Suarez an X-factor among welterweights
The only drawback to this Saturday's welterweight matchup between Kermit Cintron and Mark Suarez is that very few people have seen Suarez fight.
This showdown for the vacant IBF title, which will take place at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in Palm Beach, Fla., and will be broadcast exclusively on MaxBoxing.com (7 p.m. ET), pits two of the welterweight division's strongest young contenders against each other in what, on paper at least, looks like a guaranteed knock-down-drag-out affair.
However, the potential of this bout is lost on many potential viewers because one of the combatants is a complete mystery, even to diehard fight fanatics.
While Cintron (26-1, 24 KOs), has been seen on boxing cards televised on Showtime, HBO, and most recently on ESPN where he waged a fight-of-the-year-candidate war with David Estrada in April, Suarez (25-2, 13 KOs), has toiled in anonymity on untelevised undercards for the last three years.
However, while Suarez's anonymity is a problem for the fight promotion and for the Riverside, Calif., native's marketability, it is actually a good thing for his chances against the power-punching Cintron, according to the fighter's new trainer, John David Jackson.
"The beauty of Mark is that he's not only untapped talent, he's unseen talent," said Jackson. "He can fight, but nobody's seen him fight. The general public doesn't know about him and even boxing guys haven't seen much of him. There isn't a whole lot of tape out there on Mark, so it's hard for his opponents to get ready for him. They don't know how he fights, so they really can't prepare for anything specific about him.
"Now on the flip side, there's a lot of tape out there on Kermit Cintron. We've seen a lot of him, we know what to expect and we're going to be ready for him."
According to Suarez, even if there were a lot of tapes of his previous fights available for public consumption, it wouldn't help Cintron's team, which headed up by trainer Emanuel Steward, prepare their fighter for what he plans to bring to the ring this Saturday.
"It doesn't matter what Cintron does in there," Suarez said. "Jackson has watched tape on Cintron, but I haven't. I know it doesn't matter what he does because I know what to do in there. I'm just going to do what I do best and that's knock people out.
"I've read where Cintron is saying he's fought bigger and tougher guys than me. No, he hasn't. He's never fought me. There's no way he can be ready for a guy like me. It's over for him. He's done. He's been done since [welterweight champion Antonio] Margarito beat him, but now I'm going to finish him for good and end his career."
Hard words, but they come from a hard man who has done his share of hard living, from a wayward adolescence that included occasional run-ins with the law to a two-year stint in jail on a weapons possession charge. Suarez has also experienced his share of hard breaks, the hardest of which was the passing of his father, who started him out in boxing, in April.
Of the death of Andy Suarez, who not only trained his son to a national amateur title and two national Golden Gloves championships in the mid-'90s, but coached numerous other talented boxers from the Riverside, Calif., area, Suarez said he is coping and has even found meaning in his father's premature passing.
"It happened for a reason," Suarez said. "What I'm getting ready to do this Saturday was his dream. He always believed in me. He always knew that I could become a champion, but I never really dedicated myself to boxing when he was alive. I pretty much trained myself. I came in [to the gym] when I wanted to, did as much as I wanted to, and then left.
"My father had cancer and he was suffering from a lot of other illnesses, but he was able to make it out for my last fight [a first-round stoppage of James Webb in January of this year]. He made it all the way out from California to Madison Square Garden and he saw me destroy this guy in like 40 seconds. That was the last time he saw me fight, but I think he knew that I was on my way.
"I'm motivated to win like never before. I've never trained like this before. This is the hardest I've ever trained in my life."
Suarez has been in camp for two months, starting out in the high altitude of Southern California's Big Bear Mountain but working the last six weeks at The Contenders gym in the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida under the guidance of Jackson.
"Jackson has shown me a lot of things," said Suarez of his new trainer. "He's polished up a lot of my stuff, added more movement and more technique."
The former 154-pound and middleweight title holder has also brought world-class sparring to Suarez's camp in the form of super middleweight contender Allan Green, whom Jackson also trains.
"Green's been my main guy in sparring," said Suarez. "He was here, getting ready for his last fight, when I got here and he's given me a lot of tough rounds along with Daniel Edouard and some even bigger guys that Jackson has brought in."
Jackson reports that Suarez's sparring sessions, which sometimes extend to 13 and 14 rounds with multiple sparring partners, has been exceptional.
"I'm not a big fan of today's fighters," said Jackson, who fought during the '80s and '90s, "but I had to give Mark and Allan a standing ovation after one of their sparring sessions because those boys went to war.
"At one point, Green hit Mark with a big left hook, the kind of punch that gets most guys out of there, but Mark came back with a four-punch combination to the body that got Allan's respect."
It's not often a welterweight can go toe-to-toe with a world-class 168-pounder, but Suarez is part of a new generation of giant 147-pounders, like Margarito, Paul Williams and his opponent Saturday, who are as tall, rangy and powerful as middleweights.
Suarez and Cintron are closely matched in terms of experience and their physical builds. Both are 27 years old. Both have 27 pro fights.
Boxrec.com lists Cintron at 5-foot-11 with a 72-inch reach; Suarez is listed at 5-foot-10½ with a 74-inch wingspan, however, those who have seen Suarez in person say he's closer to 6 feet tall.
"I was 5-foot-10 when I turned pro at 140 pounds back in '97," said Suarez. "But I kept on growing into my 20s. I don't care what you read on any tale of the tape, I'm 6-foot-1 now, and stronger than ever, believe that."
"Mark's a big guy," he said. "Compared to Mark, Kermit's a kid."
But Jackson adds that his new student is more than just size.
"He's got good power, above-average speed, and a hell of a chin. That alone will give Cintron all kinds of fits," he said.
"I saw Cintron quit against Margarito. I know he came back and looked good against [David] Estrada but if he quit once, that means it's in him to do that again. Once he finds out Mark can take his punch, I think it's only a matter of time before he folds. He'll quit before the 12th round."
Jackson said Suarez has a specialty that will help convince Cintron that Saturday isn't his night: a brutal body attack.
"Mark's a natural body puncher," he said. "I want to get him to attack the body even more. That's basically our plan, kill the body first and then go for the head. I don't think Cintron can take what Mark can deliver downstairs."
James Webb, who was 18-0 with 15 knockouts and coming off an upset KO of California prospect Jose Celaya when he faced Suarez earlier this year, got a taste of the body shot "poison" that gave Suarez his nickname.
"It was a head shot that first hurt him, but yeah, it was a body shot that finished him," Suarez said of his victory over Webb, who was counted out 44 seconds after the opening bell of their IBF title eliminator. "Most of my knockouts are either set up or finished by body shots."
According to Daniel Lynem, a former fighter and longtime friend of Suarez, the most impressive body shot stoppage Suarez has scored so far took place in sparring and it came against none other than the recognized pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Suarez acknowledged the gym tale when asked about it.
"It was way back," he said. "Right before Mayweather fought Chicanito."
Suarez is referring to Genaro Hernandez, the tall and rangy former 130-pound champ Mayweather stopped in eight rounds in October 1998 to win his first world title. Mayweather, a '96 Olympic bronze medalist, was 17-0 at the time. Suarez was naturally bigger, but a lot greener, lacking Mayweather's international amateur experience and only having four pro fights under his belt.
"We sparred a few times in that camp," Suarez said. "His speed was the difference at first, but I began to figure him out and catch him to the body, which he doesn't like. The last time we sparred I went to the body from the opening bell and I landed a right-left combination to the body, which put him down.
"He was hurt. He claimed that I hit him low, but even his dad told him, 'Nah, Floyd, those were legit.' He didn't want to spar with me any more after that and we didn't, but the Mayweathers were cool. They kept me around anyway and paid me for the rest of the camp even though I didn't spar after that.
"Yo, I was just starting out in this game when that sparring session went down. Imagine what I would do to him now.
"I was hoping that I could fight him when I became his mandatory challenger for the IBF title, but dropped it for some reason. I don't understand why he did that. I know he's fighting Baldomir and that guy is seen as the real champion, but why wouldn't he keep the IBF belt and unify the titles? I guess he didn't want to see me again."
The truth is, nobody in the welterweight division wants to see a big, strong and talented fighter like Suarez. Since nobody has seen him fight, nobody knows how good he is, thus even if one of the top 147-pound dogs are able to beat him, they will get absolutely zero credit for doing so.
Suarez is all risk, no reward.
Lynem, a former California state 140-pound champ who retired undefeated (12-0, 10 KOs), blames Suarez's management and promoter for the fighter's predicament.
"Mark's own people have been selling him short," said Lynem, who didn't pull punches as a fighter and doesn't do so in interviews, either. "His manager, Cameron Dunkin, and his promoter, Don King, have put their other fighters before Mark. There's no reason he should be as unknown as he is.
"This fight with Cintron should have been on Don's Showtime card [the Nov. 4 show headlined by Liakhovich-Briggs]. Don didn't want to spend the money. Mark should have been in camp with the best sparring partners getting ready for this fight. He was, but it's not because of Dunkin. It's because of Mark's friends like me. We pooled our money together and got him up to Big Bear.
"We got him motivated. We got him running miles in the mountains. We contacted John David Jackson. We flew him to Florida to train with John. John paid for Mark's sparring partners. We are the ones who are looking after Mark, not his manager, not his promoter."
Lynem was trained by Suarez's father early in his career, but he left Andy Suarez to be trained and managed by Jack and Shane Mosley in the mid-to-late '90s. Lynem, who served as Mosley's chief sparring partner for major bouts like the first fight with Oscar De La Hoya, never received the personal attention from Jack that Shane received, and the Mosleys were never able to deliver major televised bouts. Lynem instead toiled away on Mosley's untelevised undercards in much the same way Suarez has on Don King undercards recently.
"I've known Mark since he was 6 years old. I trained with him as he grew up and I felt bad for leaving his father to go with the Mosleys. Taking an interest in his career and looking out for him before the biggest fight of his career is my way of making things right with him, his father and with myself."
When asked about his managerial and promotional situation, Suarez is surprisingly cool-headed.
"I don't worry about all that," he said, "because after Saturday, I'm calling the shots. I'm going to win this fight and things will change. I know it's going to happen.
"Once I win, all the doors that were closed to me will be opened."
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