Tijuana has a new world champion. Nothing new for the city since over the years it has had dozens. In Tijuana you can throw a penny out the window as you drive on her now more mellow streets and probably hit a former champion. “Dinamita” Estrada, Raul “Jibaro” Perez, Manuel “Mantecas” Medina, Antonio Margarito, Alejandro “Terra” Garcia, Victor Burgos and the Morales brothers are just a few that make the border town their home.
Many will lace up the gloves, have enough heart to go in a ring and try to win a fight but not all of them have what it takes to be a world champion. It is just a fact of life.
Originally from Los Mochis, Antonio DeMarco found himself in Tijuana after a stint at a soccer school in Mexico City didn’t bear any fruit. Wanting to do something to better his life and of his family, DeMarco found his way to the CREA Gym and the open arms of Romulo Quirarte, his trainer and father figure. Quirarte soon began chipping away and eventually molded the tall lanky lightweight into a world title contender.
After winning title eliminators and capturing the silver version of the WBC title, DeMarco first challenged for the world title in February of 2010 when he traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, to face the late Edwin Valero. I was able to take part of the trip as a feature writer for Fightnews.com.
In anticipation to the fight, I spent some time with DeMarco and the rest of his team at the Sports World Gym in Tijuana since his usual headquarters of the CREA was being remodeled at the time. In my eyes, DeMarco seemed ready to take on the tough Valero and quite possibly out box him. We soon found out that although physically he was ready, mentally he was not and Valero stopped him in nine rounds.
After the bout, as about twenty of us gathered in his dressing room waiting for DeMarco to finish off his duties with different television, radio and print interviews, the atmosphere was solemn. Once DeMarco crossed the threshold of his dressing room, he immediately sought solace in the arms of his trainer Romulo Quirarte. There must have been something in the air because all of us in that room suddenly got teary eyed.
Losing a world title fight is not something that many of us know the feeling of. It is not like losing your weekly poker game, your weekend warrior soccer game or your twice a week bowling tournament. It is something that in DeMarco’s case had worked for ten years, training, fighting, running, dieting. To have it so close and for it to be ripped from your grasps must be an empty feeling that not much could fill except a green and gold belt.
Like any true warrior, DeMarco went back to the drawing board, knowing that he didn’t have enough that night to pull off the win, many might make excuses but once the dust settled, DeMarco and team admitted that Valero was the better fighter that night. No excuses. Honesty with himself is one trait that DeMarco possesses. Just as you can admit that you didn’t have enough one night, you can very well completely believe in yourself that you have what it takes to be a world champion.
After a great showing versus Daniel Attah and one not as great versus Reyes Sanchez, DeMarco was once again on top of the WBC heap and ready for a second chance, a fact that he felt blessed for. With Humberto “Zorrita” Soto vacating the title earlier this year, DeMarco was ready.
The question was, against whom?
The answer came quickly enough in another Venezuelan, Jorge Linares. A two-divisional world champion who already is a star in Japan and his native country, Linares is held in high regard by Golden Boy Promotions. With his world level boxing skill, good looks and star corner of Freddie Roach and Alex Ariza, Oscar De La Hoya was confident that winning the 135 lbs. world title would put Linares on the road to stardom.
That was until he met a Tijuana roadblock by the name of Antonio DeMarco.
Unlike Monterrey, this time, I was going to the DeMarco-Linares as part of the media but as a fan. I wanted to experience a fight with a beer in my hand and to be able to cheer on my friend. I drove up to downtown Los Angeles from Tijuana the morning of. When I reached one of the fight hotels around 2:30pm, I quickly united with Team DeMarco, Roberto Quirarte, Jorge Marron and Adrian Garcia. DeMarco, I was told was resting after a light lunch.
Soon we were in one of the rooms of the Marriott waiting for the time to go to the venue. I traveled with the Orlando Lora group who faced Paul Malignaggi in the opening bout of the Pay Per View while DeMarco would go the six or so blocks down Figueroa street an hour later. As we walked out of the room, we bumped into DeMarco, his wife and his young daughter as he made his way back to his room. He looked calm as I wished him luck.
Once at the venue, I took my seat which was right adjacent to the walk way the fighters would take to the ring. Seated in my row was Mrs. Quirarte, wife of Romulo Quirarte and DeMarco’s wife and daughter among other friends who made the trek up from Tijuana.
As expected, the DeMarco-Linares stole the show. Linares was exactly what DeMarco expected, an extraordinary quick, technically sound boxer who was well prepared to win the title. After ten rounds and despite two cuts that gushed like a sun cracked garden hose was well on his way to hearing that sought after phrase from Michael Buffer attached to his name, “And the new…”
What came next was the most spectacular finish in a fight so far in 2011. With the official scores of 99-91 and 98-92 after the tenth round, Romulo Quirarte was very blunt with DeMarco in between rounds and informed him that if he didn’t knock him out in the next round, he could kiss the fight good bye since it would be expected for Linares to run in the twelfth and last round. Roberto Quirarte, Romulo’s son and one of the corner’s second took it a step further with the motivational speech, “Antonio, there is a little girl in the stands who is waiting for that belt so go out and get it.”
With that DeMarco winked at Roberto and went out and completely destroyed Linares. DeMarco welcomed Linares to the round with hard straight punches that would make Linares’ head snap back. After two minutes of DeMarco scoring almost at will, he scored with another jab followed with a hard right hand flush to the nose of Linares that made the Venezuelan take several steps back towards the ropes. DeMarco saw his opening and went after him scoring with an all out assault of punches that forced the referee Raul Caiz to stop the bout.
As soon as Caiz jumped in, DeMarco realized he was the new world champion and that he had achieved the goal he had first dreamed off since he laced up gloves for the first time.
As Michael Bluffer announced him as the new WBC lightweight champion, DeMarco had more important business to attend to. DeMarco made his way to the blue corner where Linares sat on his stool, dripping blood from three cuts on his face and completely dejected after what had just happened, and tried to give words of encouragement to the former two-time world champ.
“You are a great fighter, this was my night, tomorrow could be yours,” DeMarco told me he told Linares. “You can still be a world champion with two losses on your record, I have two losses on my record and I did it. Thank you for the opportunity.”
Linares had nothing else much to say but that DeMarco was an excellent human being.
That was the most lasting impression for me of the night. For DeMarco to ignore the most famous voice in boxing and pass on the most sought after moment of any fighter as he gets announced by Buffer as the new champion was classic Antonio.
From the first conversation I had with DeMarco years ago, when he was still fighting eight rounders in Tijuana and San Diego, I knew that there was something different about DeMarco, he carried a quiet sensitivity coupled with an over whelming confidence in himself.
Both of those traits were displayed last Saturday night but in reverse order, the confidence to go out and risk everything to win the fight and give us a boxing moment that we all live for and the sensitivity to forget about his own glory to give Linares motivation.
After the fight, away from the Staples Center and back in his hotel room, DeMarco was in good spirits as we all sat around eating pizza and excitedly talking about our thoughts on the fight.
Miles away, literally and figuratively, from Monterrey….