By Michele Chong
The 5th Annual Green Belt Challenge was hosted by the World Boxing Council, United Peace Officers Against Crime (UPAC) and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.
This prestigious event was held over three days (June 13-15) and featured thousands of young amateurs, boxing fans, celebrity guests and more. Honoring Don Jose Sulaiman, “The Dream Continues” the med-show was sanctioned by USA Boxing and sponsored by the famed WBC. President Mauricio Sulaiman welcomed the crowd and greeted the audience saying thank you for supporting these amateur athletes.
I had a chance to check out the action on Day 3, the final leg of the fiesta which drew large crowds at South El Monte High School (Eagle Pride). This Southern California boxing bash was not not an advancing tournament. Each day was a separate entity with the athletes gathering at the morning weigh-ins to try and secure a match. As word spread, the bout list continued to swell and on Saturday, there were over 80 match ups scheduled on just one day alone to try and accommodate the demand! This year there were two rings ready for action in the gym. The bleachers and floor were packed, as the competitions took place throughout the day.
There were several elite bouts, some fiery female battles and a bunch of very close fights among the amateur sluggers. For this year’s fifth anniversary show, special commemorative medals were awarded along with the legendary championship belts and mini WBC belts for the champs. The bouts were live streamed and showcased some of the best talent from all over the world.
While this yearly show takes place in SoCal, pugilists from all over the globe showed up to lace up at this exciting live boxing event. I ran into many local faces as well as boxers and trainers from Hawaii, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, England, Argentina, Mexico and more. This is the fifth straight year that the organizers have put on a KO show. Mauricio Sulaiman, Pepe and Cecy Sulaiman, Nancy Rodriguez, Albert and Lina Baker, Willie and Laura Romero, Anthony and Cynthia Saldaña, USA Boxing’s Dick Jones and Delilah Rico all put in endless hours to ensure this year’s great gathering for the community. And thanks to the sponsors, as the show was completely free to attend!
Many of the fighters, coaches, VIP guests and pro champs reconnected with those from their past. Each day there was a knockout lineup with tons of familiar faces spotted in the crowd including Shane Mosley, Mikey Garcia, JoJo Diaz, Danny Roman, Victor Ortiz, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Brandon Rios, Regis Prograis, Seniesa Estrada, Mercito Gesta, Sulem Urbina, Vergil Ortiz, Brian Viloria, Carlos Morales, Joseph Landeros, Michael Dutchover, Paul Banke, Virgil Hill, Chris Zavala, Timothy Ortiz, Richard Brewart Jr., Ricky Hesia, Jonathan Esquivel, and many more. Boxing’s Joe Estrada, Sam Contreras, Mike Rodriguez, Ben Lira, Steve Harpst, Eddie Hernandez, Steve Rodarte, Dean Lohuis, Robert Ortiz Sr., Rodrigo Mosquera, James Wimberly (Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame) and JR Zinzun (IGMOB) author/historian Gene Aguilera, also lent support.
Some of the fighters continued their boxing legacy with second-generation and third-generation kids putting on the gloves. Former champions Carlos Morales and Daniel Ponce de Leon sons` fought at the event and Victor Ortiz was also mentoring some young charges at the fights.
It was fun catching up with everyone and seeing the boys and girls growth through the years. Many of the kids I met a few years ago are now national champions holding multiple titles and some of the youngsters are new pro fighters entering the scene.
I also had a chance to say hello to amateur stars Meryland Gonzalez and Perla Bazaldua (both making a splash in the female amateur ranks), British boxer Damon O’Neill, a three-time ABA National Alliance Senior Champion who fought in two bouts (winning both), and one of the 2019 WBC belt winners, Ivan Del Carmen.
WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman held a moving tribute honoring the family of the late Jose Andres Huerta, a beloved Victorville boxer who had fought in last year’s Green Belt Challenge. A new “Jose Huerta Courage Belt” was also revealed inside the ropes with 16-year-old Ivan Del Carmen winning the gold and green belt.
As we all know, boxing is a tough sport. Fighting with two fists is hard enough, but for Ivan it’s an extra challenge as he punches with just one arm. I spoke to the lanky teen and his trainer after he was awarded the prized WBC strap. His Moreno Valley trainer Karl Glover was overjoyed with the honor and also wanted to make one thing clear.
“Ivan won but NOT just because he only has one arm. He works hard and won his fight,” Glover told me. “We don’t consider it a handicap; he puts in the work!”
The amiable boxing coach knows a thing about hard work and dedication–and going the extra mile with any physical impairments. “Look,” he added with a smile, pointing to his ears, fitted with a device. “I’m deaf…I have this hearing aid that helps a little.” Yes, this boxing duo have both battled stigmas and stereotypes while winning in the ring.
They, among with so many of these talented amateurs, are very inspirational in keeping the dream alive.
On the flip side, I saw many disappointed kids and teens who gave it their all but did not walk away with the victory. I witnessed devastated fighters fight back tears and you can’t help but feel bad for them. In this sport, nothing is ever easy. But many vowed to come back stronger next year and they live to fight another day.
And here in the Southland, boxing is thriving as evidenced by the massive turnout at the 2019 WBC Green Belt Challenge.
THREE DAYS, TWO RINGS. ONE EPIC EVENT.
Congrats to each and every participant at this historic contest!