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Ex-Donaire sparmate chases own dream

Bruno Escalante courtesy photo by Cliff Jeans, Undisputed Boxing Gym

MANILA, Philippines - Cebu’s Bruno Escalante, who used to spar with former four-time world champion Nonito Donaire Jr., takes a major step forward in his boxing career when he battles southpaw Michael Ruiz in a scheduled 10-round bout for the vacant IBA (International Boxing Association) superflyweight title at the Sports House in Redwood City, California, on Dec. 7.

Escalante, 25, was only eight years old when he left his hometown of Sibonga to relocate to Hawaii with his parents. One of nine children, Escalante grew up in extreme poverty. His grandmother, a US citizen, arranged for the entire family to migrate. Escalante’s father tried to make both ends meet as a sofa worker and his mother brought in extra income every Thursday selling goods at the fair. It was through boxing that Escalante found a way to a bright future.

Fighting for a world championship, even if recognized by a lesser-known governing body, is a dream come true for Escalante who turned pro only three years ago. He’s a man in a hurry as the bout against Ruiz is his fifth this year. So far, Escalante – known as the Aloha Kid – has compiled a record of 10-1-1, with 5 KOs, including 4 inside two rounds. He’s coming off a win by a majority eight-round decision over Joseph Rios last September. His only loss was to Matthew Villanueva on points last year and he rebounded to win five in a row.

In a display of power, Escalante mowed down Charlie Salgado in two rounds last June, dropping him once with a left to the chin and another with a left to the body. Referee Edward Collantes stopped it at 1:16 of the second. A month later, Escalante floored Manuel Galaviz twice in the first round and the Mexican quit on his stool before the start of the second, claiming a right ankle injury.

“Most look at youth as a disadvantage in terms of experience but I’ve gained the most out of every learning situation I’ve been through and I see that as a direct advantage,” said Escalante, a bachelor. “I have the freshness of a young fighter with the capabilities of a seasoned veteran, that’s a dangerous combination. I will be dedicating this fight to my people back home who are suffering from the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda. My prayers go out to everyone dealing with this terrible natural disaster.”

Escalante was once managed by Donaire and is trained by the Filipino Flash’s team at the Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos City, near San Francisco.  His team is made up of boxing trainer Brian Schwartz, strength and conditioning coach Mike Bazzel, nutritional supplement consultant Victor Conte and running and sprinting coach Remi Korchemny.

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“Bruno was managed at one time by Nonito but when Nonito’s career took off, he released him and he’s now managed by Herb Stone,” said publicist Mario Serrano. “They were sparring partners for a few years. I think he gives anyone of the champions (in the superflyweight division) problems.”

A boxer-puncher with skills and power, Escalante hopes to win the IBA belt then challenge the other world 115-pound champions in unification showdowns. The WBC titleholder is Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, 26, whose record is 27-3-1, with 23 KOs. The WBO champion is Argentina’s Omar Narvaez, 38, whose record is 40-1-2, with 21 KOs (his only defeat was to Donaire). IBF king Daiki Kameda, 24, and WBA ruler Liborio Solis, 31, will face off in a unification duel in Osaka on Dec. 3.

“This is what I’ve been working towards my whole life, every good decision I’ve made, every trial and tribulation has been geared towards this moment,” said Escalante who stands 5-2. “I’ve sacrificed a lot knowing that this day would come and now that it’s finally here, I’m ecstatic. I will take full advantage of this opportunity as well as the others that will follow.”

Stone said it’s a chance of a lifetime for Escalante to ascend the throne. “Since Day 1, Bruno has spoken about fighting for a title and I know he appreciates this chance more than most,” said Stone. “He knows what went into getting him to this point and he has put in the time and effort. As his manager, it is great to see it all pay off and as a fan, I’m eager to see him stack up his skills against the best. It won’t be long until he’s on everybody’s radar. He’s looking to make an immediate impact.”

Ruiz, 24, is a southpaw with a 9-3-1 record, including 3 KOs. He was unbeaten in his first nine outings but has lost three of his last four. Last May, Ruiz was outpointed by Russian Khabir Suleymanov for the vacant North American Boxing Association USA bantamweight crown in San Diego.    

Serrano said although the IBA title is on the line, the fight is set for 10 rounds, not 12. “It’s my understanding the fight is for 10 rounds because both fighters don’t have that many fights,” he explained. “I believe they are doing that from time to time with the smaller weight classes.”

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