Local boxer wins national PAL title

November 26, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

Heading into the Police Activities League's national boxing championship in Kansas City, Mo., last week, four fighters from the Imperial Valley were decisive underdogs.

Beating the odds, no Valley fighter finished lower than fourth place in his division and one came away as national champion.

Thirteen-year-old El Centro resident Juanito Soto won the 75-pound division, earning a spot at the 2004 Olympic boxing tryouts. Soto defeated Puerto Rico's Jose Guzman in a 10-2 decision in the national final.


"I wasn't really nervous about it at all. I knew I had the fight won in the second round," said Soto. "That was a really good experience for me because I had never fought anyone that came after me. And he did."

Soto said Guzman (48-2 overall) did everything he could to get into his head.

"He kept talking a lot before the fight, just telling that I was going down and things like that … just talking really bad about me." said Soto. "I wanted to say something back to him, but my dad told me to not even pay attention to him and to just do my work. So I stayed quiet."

Much like heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis did with Hasim Rahman, Soto let his fists speak for him.

Soto, now 36-3, had his way with Guzman, doubling up with jabs and connecting with his right cross, putting on a boxing lesson in a unanimous decision.

"I've never seen him so relaxed before a fight. I think I even saw him yawning," said Soto's dad and trainer, Manny Talancon. "When that guy was talking, I just told him not to say anything back to him and he didn't. That guy kept talking and when they got in the ring, sure enough Juanito schooled him."

While Soto had the motivation of representing the Imperial Valley and winning a national title, he said his main motivating factors were thoughts of winning for two friends who were like family to him.

"I just dedicated that to my friend Martin Palomino, who died recently. He was a real good friend and was always there for me," said Soto. "And I also dedicated it to my friend Rosalva Lopez, who was like a grandma to me. Everything that I did was dedicated to them."

Soto will use that motivation to drive him toward his next goal, making the U.S. Olympic team.

In his third year of amateur boxing, Soto, a third-generation boxer, said his first goal was to win a state title. He accomplished that in October in his own back yard when the state tournament was staged in El Centro.

His goal after that was to win a national title, which he just accomplished. Now he has his sights set on an even bigger prize.

"I want to go to the Olympic tryouts and win it so I can go to the Olympics," said Soto. "I feel pretty good about myself and if I were to do well in the Olympics and win it, then I'd go pro."

While he's only 13, Talancon said Soto has shown the desire, dedication and discipline to be successful in the ring.

"He's really focused about this whole thing. He likes doing this a lot, I think because it's in his blood," said Talancon. "We have this whole routine where after school he comes home, does his homework, maybe eats something, then from 5 to 8:30 (p.m.) he goes and works out. So there's no problem with him being focused."

"I really think that if he keeps working hard the way he has been over the next years he'll keep winning. And I think that he'll be a good role model for other kids around the Valley."

Also winning medals at the nationals were El Centro's Louie Ruiz, who took the silver in the heavyweight division, and Eddie Garibaldi of Calexico, who took the bronze in the 106-pound division. Omar Arevalos of El Centro took fourth place at 132 pounds.

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