Diego Elizondo gets his ‘Rocky’ opportunity in main event

Aaron “Angel Baby” Perez faces Diego Elizondo in a 10-round lightweight bout Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Carson City boxer Diego Elizondo has a new look and a familiar story line.

Elizondo no longer wears glasses outside of the ring, but once again he has taken on a fight on Saturday in which he is the underdog when faces Aaron “Angel Baby” Perez.

A short and stocky slugger with a powerful left hook and aggressive style, Perez, has a 10-0-1 record with six knockouts. He will have the advantage of fighting in his hometown Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a 10-round main event promoted by his uncle, matchmaker Jordan Perez.

All but one of Elizondo’s fights have been four-rounders, the other being a six-rounder. So, Saturday’s fight will be a major step up in duration as well as competition.

Elizondo, 22, confided that peers and family members have questioned him taking on such a challenge. His response is clear-eyed: “It’s my ‘Rocky’ moment,” he said. “Everything’s stacked against me but the glory when I win is going to be really big. It is definitely a big risk. We were presented the opportunity and me and my father (Jose), we talked about it.”

Boxing is a sport as well as a spectacle and it’s often unfair. Some fighters, usually backed by a well-heeled promoter, move up the ranks, winning fights they are supposed to win against so-called “B-side” opponents, guys who are supposed to lose. And when a bout is close, the ringside judges usually give the benefit of a doubt to the favorite.

Elizondo is working his way up from the B side. Including Saturday’s bout, the opponents he’s faced entered the ring with a combined record of 29-3-1. Since his pro debut in 2017, Elizondo has managed a winning record of 3-2 with three draws.

“He’s definitely better than what his record shows — those three draws could have been wins,” said Aaron Perez Sr., the father and trainer of Elizondo’s next opponent. “I definitely look past what the record looks like now because I know he’s … a threat. I’ve seen Elizondo and he knows his way in the ring. He knows what to do. He knows how to adjust. So, I do see it being a competitive fight.”

Father and son, Diego and Jose Elizondo.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

To distinguish the father and son with the same name, the son goes by Aaron Angel Perez. The nickname “Angel Baby” came before he started boxing.

Perez had 130-20 record in an amateur career that began when he was just 7 years old. He’s been on the A side for most of his fights. Elizondo will be just the third boxer he’s faced with a winning record.

“He’s got a lot of tools in his toolbox that people have yet to see,” Perez said about his eldest son. “He sparred with Jamel Herring (the WBO junior lightweight champion) and Jackson Marinez and they really like his abilities. They definitely liked his style. He’s a thinking fighter.”

Elizondo and Perez are similar in that they are trained by their fathers in their own gyms, and both are coming off sketchy decisions, officially ruled draws.

Elizondo and Anthony Cuba, who was the No. 1-ranked amateur when he turned professional, fought to a four-round draw on Feb. 27 in a nationally televised bout in Cuba’s hometown Los Angeles. Commentator and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis remarked Elizondo did not seem like a B-side opponent: “Elizondo came to win.” Marcos Villeges, the unofficial ringside scorekeeper for the television network FS1, said Elizondo won every round. Play-by-play announcer Brian Kenny inferred the same thing, saying, “The judges gave Cuba every benefit of the doubt.”

Perez was a heavy underdog when he faced undefeated Raymond Ford on March 13 in Dallas, Texas. The eight-round bout was promoted by Matchroom.com, which includes Ford in its stable of fighters that has six current world champions. Ford (9-0-1, 5 KOs) has since won the WBA Continental Featherweight title. He had a reach advantage and possesses faster hands than Perez, who nevertheless was able to box on the inside and back up Ford. Perez Sr. scored it 6 rounds to 2 in favor of “Angel Baby.”

“Raymond Ford was an awkward fighter in that you had to push him in order to have any success,” Perez Sr. said. “If you were going to wait around and try to counter him, we’re not going to get a decision. I did think there was a lot of bias, but I did give Raymond the seventh round and the fourth.”

Aaron Angel Perez agrees: “I think I should have gotten the win,” he said. “The same thing with Diego. He’s coming off one of those same situations.”

Saturday’s bout at the 2,000 seat Kiva Auditorium is already close to being sold out, Perez Sr. said. It is Albuquerque’s first fight card since the pandemic-forced lockdown.

The city has a rich boxing tradition and has produced champions Bob Foster, Johnny Tapia, Danny “Kid Dynamite” Romero, Austin Trout and Angelo Leo, and a tough fighter well known to Reno boxing fans, featherweight Jason Sanchez.

“It’s a fighting town, for sure,” Perez Sr. said. “It’s just a fight growing up here and it’s rough, man. There’s a lot of heart and passion. The machismo part of it too. It’s culture, I would say.”

Albuquerque’s Legacy Promotions, headed by Jordan Perez, has put on nine of Aaron Angel Perez’s bouts.

Elizondo is undaunted: “He sees my record and says, ‘Aah, time to hit a lick.’ He’s got another thing coming because I’m ready. I can’t wait to go out there and probably get booed and everything else. But I’m going to go out there and prove ‘em wrong. I’m going to smile in your face.”

Brave outside the ring as well, Elizondo had his eyes wired open for the June eye surgery at LASIK of Nevada in Reno.

“I could smell the burning in my eyes,” Elizondo said. “It was pretty intense.”

Elizondo had worn glasses since he was 8 years old. The recovery time was thought to be six months but he was cleared to fight after four.

Elizondo vs. Perez features the classic boxer vs. puncher contrast of styles. At 5-foot-10, Elizondo will have a 7-inch reach advantage. A poster advertising the bout shows Elizondo and Perez glaring at each other, eye-to-eye. However, Perez is 5-foot-5 and appears even shorter in the ring because he has an unusually wide stance.

Against the 5-foot-7 Ford, Perez moved forward and backed his foe straight into the ropes.

“(Aaron) can fight on his back foot as well,” Perez Sr. said. “He’s an excellent counterpuncher. When we fought Raymond Ford, there was no time for that. We just had to go in there and make it dirty on Raymond. … If you’re going to play chess with him when he’s the promoter’s fighter they are definitely not going to give him the fight, so you have to do what you have to do to try and even get a draw.”

In a postfight interview with Fino Boxing’s Adriana Jimenez, Ford said, “There was a lot throwing me off. (Perez) was rushing in with his head, hit me with his elbow, cut my eye.”

Elizondo goes toe to toe with Canton Miller in May 2018.
Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

In his third fight on May 4, 2018, Elizondo experienced the so-called dirty tactics against Canton Miller, things fighters can get away with in the professional ranks. It marked the only time as a pro Elizondo lost his temper. Although he led the fight early, after he took a low blow at the close of the second round Elizondo abandoned his boxing strategy and he and Miller slugged it out the rest of the way. The fight at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center was ruled a draw.

Elizondo could be tested in a similar manner on Saturday.

“Basically, getting into the head of my opponent is a thing,” Perez said.

The 23-year-old Perez is moving up divisions from super featherweight to lightweight.

“He had a hard time making 126,” Perez Sr. said. “His body is growing. He’s not taller but his body’s just bulky; 130 is good but we want to start at 135 (lightweight) and work our way down.”

Perez weighed 127 for Ford and being so light might have affected his performance. “If it’s going to take from your skill set it’s not even worth fighting that low,” he said. “At 135, I am holding my power my speed and my timing is even a little better.”

Perez said he does not study video of his opponents’ fights, but Elizondo does.

“Perez’s rhythm was too much for (Ford),” Elizondo said. “Perez did really good but I saw him get tired in the late rounds.”

“He’s definitely a brawler. He comes forward. That’s his style. I’m sure the way he fights, he’s gonna come in he’s going to rough me up but I’m gonna be a dog. If he wants to be a bruiser, I’m not going to run from him. I guess we’re going to go at it.”

Elizondo, like Perez’s last opponent, Ford, is a left-handed boxer.

“A lot of prospects out there are southpaws so it doesn’t hurt us to fight someone as relentless as Elizondo,” Perez Sr. said. “I know he’s going to put in some rounds and give us problems, but it will benefit us from fighting someone like that to face these prospects that are out there.”

Such talk doubtless will further motivate Elizondo, the perennial underdog.

“They keep underestimating me and I know that’s why I’m here,” he said. “I was put in this position for a reason. If I win this fight, they’re going to throw me in with the lions and that’s what I want.”

-Tim Parsons

Tahoe Onstage
Diego Elizondo, far right, wore glasses for this photo with JJ Mariano, left, Gabriel Flores, Oscar Valdez, before Valdez’s 2019 main event fight with Jason Sanchez in Reno.
Isaiah Burrows / Tahoe Onstage
Diego Elizondo connects in his October 2019 bout with Mike Sanchez.
Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage
Tahoe Onstage
Carson City’s Diego Elizondo has a penchant for surprising his doubters.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage photo

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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