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Boxing: Sanchez looks for a breakthrough

The scenario is as old, almost, as boxing itself.

The promoter is building a young prospect. Said prospect has progressed enough that said promoter is willing to put him in the ring against an opponent with an impressive record, someone who might be able to give the prospect — and the fans — a good fight.

Make no mistake, though. If the promoter thought for a moment that the opponent could beat the prospect, the fight wouldn’t be happening.

Albuquerque featherweight Jason Sanchez, in this particular scenario, is that opponent.

The promoter, he steadfastly believes, has made a mistake this time.

On Wednesday in Panama City, Panama, Sanchez (12-0, six knockouts) will step into the ring at Vasco Nuñez de Balboa Convention Center against Puerto Rican prospect Jean Carlos Rivera (15-0, 10 KOs).

The vacant World Boxing Organization Youth featherweight title will be at stake in the bout, scheduled for eight rounds.

There appears to be no U.S. television.

Sanchez, 23 (as is Rivera), has been a boxer for most of his life — first as an amateur, then as a professional. He knows promoter Top Rank, Inc., isn’t bringing him to Panama in hopes he can beat Rivera, its contract fighter.

Nonetheless, that’s what he intends to do.

“It’s very exciting,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s just something I’ve been waiting for.”

Most mornings, Sanchez gets up with the sun to get to his job as a cashier at Garcia’s Kitchen restaurant on west Central. After work, he runs and trains with his father and coach, Pepe, and older brother José Luís — better known as “Güero” — a 25-year-old welterweight with a 7-1 record.

Another brother, Alan, had a 3-2 pro record when he died in a 2015 car crash at age 25.

Alan Sanchez’s nickname was “El Alacrán” — Spanish for “The Scorpion.”

Jason’s nickname is “El Alacrancito” — “The Little Scorpion.”

“Every fight I go in there, I know (Alan is) right by my side,” Jason said.

For years, the Sanchez gym was in the backyard of the family’s West Side home. Some four months ago, Pepe opened Sanchez Brothers Boxing in a spacious converted warehouse on Old Coors Southwest.

In the evenings, Jason spends time with his girlfriend, Marlina, and their two kids, daughter Zaylyn, 4, and son Jaythen, 2.

It’s a good life. But Sanchez wants more — more money to support his family, greater things for himself as a fighter.

Wednesday’s card is being held in conjunction with the WBO’s annual convention. The card is not a Top Rank promotion, but Top Rank is furnishing the Sanchez-Rivera bout.

A who’s who of boxing will be in Panama City for the convention. If Sanchez can upset Rivera in front of that audience, his life and career could change dramatically for the better.

“Hopefully, just doors opening for me,” he said. “Top Rank, bigger promoters, just more opportunities for my boxing career.”

Wednesday’s opportunity has been years in the making.

Sanchez turned pro in 2012 at age 18, making his debut on a Holly Holm undercard at Route 66 Casino Hotel. But he’d had only three fights in 2½ years before brothers Jordan and Aaron Perez, longtime friends of the Sanchez family from the amateurs, went into pro boxing as Legacy Promotions with northern New Mexico businessman Eric Martinez.

Martinez died unexpectedly in June 2017, but the Perez brothers have continued the enterprise. Sanchez’s last nine fights have been on Legacy cards.

It was Jordan Perez who worked with Top Rank to make Wednesday’s fight a reality.

“We’ve known Jason for, I would say, 13, 14 years,” Perez said in a phone interview. “Since he was a little boy.”

Of Perez, Sanchez said, “He’s helped me so much. Me, my brothers, my dad, all of us.”

Top Rank, Perez said, had been following Sanchez’s progress for a while. His contact has been Mackenzie Cramer, an agent who does not work for Top Rank but has stayed in contact with TR matchmaker Brad Goodman.

First, Cramer said in a phone interview, the discussion involved a possible fight with Shakur Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist. Perez was willing to accept on Sanchez’s behalf, but the fight did not happen.

Rivera’s name first came up this summer, before Sanchez was to have fought Mexico’s Danny Flores on a Legacy Promotions card at Route 66. But it turned out Flores was under suspension for a knockout suffered two weeks before in Florida, and the fight had to be scrapped.

Sanchez thus hasn’t fought since March, when he beat Mexico’s Germán Meraz by unanimous decision. But Sanchez has put the time off to good use — sparring in El Paso with veteran Antonio Escalante (29-9, 20 KOs) and in Las Cruces with José Salinas (10-3-1, five KOs).

Perez said Sanchez also has made changes in his training and conditioning regimen for Wednesday’s fight.

No drastic, last-minute weight cut, Perez said, will be necessary.

“When you try to lose weight by not eating, it’s actually harder to lose weight,” Perez said. “When you’re eating properly and working out, you lose weight.”

Normally, Sanchez said, he doesn’t watch a lot of film on prospective opponents. With so much at stake, he’s made an exception for Rivera.

“He’s a strong fighter,” he said. “He covers up good. But I feel like I know how to get in there and be able to take him.

“I’ve been training different ways, so in case one strategy doesn’t work I’m ready to do another.”

Can the opponent beat the prospect, and become the prospect?

“I’m a little nervous,” Sanchez said. “But I’ve been working hard, training hard. So I know everything should turn out good.”