It was a wonderful night for boxing at the Chumash Casino, host of the World Fighting Championships 114, but, surprisingly, it was also a perfect Friday night for an announcement.
As expected, Santa Maria native John Leo Dato drew a lot of support as the headliner for the main event, but the biggest roar from the crowd was for Manuel Romero.
Romero, a Santa Maria native, had a bout against Donald Gonzalez. With punishing body blows in the first and second rounds, Romero dealt a lot of damage to Gonzalez, so much so, that the local boxer had three knockdowns in the first two rounds.
Gonzalez fought back strong in the third round with huge head blows, but in the fourth round, Romero’s body blows proved to be too much, earning him a knockout as the fight was called at the 2:03 mark.
Following the knockout, Romero had a special announcement.
Speaking directly to the crowd, Romero said, “Tonight was my last bout.”
The crowd then roared in applause, giving the 34-year-old a standing ovation as he finishes his career with a record of 5-5-3.
“The moment I made my announcement I was a little nervous, but the thing is, this is about my family, my kid. I have to spend more time (with them). I go to school, I go to work, I train every day so it’s hard. I had to give up something, and I am not giving up my kid or school,” Romero said.
“I love the sport, but my family is everything in my life. I love them. As a competitor, I have to stop, but teaching the kids, I can always help.”
For Romero, working the body during his fight was his exact gameplan. In fact, Friday night turned out to be his own storybook ending.
“I wanted to win by knocking him out by the body. Forget the head, you kill the body, the head will fall,” Romero said.
“A knockout to the body. I will always remember that.”
Romero was not the only local Santa Maria native to win on Friday. Dato’s match against German Meraz went the full six rounds, but it was the 26-year-old Dato who dominated the veteran.
Led by a slew of big shots to the head, Dato won the bout by unanimous decision with all three judges scoring the match 60-53.
Dato now remains unbeaten, improving to 13-0-1 and 2-0 in front of his home crowd.
“This is like a dream come true. Being a winner after working hard every day. I love what I did today and in front of this crowd, in front of Santa Maria, the central coast, the 805, hearing them cheer my name, its a win-win for me,” Dato said.
Much of the fight was spent with Dato being tied up by Meraz after landing a big blow to the head.
There were a lot of boos from the crowd aimed at Meraz for running away from Dato at times.
In the fourth round, a slew of headshots by Dato cut and hurt Meraz, but the saavy veteran stayed alive.
In the final round, Meraz came out more aggressive knowing he would need a knockout to win, but it got the best of him as he earned a minus one deduction after hitting Dato in the back of the head.
After that, Dato dominated the rest of the fight and made it an easy decision for the judges.
“He’s a survivor. He has fought over 100 professional fights, but one more round, I would have finished him off. He was tired, I was hitting him a lot in the head, he had a cut on his nose but next time, boom-boom,” Dato said.
Rufino Serrano, another Santa Maria native, won his bout by a first-round knockout against Aaron Hollis to improve to 16-7 with five knockouts while Santa Ynez native Angel Flores won his fight by TKO after a headshot wobbled his opponent, Braulio Avila. Flores remains undefeated, improving to 8-0.
In the amateur division, the fight of the night went to the WFC title fight between Eddie Perez Jr. and Tyron Salmo.
Salmo was the more aggressive fighter in the first round, landing some nice combinations to the head and the body, but Perez Jr. stepped it up in the final two rounds.
In the third round, especially, Perez Jr., a Santa Maria native, took advantage of a tired Salmo and made his presence felt with a pair of strong head blows hurting Salmo and then a combination of jabs inside the body. Before the final bell, Perez Jr. connected on a fantastic body-head combination.
When all was said and done, Perez Jr. was the winner by split decision with each judge scoring the match 29-28.
“The first round he took over and the second was close, but in that final round, my coaches told me if I want that belt I have to take it. I knew he was tired by the way he was going to his corner, he was huffing and puffing and I knew I could take advantage,” Perez Jr. said.
This was Perez Jr.’s first WFC title, adding to his collection as he has another belt from Central Coast Boxing after winning that event in June.
Even more special for Perez Jr., a 19-year-old, was the fact that he won the belt wearing shorts that had an orange ribbon which signified a dedication to his father who passed away from Leukemia when he was 11.
“This night was for him. He is what I do it for. Every fight before, I go see him and I talk to him. I am a Jr. so this is what I do it for. I have to protect the name. I know he was in there with me, especially in that third round,” Perez Jr. said.
Other winners on the night include Miguel Aguilar who won by unanimous decision, Isaiah Magana who won by split decision, Daniel Flores who won by referee stoppage, Ab Sosa who won by referee stoppage, Chris Graham who won by referee stoppage and Valentino Ruiz who won by unanimous decision.