It will go down as the Fiasco in Peasco.
For the record, it was billed as the Arizona Vs. Sonora Professional Boxing Shootout; aptly enough, when the dust cleared at Puerto Peasco Stadium on October 3, people were in a shooting mood.
It was an awesome lineup for any card, but especially for a small town in a boxing-crazy nation.
Michael Carbajal, Louis Espinosa and Jorge Paez--all current or former world champs--displayed their prodigious talents to an adoring but disappointingly sparse crowd. The exhibitions were for charity, a fund raiser for the Red Cross in the Sonoran resort community known to Arizonans as Rocky Point.
But weeks after the event, the boxers were still waiting for all their promised appearance fees and organizers were sparring across the border, accusing each other of absconding with more than their share of the proceeds.
Some observers want to blame the Shootout's backfiring on international tensions or some kind of culture clash. But the view from the neutral corner makes it all look like a typical boxing snafu. (Such debacles inspired the late New York sportswriter Dick Young to remark that he loved boxing "because everyone tries to beat everyone, in and out of the ring.")
Conrado Valez, the director of Sonora's state office in Arizona, attended the benefit. "They lost money. They needed more organization," he contends, adding that he believes Phoenix resident Jimmy Young, who hatched the idea, deserves most of the criticism. "Jimmy made a lot of mistakes," Valez says. "How can he do business if he doesn't know the people?"
This Jimmy Young should not be confused with the former heavyweight fighter of the same name (although this Jimmy Young would be in that weight class). Young--a security guard cum border tourism dabbler turned neophyte charity boxing promoter--is married to a native of Puerto Peasco, where he has tried to launch YoungStar Tours. He decided that by employing his tourism contacts in Sonora and his boxing contacts in Phoenix, he could make new friends--and maybe a little money--with a boxing card. To wit: YoungStar Productions.
Young's first move was to call an unsuspecting Al Rodriguez, who runs Rodriguez Boxing Club out of an old storefront at 15th Avenue and Roosevelt. The Valley boxing stalwart was enlisted to lure the big names, and Rodriguez succeeded beyond his own expectations. He even transported the ring from his gym to Puerto Peasco for the big event. He had high hopes--and high expenses.
"It was a hell of a show, all the way to the end, when I got hit with the funding," says Rodriguez, who, weeks after the Shootout, was still trying to get payments for his fighters. "I was supposed to get a percentage for setting up the whole show.
"Everyone cooperated so pretty. Then, in the end, the people I was doing it for kicked me in the ass."
About the only thing everyone agrees on is that the fights were entertaining. There were several undercard bouts, including two women kickboxers. Espinosa dispatched Geraldo Sanchez in the second round before Carbajal and Paez took to the ring.
A videotape obtained from KTVW Channel 33--a Phoenix Spanish-language station that sent a crew--shows Carbajal getting a spirited four-round workout courtesy of Puerto Peasco's Absulon "Negro" Briceno, who is heavier. It was an exhibition; both fighters wore headgear.
But why would Carbajal, a junior-flyweight titleholder on the verge of a million-dollar payday, get involved with such rookies? For charity, and because Rodriguez asked, according to Danny Carbajal, Michael's brother and manager. "Those are the reasons we went over there," he says.
Paez, a flamboyant creature who once shaved the Bat Signal into his hair before a title fight, proved his mettle by sparring with two opponents for two rounds each--this despite scrapes and soreness because of a fall from an all-terrain cycle the day before.
Estimates of attendance range from a low of 800 to a high of 3,500. Judging from the videotape, 1,000 to 1,500 spectators seems like a reasonable estimate. No matter how many people watched the fights, one thing is clear: Too few of them paid to get in.
That's why Young had to hightail it out of Puerto Peasco on October 4. That's why the Puerto Peasco police would still like to talk to Young. And it's why he claims he is now $30,000 in the red.
The convolution began in May when, after pledging a percentage of the proceeds from the Shootout to Cruz Roja, Young says he got the blessing of Puerto Peasco Mayor Fernando Martinez. He then hired a Mexican front man known as "Juan." Every boxing debacle requires someone like Juan, who emerges as a convenient scapegoat for myriad misdeeds. Juan, of course, could not be reached for comment. Everybody knows everything about him, except where he is.
Young says he paid Juan $1,000 to make local arrangements--advance ticket sales, trade-outs (for sponsorships) with hotels to house fighters and their entourages, advertising, security and volunteers from the Red Cross to help stage the event. Young returned to Phoenix to begin promotion and advance ticket sales on this side of the border.
When he arrived in Puerto Peasco on October 2 to complete final preparations, Young says he discovered that Juan had failed miserably. Juan had given away many tickets, and with ringside seats going for $35, many freebie recipients apparently turned around and sold them for much less. "I was taken advantage of, but mostly by my own guy," Young laments.
To make matters worse, Young claims he had given away nearly 300 ringside tickets to media and supporters in the U.S.
Only one hotel followed through with a trade-out. Once the matches began, the skeletal support staff and security began to vanish, and with them Young's last long shot at breaking even. The stadium's entrances took on all the security of the nearby international border.
When the matches ended, Young says he never got a chance to account for gate receipts. It was a feeding frenzy. A radio station grabbed $500 to pay for ads nobody heard. With Mayor Martinez looking on, Young says, the Red Cross appropriated $1,600, not the agreed-to 15 percent. He claimed the mayor threatened to levy a 10 million peso charge (nearly $5,000) for the use of the stadium unless the gate was thusly divided. Martinez and the president of the Red Cross, Dr. Miguel Angel Padilla, deny this, noting that Young failed to account for advance ticket sales in the United States satisfactorily.
Young claims he never saw a peso of the cut he expected from brisk beer and soda pop sales during the matches. Padilla says the Red Cross and Young split $650.
Young produces ledger sheets showing more than $40,000 in expenses and only $11,000 in income. However, listed among expenses due are $4,000 for his own services and personal expenses and $14,000 to repay a loan he says he obtained to set up the event. Young steadfastly refused to identify the financier.
The morning after the bouts, Young should have been basking in the afterglow of his promotional coup. Instead, he was dodging the police. Alerted by hoteliers awaiting room payments for the large U.S. contingent, Puerto Peasco's finest were circling Young's rental car in the parking lot. Young says he became concerned about the welfare of his family, and agreed to allow the hotel to keep the car as security.
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"They held the car for ransom," Young says.
The car, a 1992 Taurus, is owned by Pioneer Ford of Phoenix, which wound up paying $1,590 in hotel bills to retrieve it. It was rented in Young's name and wasn't supposed to leave the United States. Terry Walker of the dealership said when the vehicle was finally returned, it had been damaged to the tune of $4,200. "Juan wrecked the car," Young says.
It was Rodriguez, an old friend of Walker's, who drove to the border to make the payoff and get the damaged car. "I felt partly responsible because they wouldn't have met Jimmy if it weren't for me," he says.
Asked what the Puerto Peascans think of him now, Young says, "They think we sold a lot of tickets in the U.S., then went over there and pillaged the town and took off."
He got that right.
"The police want to talk to him. I want to talk to him," Mayor Martinez says. "He didn't pay a lot of people."
Young says, "It didn't work out, and I'm going to be paying for it for a long time.