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New Mexico boxing scene starting to shift

There’s no hill they’re over, no prime they’re past. In all likelihood, we will see Austin Trout, Fidel Maldonado Jr. and Josh Torres in a boxing ring in 2018.

Still, as 2017 comes to an end, the focus in New Mexico boxing may be shifting. Four younger New Mexico fighters, with a combined 45 victories against not a single defeat, are knocking on the door.

They are, in alphabetical order:

Super flyweight Matthew Griego (8-0, seven knockouts), 21.

Super bantamweight Angelo Leo (11-0, seven KOs), 23.

Welterweight Brian Mendoza (15-0, 11 KOs), 23.

Featherweight Jason Sanchez (11-0, six KOs), 23.

Mendoza is from Rio Rancho, with Griego, Leo and Sanchez from Albuquerque.

For years, Trout, 32, of Las Cruces, and Maldonado, 26, and Torres, 28, both of Albuquerque, have been the flag bearers for New Mexico boxing. Trout (30-4, 17 KOs) has won and fought for world titles; Maldonado (24-4-1, 19 KOs) has climbed to the brink of world contender status; Torres (16-6-2, eight KOs) has been a popular and successful regional fighter around whom local fight cards have been built.

None of three plans to retire. Torres, in fact, has posted on Facebook that he has a fight scheduled on March 17. Fidel Maldonado Sr., his son’s manager and trainer, has plans for his son that he’s not ready to announce. “Far from finished!” Trout tweeted shortly after his Oct. 14 loss to Jarrett Hurd.

But, for all three, 2017 has put up some roadblocks.

Trout lost in his bid for Hurd’s IBF junior middleweight title when the Las Cruces southpaw didn’t come out for the 11th round. It was the first time Trout had been stopped short of the distance.

At 32, Trout seems to be in a precarious position. He has his lost two fights and four of his last seven. All of Trout’s losses have come to world champions, and his skills have not markedly diminished.

Yet, going forward, that could be part of the problem. Trout would have to wait in line for another title shot, and it’s unlikely any young up-and-comer would want any part of a slick southpaw in trying to burnish his résumé. Currently, Trout is ranked in the top 15 at 154 pounds by only one of the four universally recognized sanctioning bodies: 13th by the WBC.

The Hurd fight was Trout’s first since May 2016, when he lost by unanimous decision to Jermall Charlo in a bid for the same IBF title. Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, which guides Trout’s career, is known to have too many fighters and not enough dates.

On Oct. 13, Maldonado (24-4-1, 19 KOs), lost by sixth-round knockout to Ismael Barroso. It was a classic crossroads fight, reversing the momentum Maldonado had generated with his split-decision victory over Pablo César Cano four months earlier. Fidel Sr. then chose to cut the cord with Golden Boy, the fighter’s promoter since 2011.

After the Barroso fight, Maldonado Sr. said he wanted his son to take six months away from boxing — then decide whether to continue. But on Wednesday, Maldonado Sr. said his son will resume training shortly after New Year’s Day.

The exit from Golden Boy, Maldonado Sr. believes, will help and not harm his son’s career in 2018.

Even so, he said, one more loss could mean retirement.

Torres won his most recent bout but was 1-2 this year and has lost three of his last five. Married with two children, with a steady job, he doesn’t need to keep fighting. But he’s a good defensive fighter, while still aggressive and entertaining, and hasn’t taken a lot of punishment. There’s no reason he shouldn’t continue, but his record argues against the notion that he’ll ever be a player on a national scale.

Then, there are the young guns — none of whom has been truly tested but all of whom have shown potential.

Who among them is most likely to succeed on the level of a Torres, or a Maldonado, or even a Trout?

All of a sudden, it might be Leo who has a leg up on the competition.

Leo was training in Las Vegas, Nev., when he caught the eye of former world champion and fledgling promoter Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather signed him to a contract, and Leo made his Vegas debut on a Mayweather Promotions card on Nov. 18. His victory that night by fourth-round KO over Basilio Nieves (15-5) is arguably the most impressive performance staged thus far by any of the aforementioned four.

If Leo’s victory over Nieves isn’t the most impressive victory among the four, Griego’s win by third-round retirement over Mexican trial horse Alejando Moreno would be a contender. Moreno’s corner men declined to let their fighter come out for the fourth round because of the punishment Griego was doling out.

Griego is the personification of the old boxing adage, “speed is power.” He knocks opponents out with punches they never saw coming.

Mendoza is a power puncher who, like Griego, trains with Maldonado Sr. at Atrisco Boxing. Like Griego, his progress has been slowed by promotional hiccups.

Maldonado Sr. said the plans he has for his son in the new year most definitely include Griego and Mendoza. They both are managed by former Albuquerque resident Cameron Dunkin, an influential figure in the boxing world, who also serves as an adviser to the Maldonados.

Sanchez, like the others, has displayed talent and skill but has yet to face serious competition. His best victory, based on records, is his Sept. 24 victory over Las Cruces’ Juan Carlos Guillen (7-5-1) in September. Leo, Griego, Mendoza and Sanchez are by no means the only promising young New Mexico boxers. So far, though, they appear to have the best chance among their peers to make an impact beyond our state’s borders.

Notable during the past 12 months:

MARCH: Albuquerque hosts the Western Elite Qualifier & Regional Open Championships. Several New Mexico boxers win their divisions during three nights of competition at the Convention Center.

Recently, USA Boxing announced the event will return to Albuquerque next year.

APRIL: Victories by Maldonado and Torres highlight a Legacy Promotions card in the Manuel Lujan Jr. Exhibit Complex at Expo New Mexico. It marks the return of boxing to the Lujan building, site of many a card in the 1980s-1990s.

MAY: The Albuquerque City Council approves a resolution renaming the Wells Park Community Center after the late five-time world champion Johnny Tapia.

JUNE: Tapia is inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He is the second New Mexico fighter to be so honored, preceded by the late Bob Foster. … Maldonado, in arguably the finest performance of his career, defeats Cano by split decision in Frisco, Texas. Most observers felt the decision should have been unanimous. … Legacy Promotions’ Eric Martinez dies at age 38 after staging seven cards in just 23 months at five different venues.

SEPTEMBER: Santa Fe’s Pat Holmes and international promoter Sampson Lewkovicz stage an internationally televised card at Buffalo Thunder Casino in Pojoaque.

OCTOBER: On back-to-back nights, Maldonado loses to Barroso in Indio, Calif., and Trout loses to Hurd in Brooklyn N.Y.

NOVEMBER: New Mexicans Sharahya Moreu (Albuquerque) and Amy Salinas (Las Cruces) represent the United States at the AIBA World Youth Women’s Boxing Championships in Guwahati, India. Both lose their opening bouts but gain valuable boxing and cultural experience. … Sanchez, Mendoza and Griego all win on a Legacy Promotions card at the Lujan building as the Perez brothers, Jordan and Aaron, keep the faith after the death of their friend and partner Martinez.

DECEMBER: Tapia is announced as a 2017 inductee into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame … Las Cruces’ Joscelyn Olayo-Muñoz wins a national title in the female Bantam Division 60-pound weight class at USA Boxing nationals in Salt Lake City.