The inked letters on the bottom of Jonathan Chicas’ right palm were crude, but large and legible–especially when he clenched a fist. “I was fighting a lot,” Chicas reminisced of his street days, the days when he got the palm tattoo that reads “RESPECT.”
“When you put the dukes up, you let them know that you’re fighting for respect,” he said. “Not that I fight in the streets anymore.”
It was in the streets of San Francisco’s Ingleside neighborhood, where Chicas’ parents settled after abandoning their civil war-ravaged homeland of El Salvador in 1983, that he developed his knack for fistfighting– a talent that he would begin to refine the day trainer Oscar Rivadeneyra walked into his life. Rivadeneyra knew about fighting for respect. He had earned his over 30 years ago.
The Journeyman Trainer
Heavy-handed, tall, and the claimant to the WBC Continental Americas light heavyweight title, Rivadeneyra slugged his way out of South America, eventually settling in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1981.
In his first year there, he fought six times in the Bay Area, pummeling each of his six opponents inside the distance. And in 1983, Rivadeneyra–unbeaten in 19 professional bouts (with 14 wins by knockout) and the seventh-rated 175-pounder in the world–got his crack at one of the greatest light heavyweight champions of all time.
Rivadeneyra was 26 in November 1983 when he signed to challenge Michael Spinks, the undefeated and undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world, in Vancouver, Canada for a purse of about $100,000.
For the first three rounds, Rivadeneyra stalked and moved, pumping rights and lefts into the champion’s face. He looked to be winning. But the cut above his left eye changed that. “I’ve always been delicate on my eyebrows,” he said, recalling the gash that Spinks ripped open with a right hand in the second round.
Rivadeneyra entered the Spinks fight without his usual cutman, Sam Esposito; his
manager hired somebody “better.” “He was my right hand man,” Rivadeneyra said of Esposito. “The guy we contracted, he didn’t know how to do a good job closing the
The longer the fight went, the more Rivadeneyra bled. And the more Spinks
punished him. With blood streaking down his face, Rivadeneyra was decked in the 10th round when a Spinks left uppercut crashed into his jaw. The fallen challenger beat the count but referee Joe Cortez halted the bout soon after that.
Rivadeneyra never knew that would be his final fight in North America. A mandatory defense of a South American title forced Rivadeneyra to leave his pregnant Salvadoran girlfriend in the Mission in 1985 for his native Peru. He left the country with
an expired visa. That error cost him nearly 20 years away from his wife and son. He wouldn’t be allowed back into the country until 2007.
That was when a grizzled, dark-skinned man with heavy scar tissue above his left
brow walked into the Straight Forward Club boxing gym looking for a job, his résumé
being a VHS tape. The film was proof that the old timer named Oscar Rivadeneyra had
fought Michael Spinks.
“He put it on, and everybody’s watching him,” Chicas said, then an amateur under the
tutelage of Ben Bautista, founder of the SFC gym. “They were impressed that he had made it that far. But nobody really knew about him.”
Mentor and Protégé
Bautista hired Rivadeneyra to train the Latino fighters in the gym. “And I was one of the Latinos,” Chicas said. “So he [Bautista] gave me away. But at the end of the day, it was like a blessing in disguise, ‘cause me and Oscar clicked.”
“He’s always pushing me. He’s been in the same predicament, he’s fought for a world
title before,” Chicas said of Rivadeneyra. “It’s funny. I never really had that dream before. It was just more me trying to find something I had passion for. And just staying out the street. It was like a way of getting out… [but] ever since I turned pro, I’m trying to be champion.”
Chicas hasn’t won every fight though. In December of 2012 he (13-1, 6 KO’s) was unexpectedly dropped twice and stopped in the third round against Sacramento’s Moris Rodriguez.
“I think it was really me getting beyond that,” Chicas said. “I have a lot of heart. And I
don’t let things like that bring me down.”
Fighting in his hometown for the first time since making his pro debut three years ago, Chicas, 25, will enter Friday’s ring opposite of Emmanuel Robles, 26, (10-0-1, 3 KO’s) of San Diego. The tricky southpaw, who in his previous bout stunned Cuba’s 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Yordenis Ugás by split decision, will be Chicas’ sternest boxing challenge to date.
“All southpaws are dangerous,” Rivadeneyra said of Robles. “I don’t know if we’re
going to knock him out, or if we’re going to win on points, but we’re going to win.”
This article was provided to The Ingleside Light by El Tecolote where Alexis Terrazas is the editor. Photos are by Marianella Aguierre, a freelance photojournalist.