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Photo by Keith MayIt is just the second round of an eight-round bout, and the crowd is already getting restless. "Come on, Reyes," yells one fan at the Arrowhead Pond Saturday night. "Let's get serious!"
If boxer Rolando Reyes hears the guy, he doesn't show it, though he does start beating the hell out of the already reddened face of Orlando Membreno, a Nicaraguan fighter of such repute that even the fight's promotional materials say "very little is known about him."
What we know about Mr. Membreno at the moment is that he is having a very difficult time deterring Mr. Reyes from pummeling him. Reyes chases him around the ring, landing blows to the head and body and then a particularly vicious combination that sends Membreno flying into the ropes.
Watching this, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to be a boxer—especially if your name is Orlando Membreno—in the same way it's hard to imagine a kid dreaming of the day he gets to go down in the mines. But Rolando Reyes says he always wanted to be a fighter, says he'd do it for free and, in fact, he fought 100 bouts as an amateur. This after an extensive career as a bully.
Born in Oxnard, the 24-year-old super lightweight contender, a professional for three and a half years, has buzz-cut hair that always looks wet even when it's dry and says he started pushing people around when he was a young boy.
"I had tough matches and fights when I was 7 years old," he says, describing how he grew up across the street from the La Colonia Boxing Gym in Oxnard. As a small boy he picked fights just for the hell of it.
"I used to go in and cause trouble," he says. "They kept on kicking me out and I kept going back. After a while they started training me and I liked it. I started boxing when I was 10 years old."
You can see his love for battle—"I like to go inside and brawl a little bit"—in the way he dances to and around the ring before a match, his prefight mood ranging somewhere between enraged and giddy. He smirked when he entered the Pond's ring, wearing a garish purple robe boasting his name and his sponsor, Alcaraz Catering. At the prefight weigh-in, his entourage handed out bright blue Rolando Reyes T-shirts.
The Reyes-Membreno bout opened a KCAL Channel 9 broadcast of the Pond's Fight Night. "We always like to open the telecast with a real blistering fight and we're sure Reyes will provide it," boasted Top Rank boxing promoter Lee Samuels a couple of days before the fight. Top Rank, one of the biggest boxing promoters in the nation, has been running Fight Nights at the Pond for the past couple of years. Since just 3,134 paid between $20 and $100 to get seats Saturday night for the nearly all-Latino fight card, the KCAL connection is key.
"The ratings on Channel 9 are incredible for boxing," said Samuels. "It's difficult to get fighting on television these days. And Latinos are fiercely loyal."
Especially when they see a fierce fighter. Latino fight-fans are famous for rejecting champion Oscar de la Hoya as a sell-out and something less than manly, but the mostly Latino crowd embraced Reyes at the Pond—though they waited until he'd dismantled Membreno, battering him on the ropes until the referee stopped the fight in the second, giving Reyes his 12th career knockout.
As Membreno hobbled to his corner and then out of the ring, Reyes—now with a record of 17 wins, two losses and two draws—leaped to one of the ring's corner posts and pounded his chest, repeatedly hitting the boxing gloves tattooed over his heart. Then he kissed his gloves and waved to the cheering crowd. The fans at the Pond cheered Reyes enthusiastically—they'd been for him for the whole fight—though not as loudly as when the ring card girls bent over to get in and out of the ring.