Boxing has a storied history of exhibition matches.
Jack Dempsey and George Foreman fighting five men in one night, in fact Dempsey did it twice in less than three weeks.
Ali fighting Inoki, Chuck Wepner facing Andre The Giant, Mayweather vs. Tenshin.
On Saturday, July 18, 2020 yet another chapter was written. Former two-time world title holder Michael Nunn faced MMA pioneer Pat Miletich in a main event of a kickboxing match.
Brutally hot, with the ring set up in a concrete parking lot, the event took place on the fair grounds of Nunn’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa. Titled the “Clash of Legends” the card was a mishmash of boxing and kickboxing, but on this night, it was the very first bout that was the class of the field.
The opening bout had young Roberto Negrete Jr. (above, showing what could be a million dollar smile, if his progress as a pro continues) of West Liberty, Iowa fighting Daniel Buenaventura of Chicago, Illinois, in a junior lightweight battle.
It was Buenaventura who first caught my eye, as he evidently had a thorough amateur career and was a well-trained fighter. Yet things didn’t seem to be going Buenaventura’s way, and it was Negrete who continuously dictated the terms. Whatever Buenaventura had planned on doing wasn’t working. Possessing an eye-catching style, Negrete’s pressure was relentless. Even at times when it would have been prudent for Negrete to retreat, he continued to exchange, staying in the pocket, throwing tight hooks, Negrete was at home. It was one of those fights with close rounds, yet a close fight that was never really in doubt. Negrete always got the better of the exchanges and came away with the unanimous decision.
Negrete Jr is one of the timeless dichotomies in boxing. Humble, polite, almost deferential, he speaks in a way one might speak to an elderly uncle. Pressed for his roadmap in boxing, though, Roberto’s demeanor changed in a flash. “I’m hungry, I want as many fights as I can get,” he said. With a convincing tone, Roberto continued to lay out his desired path forward.“Improving my skills, gaining experience, that is my focus.”
If we are made from who and where we come from, Roberto’s pursuit of the fight dream seems pre-written. His father, trainer, and namesake, Roberto Negrete, had a brief career as an amateur until marriage and family commitments persuaded him to take a different path. Negrete Jr also has two uncles who were professional boxers. One faced Marco Antonio Barrera, the other the late, great Diego Corrales.
Nunn, Corrales, Barrera.. it is like boxing fame and royalty have always been tantalizingly close for the young Roberto and extended family.
Negrete Jr. started boxing in 2011, around the age of eleven. With a respectable and solid amateur career of 80 fights, Negrete was back to back champion at the prestigious Ringside World Championships in Independence, Missouri in 2014 and 2015. In 2018, Negrete entered the professional fight game. With a record of 3-0 (1 KO), Roberto is yet to fight outside of Iowa, but he is ready and willing to expand.
Unaffiliated with any gym, Roberto trains with his father in the basement of the family home. For sparring, they hit the road. “We go to local gyms to spar, we’ve been to Terence Crawford’s gym in Omaha, Sam Colanna’s in Chicago..before COVID-19 hit, we were set up to do some sparring in California.”
Speaking with Roberto’s promoter Jesse Gomez of Alienboi Boxing, Negrete’s drive was again brought to light. “He believes in himself, as all fighters do,” Gomez said. “He wants to improve each fight and focus on becoming a complete fighter.”
When pressed about his commitment, Gomez added this. “He is hungry, to the point he’s willing to take a loss if it means adding experience.” Not a common characteristic in the current fight game. When asked about his immediate goals, Negrete ended with this: “I want to fight more out of my area, East Coast, West Coast, Texas, I’ll fight anywhere. My hope is to get a record built up and get noticed. Top Rank, Golden Boy, Eddie Hearn, it doesn’t matter. I want my name to get out there.”