It’s an auspicious time for Espinoza Boxing. The management company, based in Southern California, has a number of emerging fighters who are poised to break out in 2016. With a stable of boxers that includes Oscar Valdez, Antonio Orozco, Jessie Magdaleno and Ronnie Rios, the company has successfully placed several of its fighters on HBO platforms over the past year, and all prevailed. Valdez, in particular, is a fighter who has generated considerable buzz within the industry. His next bout is a significant opportunity for him: a slot on the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley III undercard against former featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich.
I recently spoke with Frank Espinoza, Jr., who runs the company with his father, Frank Sr., about the plans for his key boxers in 2016. We also talked about several fights from last year that changed the career trajectories of boxers from his stable, including Ronny Rios-Jayson Velez, Terry Flanagan-Diego Magdaleno and Antonio Orozco-Humberto Soto. In addition, Frank identified several young prospects, such as Joet Gonzalez and Emilio Sanchez, whom he believes will make up the next wave of top fighters under the Espinoza banner. Finally, we discussed some of the finer points of boxing management: When is the right time to step up a prospect and what type of fighter is Espinoza Boxing looking to sign?
Interview by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited.
The biggest news coming out of your stable is that Oscar Valdez is going to fight Evgeny Gradovich. As a manager, how do you know when it’s time for a promising young fighter to take a big step up?
You know it depends on each fighter. Some fighters do develop a little quicker. Some are a little bit slower. As far as Valdez, his last two fights he’s been looking exceptional. I think he’s really getting adjusted to the professional [ranks]. I think Gradovich is a great opportunity. I know that Oscar has mentioned him in the past. When the name came up, just seeing how he’s been progressing, it was a no-brainer. It was a good decision, we felt.
What does it mean for Valdez to be on the platform of the Pacquiao-Bradley fight in terms of increasing his visibility in the sport?
Yeah, this is a huge opportunity for him. This is a big moment to shine with Gradovich being a former world champion. If he can perform well, not just win, but win impressively, it can really bring him to the next level, which we feel he is more than capable of doing. It would do wonders. Pacquiao-Bradley...a lot of viewers will be watching and it’s a good opportunity to show what he has.
Valdez looked very impressive against Chris Avalos last year. He also won a unanimous decision against Ruben Tamayo earlier in 2015 but that fight was memorable in that Valdez was knocked down for the first time. Was there any concern on your end from that fight or was it more of “these things happen” over the course of a fighter’s development?
As far as that, in Valdez’s defense, his HBO debut was really a list-minute thing. He went through probably six or seven opponents. He didn’t know if he was fighting a right-hander or a southpaw and then at the end of it, maybe a week-and-a-half into it, he found out he was fighting a southpaw. It was an opportunity that we thought would be great. But Tamayo came out there and fought a hell of a fight.
As far as the knockdown, I don’t think it was a real knockdown. If you look at the replay, they tripped. It showed that pretty clearly. But listen, that’s boxing. Sometimes you have to adjust to adversity and he did that. He had to compose himself, not to get too panicked. He was nice and calm and just went back to the game plan, which was to box him.
Valdez is a decorated amateur. He represented Mexico in the Olympics two different times. How did he become a member of Espinoza Boxing?
You know it’s a funny story. My father, Frank Sr., and Oscar Sr., Oscar Valdez’s father, have known each other for a while. It was actually before even Oscar was going into the Olympics. You know it’s kind of funny how things just worked out. Oscar turned out to be a guy to look out for and we already had a good relationship with his father. And that’s pretty much how it got done. He gave us the opportunity and we’ve worked very well together as a team.
Another young prospect in your stable that people are excited about is Jessie Magdaleno. He's another guy that is young and has a lot of power. Magdaleno has fought 22 fights. Valdez has fought 18 but it seems that Valdez is moving a little quicker. From your perspective, what is Jessie’s timetable in terms of taking that next step? What are you looking for from him in 2016?
We’ve had Jessie for a few years already. We haven’t had him from the beginning, like we did with Valdez. Our goal for 2016 is to get a world title shot. Specifically, we really want Nonito Donaire. Jessie, I think, is very hungry, very motivated and in fact we’re meeting with Top Rank on Tuesday [this would have occurred last Tuesday] to discuss his plans for the year. Listen, we’re making no secret. We want Nonito. It’s time that Jessie at least gets an opportunity. But he fights February 20th and you know, we got to take it one fight at a time. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Things are going to be exciting for him this year I would say.
His brother, Diego, fought for a title last year against Terry Flanagan. He got knocked out very early in a fight that many thought would be competitive. What happened in that fight?
I got to admit I was surprised too in how that panned out. I didn’t expect that at all. With that said, I know that Diego didn’t feel comfortable at all. In the ring, he said it was slippery and he couldn’t plant his foot. But nonetheless, listen, I’m not going to make excuses. I’ll take the “L.” We lost. All props go to Terry Flanagan and his team. And we’re just going to have to see what’s the next move for him.
One fighter of yours who was a real surprise in 2015, at least from my perspective, was Ronny Rios. I had watched Rios against Robinson Castellanos, where Castellanos really worked him over. Rios wound up facing Jayson Velez last year. On paper, it seemed that Velez had some advantages in that he was more athletic and much taller. Yet, Ronny came forward and really put forth a spirited effort in that fight to get the win. What was your opinion on taking that fight originally and what were your thoughts as you were watching it?
To be honest, it played out just as I thought it would. We knew it was going to be competitive but I truly felt that Ronny was more than ready for a fight like that. I know that he wanted to redeem himself from the Castellanos loss. And it was a good opportunity. It was on the undercard of a Canelo fight.
It panned out exactly as I thought. I thought it was competitive but I knew that Ronny would edge out the second half of the fight, which he did. The plan was to just be aggressive and go to the body. And we came out victorious. Hopefully, we can get a rematch down the line with Castellanos, hopefully for a world title. But we’ll see. We have to see how things pan out with that.
What are the next steps for Rios’ career?
We don’t have a fight date as of yet. We just met up with Golden Boy. They’re going to be getting back to us on a date. Right now, we’re just keeping busy. But this year, we’d like to have him fight for a title. So that's the plan.
Another fighter of yours who made his HBO debut last year was Antonio Orozco. He faced a very seasoned opponent in Humberto Soto. In a very competitive fight, Orozco wound up winning a unanimous decision. What can you tell us about that fight and what are your thoughts about where he stands in the junior welterweight division?
I thought that fight was a great learning experience. Humberto Soto…when he fought Lucas Matthysse and Matthysse kind of went through him, people forget that Soto was going through some drama with his family – I think regarding a kidnapping. Listen, Soto was a guy who fought over 70 fights. Orozco wasn’t going to show him anything different that he hadn’t seen before. So what we had to do was be smart. And we did have to switch up the game plan during the fight. The plan was to be aggressive and then we realized that it would be smarter for him to box. I was really impressed to see that Orozco in a big situation was willing to make an adjustment during the fight. He edged it out. I thought it was a close fight but I definitely thought he won. I thought it was a great learning experience for a guy that’s up-and-coming.
There are a lot of opportunities for him this year. I think we’re going to come back in March, maybe Fantasy Springs or something like that. And then hopefully the game plan is to fight Mauricio Herrera. That’s a fight that we really want.
What was the feedback you received from HBO regarding Orozco’s performance against Soto?
They had seen him before. They had been following him. They did know how he looked when he fought on TruTv against Emmanuel Taylor, which was a great fight. I think they were impressed with him. But absolutely, they told us and they told Golden Boy that they’d love to have him back on the network; so that would be the plan.
Since Oscar de la Hoya has taken back control of the reins at Golden Boy, he’s made it known that he wants his fighters matched tough. And I know that from your career in terms of managing fighters that you’ve never been afraid to match your fighters competitively. How would you describe your relationship with Oscar in terms of plotting a path for your fighters that are promoted by him?
It does depend where a fighter’s at in his career. For example, we have Joet Gonzalez making his way up. He’s a prospect. For a guy like that, the goal is just to keep him busy. But for a guy like Ronny Rios or Antonio Orozco, these are guys now where they are on a path. You got to step them up. With that, there’s risk but at the same time comes reward. So I’m on the same page with Oscar. I think what he’s doing is great. He’s doing what fans want to see. They want to see competitive fights and that’s what he’s bringing to the table. As a fight fan myself, I appreciate that. Listen, if you’re going to fork out money to watch a fight, you want to get your money’s worth.
I know that Espinoza Boxing has a lot of young prospects coming up. Is there anyone in particular that you are high on or you think is going to make a name for himself in the next 12-18 months?
We just signed Emilio Sanchez. He’s an up-and-comer, a good prospect. Also, I’m really, really high on Joet Gonzalez. This kid is kind of a diamond-in-the-rough. I think he’ll be really making a splash. I think you’ll be hearing about him more by the end of the year, where he’ll probably be headlining Estrella TV shows. I think he has a lot of potential. He’s sparred with everybody. He sparred Valdez, Gradovich, Lomachenko. He gives everybody fits. He’s a really talented kid and I think his time will come.
There are a lot of very talented boxers in Southern California. When you and your father are looking at a fighter, evaluating him, what specifically are you looking for that makes you want to sign him?
First, you ask questions. How many amateur fights did he have? That does play an important role in my opinion. You want to see guys that are talented but at the same time, they got to be entertaining. In other words, I want a guy who has balls. I want to invest in a guy that as a fight fan I would pay to watch. I don’t want to see a guy just run around and box, which is great, but I want to be entertained as a fight fan. If you notice, a lot of our fighters all have that entertaining type of style. They all have balls. They all are entertaining. They are fun to watch but they also fight smart – not to be foolish out there. They are aggressive but intelligent. So that’s what we look for. We like guys who are entertaining and have a lot of intelligence. They are not afraid to fight and can box and brawl when they need to.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.