Ivan Najera: Grace under pressure, triumph over adversityWritten by Marc Livitz
Throughout our respective lives, we're often faced with a form of adversity which ultimately can turn to a custom jar of humility if handled correctly.
If one door closes, then perhaps another one will open and often in one's favor when the time is right. Boxing is no stranger to such situations. Unfortunately and much to the detriment of a fighter, the overall body of work as well as performance pales against what may have transpired in recent memory.
It's as though the "shame me once" type of reasoning rears its head and a promising career can just as easily be cut loose.
Ivan "Bam Bam" Najera was enjoying an unbeaten start to his life as a fighter up through the middle of last year. The 23 year old native of San Antonio, Texas worked hard to make a name for himself among the ardent boxing fans of the Alamo City.
He's set to display his talents this Friday evening at the San Antonio Events Center, but how he was led to his own idea of a comeback is an interesting tale of its own.
The majority of his first sixteen professional contests were fought in and around the south Texas region, yet once he ventured out to the east or west of the United States, he found success to be a much harder rung to grasp.
Last June, Najera (16-2, 8 KO's) was soundly outpointed by undefeated WBO Latino lightweight champion Felix Verdejo in New York City. He was knocked down twice in the contest and didn't win a single round on the judges' scorecards. To make matters worse, Ivan's loss was seen by a nationwide audience on HBO. Nevertheless, he didn't let his first loss falter him in any way and he returned to the ring just before Thanksgiving, this time in Las Vegas. His opponent was southern California native, Saul Rodriguez.
The bout was a co-main event at the Cosmopolitan Hotel on the Vegas Strip. The lights were bright for the TruTv televised evening. Still, "Bam Bam" knew something wasn't right.
"We had everything going great", he said during a recent interview. "It was supposed to be a good test for me and I was expected to win." The contest barely reached the two minute threshold before Najera suffered a TKO loss after two knockdowns. A left hook did the damage for the first one, after which a dazed and disoriented lightweight from San Antonio beat the count only to be swarmed with head shots which led referee Kenny Bayless to halt the contest for good.
While displaying almost Zen-like modesty, Ivan explained his situation. The dry and unaccommodating cold of Las Vegas in the winter wasn't ideal for someone who is more accustomed to eight months of summer in Texas.
He commented, "I knew what he (Rodriguez) brought to the fight but as soon as we got to Vegas, I didn't feel right. It was so dry and cold. I couldn't make the weight and I felt so drained. I don't remember too much of it. Not because I was knocked out, but because I was so drained. I just couldn't recover."
One of the attributes that has endeared him to his faithful fans in San Antonio is his ever present, protruding tongue. We've all stuck out our respective tongues at one time or another, sometimes in jest and sometimes, well, just to do it. It's part of Najera's trademark swagger.
"There's really no meaning to it", he said. "I just do it to do it. It's just something I picked up and it's just become a habit."
That night in Vegas, however was different. He added, "I wasn't myself and as I look back at the pictures I took before the fight, those pictures didn't look like me. I'm usually laughing and having fun, but I wasn't doing any of that."
After the defeat came the even bigger hammer of sorts. Ivan was released from his contract with Top Rank Promotions in early 2016. "I learned in mid January that they were not going to renew my contract and that I was being dismissed", he shared. "So, I'm a free agent now and I need to start building up my record once again. I'll do that and hope to a good offer from somewhere. "
He'll get his chance to do just that on Friday night. His opponent is fellow San Antonio native, Ignacio "Justo" Vallecillo. So, is this a "comeback" as the event has been tagged or more so the first step on the road to redemption?
"As far as the comeback, it's more of a getting my winning streak back because I'm coming off of two losses and I need to get winning again", said Najera.
Day by day. One step at a time. Whatever works. Boxing can be cruel but of course, we're still the most dangerous animals of all. Ivan Najera is ready to start things back up where they all began.
Now, he's really back home.
Video - Ivan Najera: KO Artist - Part II