In his third fight, Diego Elizondo learned some painful lessons about professional boxing.
The 19-year-old lightweight from Carson City fought a more experienced opponent, Canton Miller, to a four-round draw on Friday at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
“This guy was rugged,” Elizondo said. “He used his elbows, he used his head and he threw low blows. He used everything he could. It helped me learn that I can’t just focus on defending from punches. When guys want to be rugged, I’ve got to learn how to do it back. But I respect the guy. It was a tough fight and I look forward to a rematch one day.”
Fighters get away with more in the pros, as was proved by Miller, who is coached by four-time United States Olympic coach Basheer Abdullah. Elizondo’s record is now 2-0-1. Miller, a native of St. Louis, is 3-1-1. Each fighter said he’d won but admitted the contest was very close. Two of the judges had it a draw. A third judge had Miller winning each round.
“I knew I was coming in as the challenger and I had to do more than enough to get a decision,” Miller said. “I am a better fighter than what I showed. He fought a lot better than I thought he would. He’s a real good fighter. I give him credit.”
Elizondo entered the ring to a huge roar from the hometown crowd. Miller, who has never fought in his hometown, grinned and smiled through the first round.[pullquote]Elizondo is a promising young fighter who showed potential. He’s a tough kid. There is no doubt about that.” [/pullquote]
Elizondo launched the first four jabs of the fight before Miller threw one of his own. None landed. Elizondo connected a one-two combination, but took a right cross. Elizondo followed with a big right hand into Miller’s smiling face. Miller bulled forward and clinched. The busier Elizondo appeared to win the first round.
The fight became rougher as it moved along. In the second round, Miller’s expression had changed.
“The smile came off of my face because it became war time,” he said. “It was the heart of the battle.”
Miller landed some powerful body shots and connected with an obvious low blow at the bell. Elizondo stood incredulous before heading toward his corner.
“(Miller) lost the first round, but I thought the second round was crucial. It was the deciding round,” said Abdullah, who coached Andre Ward and Clarissa Shields to Olympic Gold Medals. Abdullah runs the Arena Gym in San Diego, where Miller now lives full time. This was their second fight together.
The fight became a brawl in the third round. The referee called time out to admonish both boxers for trash talking. Elizondo scored a big overhand right, but took a head butt that opened a gash on his right cheek. He lost his composure and fought with anger the rest of the way.
“I don’t lose my temper a lot, but when I lose it, I’m gonna throw,” Elizondo said. “I do have a temper. I can’t lie. I was getting frustrated with his little dirty tactics.
“In the third round, I felt he wasn’t hurting me at all and I said, ‘It’s time to come forward and maybe knock this guy out.’ I started punching and I saw his legs buckle a couple of times.”
But Miller said he was never hurt.
“He clipped me with some clean shots, but there was not enough (power) on them,” Miller said.
Miller charged Elizondo and slipped to the canvas to open the fourth round. Then he landed a low blow, one many he delivered during the bout. The referee called time out to let Elizondo recover. If he had deducted a point for the low blow, Elizondo would have won a decision. But Miller simply received a warning. After a short delay, the brawl resumed.
“I landed good body shots and he was trying to get some time to recover by clinching,” Miller said. “He was pulling me back. That’s why my shots were low. He roughed me up and was trying to get some rest.”
“That’s funny,” Elizondo replied. “I’ve been in the amateurs for so long and that doesn’t happen because I was roughing him up. He did that on purpose. You know where the belt line is. And it wasn’t on the belt line. It was far below the belt line both times. And it wasn’t like I was holding his head down for him to give me a low blow. We were in the clinch and he would just go, boom.”
The fighters walked into each other during the last half of the fourth round. Elizondo sustained a bloody nose and barely ducked under two haymaker punches. Miller tackled him as the final bell sounded.
“I believe I won but it could have gone either way on the judges’ cards, but I believe I was at least slightly ahead,” Elizondo said. “I believe I won the first three rounds. In the fourth, it got a little dirty and I didn’t know how to react. I could have reacted a lot better. It was a learning experience for me. I am going to come back stronger.”
As brutal as the fight was, each side praised the other afterward.
“This was a step up for me,” Elizondo said. “He’s a tough, durable fighter and I respect him.”
Miller countered: “He has respect from me. He demonstrated that he has got heart. I got hit with some good body shots.”
Abudullah, Miller’s coach, noted: “Elizondo is a promising young fighter who showed potential. Actually, he was far better than I expected. He’s a tough kid. There is no doubt about that.”
Simon Ruvalcaba, a former amateur and pro fighter and now a ringside writer based in Reno, offered words of encouragement for Elizondo via Facebook: “It’s the biggest adjustment to make from amateurs to the pros. The amateur (officials) warn and penalize every infraction. You learn quick in the pros that a fighter can get away with a lot.
“But stay focused on your game plan and let the officials do their jobs. Live and learn. You did great and nothing happened in your performance that hurt your stock! Keep working hard, God Bless!”
– Tim Parsons