“South Central Los Angeles, in the midst of all that stuff,” the 26-year-old Pendarvis answered when I asked where he grew up. “Everything goes down there, all the drugs, shootings, gangs and everything, right in the middle of it. Growing up in that environment, it’s rough. As a little kid, you have to fight a lot, prove yourself and try and stay away from trouble, which is very hard. It’s not that you’re a follower or things of that nature. It’s just what is around you. If you show any kind of weakness, then you become prey. Growing up, I always had to fight a lot.”
Like most boxers, “Mookie” has three careers in boxing: street, amateur and pro. His street career just came with the environment. His amateur career came the day he stepped into a Washington Park boxing gym.
“I knew one of the coaches at the gym in Washington Park, which was sponsored by the Sheriff’s department. One day I just walked in and I just was messing with the coaches. One was like, ‘Get up on out of here.’ I said, ‘The only way I leave is if I spar [your best boxer]. So I did and I did pretty good. They said, ‘Man, you ever box before?’ and I said, ‘No. I know you all seen me fight out here before,’” Pendarvis explained. “It definitely felt right. I had two uncles that fought. It’s kind of in my blood. They didn’t pursue it all the way because of the gangs and things of Los Angeles. I was able to get away using boxing.”
Pendarvis boxed his way to an eventual 67-6 amateur record, going all the way to the Western Olympic Trials. Pendarvis explained that “being in foster care and things of that nature” made it difficult to impossible for him travel to national tournaments across the country, much less overseas. What little he did get to see changed Pendarvis’ world perspective.
Growing up in a harsh environment such as U.S. drug war-torn South Central Los Angeles, a child starts out at a deficit in terms of opportunity. But to Pendarvis, success in adversity comes down to individual force of will.
“It’s all mental. It depends on the person,” he surmised. “Mostly kids grow up without their mother or their father. Your grandmother’s raising us, things of that nature. You have to be strong. Once you know that and understand it, you understand there is a world and that is what happened with me. I understood that there is a world outside of Los Angeles and places outside of Los Angeles and people outside of Los Angeles that I need to see and I wanted to be around. Los Angeles didn’t make me. It made me a stronger person but it didn’t make me as a whole. I wanted to become somebody better. I did everything from the entertainment business to sports to school. But at the same time, it was hard to hold up. But I put my all into boxing and now I am getting ready to fight for [one of] the number one positions in the world. And that was a journey.”
Pendarvis turned pro at the age of 19 in November of 2004 with no promoter of note, no manager connected at the highest levels. He essentially left the amateurs to enter the wilds of pro boxing.
“I ran into some guys. It didn’t work out,” Pendarvis described his early pro days in discreet fashion.
Pendarvis’ early career doesn’t resemble the careful building of a talented amateur into a seasoned pro. It’s a bit of hodgepodge act. He won his first five fights, all in Southern California. Then in his sixth fight, he traveled to Charro, Texas and but got caught by a left at 36 seconds of the first round against Noel Rodriguez. The fight was immediately called off and Pendarvis had his first loss. In his very next fight, Pendarvis’ professional boxing trial-by-fire continued as his team put him in with David Rodela, who he fought to a draw against.
By 2009, Pendarvis was 10-1-2 when he faced off with then 12-0 Mauricio Herrera, dropping a majority decision. Two fights later, Pendarvis lost a split decision to 34-6 Terrence Cauthen. He hasn’t lost since, going 6-0 against increasingly experienced opponents. Two fights ago, Pendarvis won the vacant USBA light welterweight title and the WBC United States (USNBC) light welterweight title against Robert Frankel. He defended the USBA belt in December by stopping Michael Clark after five rounds of body work, feints, quick southpaw one-two’s and excellent footwork.
“I wouldn’t change nothing that I went through or any decisions I made yesterday because it made me who I am today,” Pendarvis says of his time in the sport.
I asked him what had changed the most for him through it all.
“Discipline and knowledge, knowledge of the game. Understanding how things go and training like a champion. You have to stay in the gym and stay ready,” said Pendarvis, who used to train at the Wild Card, where I first saw him. “You never know what will happen in boxing. Like the other night, when [Guillermo] Rigondeaux beat [Nonito] Donaire.”
When asked what his losses taught him he said, “I consider them learning experiences. They consider them losses. Their promoters consider them losses. That’s what they pay the referee and the judges for.”
In terms of styles, this fight could be a chess match. Jean and Pendarvis are more like chess players in there. Both men stand 5’7” but Jean is 31 to Pendarvis’ 26 years of age. Both love to use foot movement to set up their power shots. They both use low lead hands and a shoulder roll at times. They are about equal in terms of speed though Jean appears to have explosive power in his fists. However, they differ in one key area according to Pendarvis.
“The best attribute he has, he has real good conditioning,” he assessed. “As far as skill, he says he feels like he is going to stop me and this and that. That’s a good thing. I take my hat off to him but this is a chess game. He doesn’t know what is going to happen come fight night. For damn sure, he is not better than me. He’s not faster than me. He is not slicker. You can watch old film [of me] and see that I am better than Dierry Jean. When I come at him on May 10, I don’t think he will be able to take what I have. All of his fights have been against tomato cans. They built this guy.”
A right-handed fighter born in Haiti but fighting out of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Jean has been carefully built against lower-tier fighters designed to create a fighter who will also draw. This will be his second fight outside of Canada. On paper, while he has dropped close decisions, Pendarvis has lost to better opponents than Jean perhaps has beaten. That experience might be the difference here.
“Like you said, I’ve been in some tough fights already, with some dogs already,” said Pendarvis. “Not just in actual fights. I’ve been in [the gym in sparring] with Hall-of-Famers. The only [fighters] I haven’t been in with are Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather and [Juan Manuel] Marquez. And that goes back to Ricky Hatton. I’ve sparred with [Oscar] De la Hoya. I’m sparring with Shane [Mosley] right now getting ready for this fight. So I am not really worried about Dierry Jean. I am not really worried about him. I am just going to go in there and represent and introduce myself to the world. The world is going to see why they’ve been trying to keep me as a secret and not let me have a breakthrough fight.”
True to “ShoBox’s” mission, Friday night’s bout pits a carefully developed blue-chip prospect in Jean against a self-made man in Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis. There is no one true path to the top but winning is certainly the only way to stay there. Pendarvis has learned from his losses but has he learned how to win when it matters most? But coming from where he has to, Pendarvis will answer that question in the affirmative just by walking down that aisle and up those steps into the biggest fight of his professional boxing life.
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