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Martyniouk and Robb come out victorious in Sacramento


I saw my first NABF title fight in Sacramento, CA July 2, 1999 at the Radisson Hotel. Super bantamweight Local favorite Willie Jorrin knocked Aristead Clayton down in the seventh to secure a split decision victory claim his first title belt. The fight was a close affair and I remember sitting in this spacious ballroom, marveling at the silence in the room during the first bout as we entered. It was surreal, two men battling it out with the odd instruction or cheer thrown in for good measure inside a giant hotel ballroom. The property looks like a desert castle of some kind. Rustic orange with a majestic man-made lake and fountain to go with curved hallways that lead into the main body of the hotel. It is pure Sacramento; Middle-aged patrons watching sports in the bar, boxers walking up and down the hallway to and from pre-fight medical exams, ring girls and fans milling about in the ongoing frenzy.


This is the traveling circus known as the boxing world. Be it the MGM Grand or what is now fourteen years later known as the Red Lion Inn, that scene varies in locale but never in vibe and in its cast of character types.


Friday night at the Red Lion Inn may have been July of 1999. For a brief moment as my brother (who had accompanied me to the Jorrin fight in ’99), long-time friend, sports writer Skye Dickenson and I strolled through the early summer warmth and into a luau-themed 40 year high school reunion complete with older folks in Hawaiian shirts and tiki torches, we felt the distinct possibility we’d wandered into another dimension. Once safely inside, with what was clearly a boxing crowd moving this way and that, we knew we were home.

The night, entitled “Rage VI War” was promoted by Nasser Niavaroni’s Uppercut Boxing Promotions and featured in the co-main event local prospects Guy Robb and Stan Martyniouk. The fights were supposed to be each young man’s first eight round bouts. But Robb’s opponent pulled out at the last minute and he was bumped back to six rounds. Also featured on the bill were some entertaining amateur bouts, an MMA bout and a movie shoot featuring former world champ and local product Tony “The Tiger” Lopez. Though the hardcore rap didn’t seem to jibe with the mixed crowd of older folks, kids, couples and a demographic contemporary to the main event fighters, the overall vibe was friendly and fun.


Uppercut Promotions’ Nasser Niavaroni has been doing shows here since the 90’s, developing middleweight Eric Regan and Otis Griffin. Along with veteran matchmaker, Andy Nance, Niavaroni put together a card that moved fast and featured action (if developmental) fights. There’s an electric desperation in the hunger these young fighters displayed honing their crafts the hardest way possible while strangers cheered or booed their fates. This is the sport stripped to its essence.


“I feel like I can go with straight boxing, even top notch fights, but obviously you have to keep your budget somewhat low with the pros. You’re only going to have so many seats available. You only have 1500 seats max. But again, it is one of the biggest ballrooms in Sacramento,” Niavaroni told Monday after the mixed discipline show.


At this stage, with his Niavaroni Kickboxing gym in Roseville where he trains a number of pros, along with the inherent issues that go with developing fighters and paying for promotions, Nasser has gone down to two to three shows a year. But he hopes to do more with another planned for some time in October which may feature up and comers Mario Ayala, Robb and Martyniouk.


“The problem with some of the local talent that I have had over the years, I don’t sign them to promotional contracts. That’s just not been my style. After I get them up to 8, 9-0 they jump ship,” said Niavaroni, telling a familiar tale in boxing. “They jump ship to another promoter, other things happen. So that’s what’s happened. I kind of cut back on my shows recently. I have a gym in Roseville. So I am pretty busy with my gym. I have some pros I train at my gym.”


The crowd of 1300 and change were happy customers if a bit rowdy in cheering for their home gyms which came from nearby Stockton, Vacaville as well as Sacramento. Niavaroni said that he likes to bring in a mix of fighters from different gyms and neighboring towns.


“I am looking to get local talent involved not just guys from out of town,” he said. “When I say local, yeah, Stockton, Northern California guys. Not just Sac. But yes, I definitely look at that. I look at different [angles] and see what sells tickets.”


Niavaroni admits that the Sacramento boxing scene is not what it used to be. Anyone looking to go to the next level is going to Southern California or the Bay Area. But there is still a loyal following in Sactown.  


“It’s very tough to make money. We have a lot of sponsors that support [the shows], that make it happen. It’s not the ticket sales that necessarily makes a show a success. We have a lot of good sponsors that are big boxing fans and have been boxing fans for the past thirty years and are very loyal to us,” explained Niavaroni. “But I think the shows have potential to make money. The problem is we’re not consistent enough in doing shows. Northern California is somewhat quiet compared to Southern California.”


Having spent the last seven years in L.A, there is no question of that. But in boxing, everything is relative and while no fight on this card was “Castillo-Corrales,” in their own way, the bloody opening amateur battle kind of was. Certainly on this night, hard lessons would be learned and show stopping moments would abound.


The night kicked off with a brutal knockout by San Ardo, CA’s Roman Morales, 16-0, (9) off a jab then a right hand to the dome of Lorenzo Trejo, 33-26-1, (20). Trejo hit the deck and that was that. He had the worst look on his face for a long time. Even as they sat him on his stool he had it. Like a bad taste had entered his mouth and wouldn’t leave.


A highlight of the undercard was seeing 1-3 Will Walters, a hardworking super featherweight from Sacramento, get his first win. You take history where you can get it. Seeing the humble Walters greet well-wishers afterward was all the payment I needed for this assignment.


 “This could be the night,” Dickenson said of the 0-3 Walters as he entered the ring with an intense look on his face. It was clear from his excellent physical condition that Walters is a proud professional fighter. The way he went about his work said it, too. Sometimes a guy can overcome his record and improve. On this night, Walters did just that. From the outset, he pressed the action and pressured Kim.


“He wants that win,” said my brother.


His opponent, Andre Kim, was no slouch and he wanted to win, too. It seemed as if he was supposed to win. Despite the 4-4 (1) record, Kim could box and move and was more than willing to trade while Walters was more of a close quarters banger. Walters did just that and crowded Kim, landing hard body shots and uppercuts inside. He was simply too much and down the stretch of the four round bout, took control and won a unanimous decision by scores of 40-36 twice and 39-37.


Local super middleweight Mike Guy took a unanimous decision in a fight that was memorable if only for hearing the phrase “Whoop that trick!” and “That’s my son” yelled by the same person. Guy is a solid boxer but he seemed to fade a bit and it cost him the ability to risk. He doesn’t turn over his punches quite enough despite the 3 knockouts. He won very clearly by boxing and beating on a tough, game but overmatched Jose Alvarez, 3-2.


What can you say about heavyweight Bomani Parker, 14-7-1 (8 KO) getting knocked out by Yohan Banks, 6-8-3 (4)? It was over quick. Parker came out quickly, swung a right hand, missed badly and fell to the canvas. No knockdown. He rose quickly to laughter. At 45 years old and only one fight removed from a sixteen year layoff, Parker seemed to freeze in the moment, his aggression gone. Moments later, with his back to the ropes, Parker would get stopped by a Banks right hand wallop. Afterwards, even as he left the ring, Parker had that same look on his face that Lorenzo Trejo did.


Fights like that, with stoppages like that, are hard to watch. But this is the developmental leagues. A case can be made that with the records being what they were, it was an even fight. This wasn’t televised. This is a local fight card. We’ll move on for now.


The prelims over, it was time for local super bantamweight attraction Guy Robb, 12-1 (5 KOs) to take on late replacement Robert Ventura, 11-8 (11). Ventura had been preparing for another bout and it showed with his excellent condition. Robb had been preparing for an eight round bout and appeared in good condition as well.


Robb’s trainer, Ray Woods, knows his fighter well and warned him to not let the hometown crowd influence his judgement poorly.


“He loves to please the crowd,” Woods told me Monday afternoon. “I [told him before the fight] don’t go in there and get amped up and try to please the crowd and get caught with something because we don’t know anything about this guy. Just stay calm, feel him out and see what he got. We went from there.”


Two goals Woods had for his fighter going in were to listen to advice in the corner and to study the opponent in the early going.


Robb did both. In the first, Ventura was aggressive. Robb was, too, but in spots, feeling his way with the jab and occasionally mixing in right hands.


“I thought he was doing a good job,” said Woods. “So I told him keep doing what you’re doing. Stay relaxed. Use your jab and when you see an opportunity, nail him. I don’t need to tell him a long drawn out story. Just go in there and do what you were doing. You were doing it well.”


After the first, Robb stepped up the aggression. His offense began to open up as he took advantage of every opening he had discovered in the first round. Right hands zoned in perfectly and the left hook began to appear with force.


“He hurt him at the end of the second and went to close the gap but the bell rang,” Woods correctly observed. “When he came back to the corner, I didn’t have to tell him much. ‘Just keep doing what you are doing. No need to get excited.’ The guy seemed like a good fighter. I didn’t want Guy to walk into something.”


Robb walked to Ventura and unloaded on him, cutting off the ring, pursuing wisely and not taking any unnecessary shots in return. 40 seconds into the third, the ref waved it off as Ventura was unable, even on the move, to avoid taking flush punch after flush punch. The performance wowed the crowd and was clearly the most professional beat down of the night.


Beforehand, Woods had told me that I would observe a much improved Guy Robb. What I saw were straight punches in a tighter punching frame, defensive mindfulness, a calm head and a solid finishing instinct. Woods was correct.


In the main event, Stan Martyniouk weighed 137 pounds in his debut at eight rounds and near the lightweight limit against veteran David Rodela of Oxnard, CA. The bout was not going to be an easy one as Martyniouk, 13-1 (2) needed to show that he could handle stepping up his competition. At age 28, it’s now or never to get to the upper echelons of the sport.


“I had a nine round layoff and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to fight. I couldn’t get a fight within those nine months,” Martyniouk told me Monday afternoon. “When I found out I was working with David Rodela, I knew this was going to be a step up and a tough fight. He’s fought a lot of good experienced fighters. I had to win and I had to show my boxing skills to move on to the next level.”


Training under Virgil Hunter in his Hayward, CA stable that includes Andre Ward, Andre Berto, Fernando Guerrero, Amir Khan, Brandon Gonzalez, Mike Dallas and Alfredo Angulo among others, Martyniouk feels he is back at the beginning, learning technique as never before and training harder than ever.


“I am 28 now but I feel better physically and mentally than I was when I was younger,” Martyniouk said. “I feel like I am stronger and wiser. I am learning more from Virgil and I am getting great sparring in the gym, I feel like I am just going to get better and better. I know I am going to get tougher fights but I know I will be able to overcome that because I am in such great training I am doing in the gym. I never trained like this before. Working with Mike Bazzel, Victor Conte and coach Remi on the track . . . they’re all great guys for our training.”


In addition to training with Hunter, Martyniouk is part of a growing number of fighters who have been working with the SNAC boxing team of SNAC supplement company owner (who also owned BALCO and played bass for Tower of Power) and anti-doping advocate Victor Conte, sprint coach Remi Korchemny, and Undisputed Boxing Gym strength coach Mike Bazzel. While the fighters go through sprint drills with Korchemny on the track, they come to Undisputed for hypoxic boxing training. Using a hypoxicator that simulates high elevation, the team put the fighter through various boxing related exercises meant to increase speed, strength and endurance naturally.


“I did all of that for this training camp. And it got me into tremendous shape physically,” said Martyniouk. “I felt very strong. While I was doing it, I put on a little bit of weight, which was muscle. I was walking around at 152 pounds. I was sparring Andre Berto, who was a middleweight, Mike Dallas and Karim Mayfield. That hypoxic training and the sprint training definitely helped me out and made me physically stronger. Going into this fight and even taking shots, Rodela never hit me with a clean hard shot but he did hit me in the body. But none of those shots never caught me or hurt. But I think it was because I was in great physical shape.”


This is a video featuring some of the training:


The fight was a close one. Martyniouk knows he is not a puncher but he came out like one, shooting to the head and body of Rodela who was all good in answering right back. Having spent time in the ring with Manny Pacquiao for many training camps, Rodela needs to be hit pretty hard to give you respect. While Martyniouk is a good boxer, he did not appear to hit Rodela hard enough to back off Rodela permanently. So much the better for the crowd.


“It was tougher than I expected,” said Martyniouk. “He came on strong in the first couple rounds. I tried to load up a little on my shots and load up on my shots and go to the body kind of hard and to the head but he kept walking and walking and walking. So I said, you know what? I am going to be smarter and use my footwork and just out box him.”


The pressure of Rodela forced Martyniouk to adjust in ways he had not before.


“It made me find different variations,” he said. “I worked in the gym . . . I started using my jab to the body. I wanted him to drop his hands and come back upstairs. It was a good experience because it made me open my eyes and made me think more when I was in the ring and see what else I was able to do in there. In the corner, Virgil was pushing me. So it was good. We stuck to the game plan and came out victorious.”

The fight was close. While some will argue that Martyniouk’s ring generalship, jab and flashier combos won the night, Rodela good-naturedly argued after if he had not pressed the fight, there wouldn’t have been one.


“It was like I was the match,” said Rodela of Martyniouk’s tendency to wait for Rodela to attack in order to begin his own. “No match, no fire.”


As the fight progressed, Rodela would not go away. He kept at Martyniouk, ripping to his body, getting him to the ropes and trying to gain control of the bout. From the the corner, Hunter urged his man on.


“Go to the next level,” Hunter implored as Martyniouk fought to take the fight center ring. “Let yourself go to the next level.”


“He was actually saying that to me in the corner as well,” Martyniouk recalled on Monday. “I believe it was after the fifth or sixth, he started telling me ‘Go to the next level.’ I had to step it up and find a way to beat this guy. Look for other ways I could dominate him. So I got my second wind and started using my jab and throwing combinations. It was a good fight.”


With scores of 78-74, a way too wide 80-72, and 77-75, Martyniouk took the decision and earned himself a bit of rest before a fall return.


“Let my body rest,” Martyniouk said of his immediate plans. “I’ve been in two training camps, one for Amir Khan and this one. I’ll let my body rest for two weeks and then go back in the gym. Then hopefully, I’ll get a fight end of August/beginning of September. And then I’ll come back again to Sacramento in October.”


The night was a success. The crowd left happy, no one got in fights in the crowd and there were no tragedies. For this writer, the night was best summed up by the David Rodela, who even in losing a close fight he felt he won, showed the class that is the hallmark of the best parts of this dangerous game.


“I don’t do this for the money,” said Rodela as he left the ballroom. Always smiling, always a joy to encounter, Rodela said he would carry on as long as he could. “I do this because I love boxing.” 


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