin in his previous bout. There again, Avila showed late power, dropping Quevedo in the 10th to ensure victory and put an exciting exclamation point on the bout for his fans.
Conditioning has been the key for Avila so far but he needs more to progress to the next level. Now his team is concentrating on maximizing Avlia’s speed by shortening up his punches, as well as working on his balance and stance to incorporate more power in key moments. For his part, Avila complies with all that is asked of him, concentrating solely on his improvement and game plan for the next fight. Avila never watches tape of opponents, trusting his team to prepare him and believing in his ability to adapt if or when his trainer asks for an adjustment between rounds. However, everything must be done without impacting the pressure-based strategy he has become known for and makes him so fan-friendly.
That excitement factor is what Dunkin and the promotional team at Golden Boy emphasize as an important component for them to ensure Avila develops into a viable contender. To that end, they have given Avila exposure on big events featuring him on the undercards of Bernard Hopkins, Robert Guerrero and Marcos Maidana bouts. Dunkin summed up his protégé in one sentence, “Avila can really fight; he’s a bad boy!” which fans like to hear and will luckily be able to judge for themselves tonight.