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Californian packs a punch as boxing returns to Silver Nugget

2 October 2008

Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Silver Nugget Casino's events center is low on the boxing totem pole in a city where world champs are crowned on a regular basis.

Don't look for the MGM Grand Garden Arena to host any upcoming bouts that are broken up by raffles, dueling mariachi singers, and dancing poodles, like the ones in Tuesday night's Richard Steele production.

But not lost among those colorful sideshows was the fact that professional boxing returned to the North Las Vegas casino for the first time in a decade, and a healthy crowd filled the casino's attached auditorium to witness the five-card show.

"People have forgotten that this place used to host great fights. We're trying to bring that back. You saw tonight that we had a packed house and people loved it," said Steele, the legendary boxing referee and former fighter, who estimated more than 700 fans witnessed the first offering of the Nugget's monthly "Fight Club."

"We had people that had never watched a fight before," he said. "We had longtime boxing fans that know the sport. We saw some good, competitive fights and we might just have seen the next guy who becomes champion."

Welterweight Gabe Del Real certainly wouldn't have a problem if he developed into such a prizefighter, but his first goal was gaining a little respect in his pro debut Tuesday.

"I'm so nervous, my stomach is just turning," said Del Real's mother, Patricia, the head cheerleader for Del Real's fan club that included some 50 family members and friends all decked out in black screen-printed T-shirts that read "Fairfield's finest."

The contingent, most of which made the nine-hour trek to Vegas over the weekend or on Monday, didn't have to sit in suspense for long. Del Real caught his opponent — Las Vegas resident Sean Dizay, who was also making his pro debut — with his trademark left hook to score a knockout just 1:10 into the first round.

"If you want to be a movie star, you go to Hollywood. If you want to be a boxer, you go to Las Vegas," said Del Real, who moved into an apartment here and began training with Top Rank boxers six months ago.

"We're here, working hard. This is where all the champions are at, and my dream is to compete some day at that world-class level."

A little less than two and a half year's ago, Del Real had pretty much given up on the sport he had enjoyed so much success in since the age of 9.

Despite a 68-5 mark as an amateur, Del Real had broken his hand in a Golden Gloves tournament in 2005 and the fire that had fueled him all those years began to fizzle.

Then came along Matt Garcia, a longtime friend, who at 22 was the same age as Del Real and one of the youngest elected officials in the state of California, serving as a Fairfield city councilman.

"He used to pick me up at 5 a.m. and we would go running together and he would say, 'I'm not going to let you quit boxing. You're good at this, this is your life,'" Del Real said. "He really believed in me."

And vice versa.

But Garcia didn't get to see his buddy's glorious victory — at least not in person.

"I really hope he was up there watching," said Del Real, who dedicated the fight to Garcia's memory.

Garcia was shot in the back of the head standing outside a friend's house in Fairfield on Sept. 1. Arrests have been made in the case, and Del Real said those involved have called the murder "a mistake."

"This fight was for Matty G. I definitely was thinking a lot about him tonight. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," Del Real said after a long pause.

Terrance Jett addresses the crowd after his third-round knockout Tuesday night at the Silver Nugget. Boxing has played a big role in the lifestyle reversal of another fighter on Tuesday's card.

Terrance Jett, who has lived the past 11 years in Las Vegas, says he's pretty sure that without the discipline he's gained inside the ring, the rough life he was living on the streets in Ohio would have destroyed him.

"I was in trouble. Streets, gangs, drugs, I went to jail. Boxing changed my life," said Jett, who goes by the initials T.J., which were boldly printed on his black trunks.

The 33-year-old had lost his last four fights, but recorded the night's only other knockout when he unleashed a wicked body blow that folded Charles Wade in the third round of the final bout of the night.

"I really wanted to box and it did the job of setting me straight," said a smiling Jett.

While Jett says he sometimes dreams of a Rocky Balboa fairytale ending to his career, he's content with the $1,500 payday and blessing of boxing another day.

If anyone in the crowd Tuesday was capable of evaluating the talent on tap, it was the longtime trainer ducking in the back row.

Floyd Mayweather Sr. has worked with some of the greatest boxers and he didn't hold back in his honest assessment of what he witnessed Tuesday.

"I didn't see anyone tonight that I think has a chance of being a future champ," he said matter-of-factly.

But after a quick pause, the boxing legend backtracked a bit.

"At the same time you just never know," he said with a wry smile. "If these guys keep persevering and one of them gets that lucky break, that's all it takes."

The Silver Nugget may be a far cry from Las Vegas' big-time boxing cathedrals, but it is located on Las Vegas Boulevard — just 8.6 miles north of MGM.

"I can't think of a better place to start," Del Real said.

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