Alonzo makes return to ring on Saturday
By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
SPRING HILL -- Jose Alonzo was out of the game. His life was working in his father-in-law-to-be's Spanish restaurant, coaching his son's youth baseball team, working on his middle-age spread -- at the advanced age of 25.
Then the call came. Tampa boxing trainer Pete Fernandez wanted Alonzo to resume the professional career he had walked away from as a promising, undefeated super middleweight.
It had been a year since his last fight, a first-round knockout of Ronald Surrey that had improved his record to 7-0.
"As soon as I found out I might be boxing again, I spoke to my son, Jose Jr., on the phone," Alonzo said. "I said, "Listen, I've got the chance to box again, but that means I'm not going to make practices and only a few games.' And he just started yelling, "Papa's gonna fight, Papa's gonna fight!'
"He said, "Papa, you're getting old, you need to box. I can play baseball forever.' For my son to be 7 years old and not be selfish and want me to do it ... I knew I had to do it."
Alonzo resumes his career Saturday night against Ruben Ruiz at the West Tampa Convention Center.
"It feels great, to be honest," Alonzo said. "I didn't think I would get back in. I'd gained weight, was up to 198. I was just working in the restaurant, cooking, waiting tables, but now I'm back in great shape."
Alonzo said he was at peace in his year of retirement, one that began when he refused to sign a new contract with trainer Henry Grooms and HCG-Five Star Productions that Alonzo considered "bogus."
Alonzo was not happy with the percentage he would have received or with the diminished role to which his stepfather and assistant trainer, Nelson Saldana, would have been relegated.
"I needed to work," Alonzo said. "I figured I'd rather stay undefeated, retire and say I never lost."
Fernandez had other ideas. He had known of Alonzo since his early pro fights around Florida, most under Don Khan, who trained former champions Alexis Arguello and Wilfredo Benitez.
Fernandez had wanted to add Alonzo to a talented local stable -- including Gene Molen (8-0), Michael "Gold" Rush and Moses Droz (8-1) -- a year ago, but Alonzo elected to go on a fight-by-fight basis with Five Star.
Fernandez tried again in March, when he met Alonzo's mother, Wanda Saldana, by chance and gave her his phone numbers.
"I wanted this kid in February of 2001," Fernandez said. "This kid has all the potential in the world."
Fernandez, co-owner of Tampa-based Starfight Productions, signed Alonzo to a four-year, 24-bout contract. Fernandez trains him in Tampa and at The Ambassador Boxing Club in Spring Hill twice a week with the assistance of Cecil Lalas and Robert Trease.
Starfight co-owner Aaron Jacobs said Alonzo fits perfectly in his group's stable.
"One of our goals was to start working with the better prospects in the area," Jacobs said. "He's a heavy hitter with an undefeated record who fights in a very action style, always coming for you.
"When we look for a fighter, we look for one that A.) takes it seriously and B.) has the potential to implement the hard work, and we think he has that combination," Jacobs said.
It will not come quickly, however.
"Chelo' is in what we call the prospect stage," Jacobs said. "He's still developing and has a lot to do. At 7-0, he's not ready to fight for a world title, so we're going to keep putting him in there against people who will progress him and test him and see where he stands.
"We believe he will continue to win. So in 18 months or two years, maybe if he's 20-0 he may be poised for the bigger picture -- ESPN2, Fox. Then maybe from there, the sky's the limit, HBO or Showtime."
Ruiz embodies the next step up as the most experienced fighter he has faced. The Indianapolis import has 15 wins (8 by knockout), 32 losses and 2 draws.
"I don't feel that there is any such thing as the right opponent at the right time," Fernandez said, "because I feel with Chelo I could put him in the ring with (Olympian and undefeated St. Petersburg-based super middleweight) Jeff Lacy and he could handle himself."
Alonzo considers himself more mature after the year off, and thinks some of the bad habits his hard-punching style hid may have been corrected by inactivity.
"Just watching and getting older," he said. "I think when you get older you sit and relax and can say, "Wow, I did that before.'
"Now when I go in I execute," Alonzo said. "If I don't, they make you pay."
Alonzo has the time if he has the patience and, ultimately, the aptitude. Most of the world's top-ranked super middleweights, with the exception of 23-year-old Dane Mikkel Kessler, are in their mid-20s and older.
Lacy, someone Alonzo ultimately must face if both progress, is 25.
Some more baseball games likely will have to wait, but papa's going to fight again.
WHO: Spring Hill's Jose Alonzo will contest his eighth professional fight.
WHEN: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Alonzo's bout is tentatively scheduled as the third fight of nine.
WHERE: West Tampa Convention Center, 3005 W. Columbus Drive. TICKETS: Call (813) 259-9269.
CLASS: Super middleweight.
OPPONENT: Ruben Ruiz (15-35-2, 8 KOs).
(Date, opp. and current record, result)
APRIL 4, 2001: Ronald Surrey (0-1), W, KO, first round.
FEB. 2, 2001: Kevin Underwood (0-1), W, TKO, first round.
JAN. 23, 2000: Vincent Godbolt (1-8-2), W, decision.
JAN. 9, 2000: Mack Willis (5-26-2), W, decision.
NOV. 20, 1999: Jose Riveron (4-9-0), W, decision.
APRIL 7, 1999: Bertrand Tchandjeu (2-6-0), W, KO, third round.
APRIL 18, 1999: Jorge Amador (0-1-0), W, TKO, first round.
-- SOURCE: boxrec.com
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