This story originally appeared on Marfa Public Radio.
When he’s in the ring Abel Mendoza wears bright pink shorts. The Fort Stockton native just graduated high school and is trying to make a splash in the boxing world. But to do that you have to find high-profile fights. And in West Texas those are hard to come by.
What did Mendoza do? He organized one himself.
The event took place on a Saturday night at the Pecos Coliseum in Fort Stockton. More than 500 boxing fans drank beer they brought with them and watched from aluminum chairs.
“Look out for rattlesnakes” signs were posted around the venue, and if it wasn’t for the boxing ring in the center of the arena, you’d think you were about to watch a rodeo.
Mendoza is only 18 years old, but his commitment to his sport rivals the pros.
“I never imagined myself doing anything else. I’ve done boxing all my life. It’s all I know. This is what I want to do and I want to try to make the USA team,” Mendoza said.
By raising $10,000 dollars Mendoza brought boxing clubs from all over the region to what he called “West Texas Fight Night.” Heavy Artillery from El Paso showed up. As did the Midtown Soldiers from Midland and a club called Rival from Odessa. 15 fights in total pitted boxers of all ages against each other. Two fights were between young girls.
Mendoza didn’t make West Texas Fight Night happen alone. He received help from his parents — Fabian and Alma Mendoza. They have supported Abel from the beginning.
“He’s been working really hard,” said Alma. “We have been working really hard and we have a lot of expenses just to make him successful.”
Mendoza’s boxing careers has also had emotional consequences.
“I miss him all the time. I just gotta be tough. I worry most when he’s traveling,” said Fabian.
Mendoza is not the only young fighter making sacrifices for the sport of boxing. Alpine Boxing Club president Frank Guerrero says boxing is making a comeback in the region, and that events like West Texas Fight Night help local fighters get on the professional map.
“We want to come together and fight. That way there’s better competition; there’s more athletes; and it’s just better for the sport of boxing, in our area, to grow it,” said Guerrero.
Mendoza said this event is more ambitious than other West Texas fights, “This is a special event. We’re paying the officials, judges, and we’re trying to have a good show.”
Mendoza’s opponent that night was Victor Ramirez, a fighter twice his age and two weight classes above him. Mendoza arranged the fight with Ramirez so he could face tough competition–something that’s often hard to find given the distances between cities in West Texas.
Before the fight Mendoza said his home court advantage would be a factor.
“It motivates me more because my family’s going to be here, my friends, my friends from school, people I’ve known for a longtime that have been wanting to see my fight. They’re going to be there.”
With his friends and family’s support, as well as superior technical proficiency, Mendoza defeated Ramirez handily.
“I did this in my hometown and I’m excited and I…I fantasized about this and it finally came true,” said Mendoza.
He hopes he can ride this momentum through the upcoming Olympic trial qualifier in Colorado.
If fights like the one in Fort Stockton keep happening, a West Texas fighter might find himself throwing hooks in a grander arena. One without rattlesnakes but with lots of poker chips.