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Boxing: Mendoza’s career back in high gear

Cleveland High graduate Brian Mendoza exults after his first-round knockout of Rosemberg Gomez on Aug. 17. He’s 18-0 with 13 KOs.

The talent was there. His record was spotless. Yet, Brian Mendoza’s boxing career was stuck in neutral.

So, some 13 months ago, the Cleveland High School graduate made a life-changing decision. He moved to Las Vegas, Nev., the combat-sports capital of the United States.

It was a bet that paid off.

Mendoza is 2-0 with two quick stoppages in his first two bouts as a contract fighter with Las Vegas-based Top Rank, Inc., one of the world’s most powerful boxing promotional firms. He’s trained by Cuban expatriate Ismael Salas, who trained many of that island nation’s finest amateur boxers in the 1980s.

The move was born of frustration.

After 16 fights, all victories, in his first 3½ years as a professional, promotional entanglements had stalled Mendoza’s career.

“I was kind of ready to make some changes in my career because I was on the shelf,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It ended up being almost two years (actually 16 months), no fights and people saying this and that, but things weren’t happening.”

Mendoza had seen another New Mexico fighter, Albuquerque native Angelo Leo, move to Vegas after his career stalled. He’d seen Leo make dramatic progress.

Even so, Mendoza (18-0 overall with 13 knockouts) first went to Vegas without concrete plans to relocate.

“I originally came out because I wanted to spar with (Cuban welterweight) Yordenis Ugas,” he said. “He was training with a trainer (Salas) that I’d always studied a lot. I heard they were out here in Vegas … so I wanted to come out here and get the sparring and meet the trainer and kind of see where things went from there.”

Mendoza is of Cuban heritage, and it turned out Salas and Mendoza’s father were from the same Cuban neighborhood.

“We clicked right away,” Mendoza said.

The Top Rank connection was Frank Stea, who works for the organization as a talent scout.

Mendoza’s second pro fight was on a card co-promoted by Top Rank in Phoenix in July 2014. He caught Stea’s eye that night with a victory by first-round TKO.

After the move to Las Vegas, Mendoza went to work out at the Top Rank gym and renewed his acquaintance with Stea.

“Word got around, and (Top Rank) started to hear about me and my record and what I was doing,” he said. “That piqued their interest, and it kind of built from there.”

Mendoza signed in February and made his Top Rank debut in May with a second-round knockout of Carlos Mohamed Rodriguez (12-7-1 at the time) in Stockton, Calif. He followed suit with a first-round KO of Rosemberg Gomez (20-7-1) on Aug. 17 in Los Angeles.

Top Rank Vice President Bruce Trampler likes what he’s seen but needs to see more.

“(It) takes time and a few fights to evaluate a kid and where he might be going,” Trampler told the Journal via social media. “(Mendoza) looks like a fair puncher, some boxing skills.

“Fought limited guys on the way up, mainly because of budgets for opponents, so he’s really just now turning pro in our world. We shall see.”

Meanwhile, Mendoza said, life is good. His entire immediate family, his father, mother and brother, has moved to Vegas. He has a friend in Leo, has made more friends in the past year, and is comfortable there.

He does, though, miss New Mexico — in particular, the food.

“Las Vegas is such a melting pot that there’s no standout culture,” he said. “New Mexico is heavy on the cultures that are there.

“… If you want amazing, authentic homemade food, then you have to go to New Mexico restaurants.”

Nor has he, or will he, forget where he came from.

“I always give a shout out to New Mexico,” he said. “I know I left, I moved out. But it’s always gonna be close to my heart.”