Boxing still revered in this area

The Warren-Youngstown area is known for a lot of things – some good, some bad.

There are blue-collar families, the rise and fall of steel mills, ghettos, great food and, most notably, sports.

Most people think of football first when it comes to athletics, and rightfully so, but that wasn’t always the case. Before it was swept under the rug in the mid 1990s – for a number of reasons – boxing was one of the premier sports in the country, not to mention the Mahoning Valley.

Pretty much everyone has heard of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik, but there have been plenty of greats from the area. Harry Arroyo, from the south side of Youngstown, was an International Boxing Federation lightweight champion in 1984. Jeff Lampkin, also of Youngstown, won an IBF cruiserweight title in 1990. Greg Richardson, born on the east side of Youngstown, was a bantamweight world champion in 1991. And, of course, there was the hard-hitting Earnie Shavers, who trained in Warren for a large portion of his career and is widely considered the hardest puncher of all time. In fact, Muhammad Ali, who said Shavers hit him harder than any other boxer, was once quoted as saying, “Earnie hit me so hard, it shook my kinfolk back in Africa.”

Those glory days of boxing may be over, partly because unless you’re willing to pay a large sum of money to watch it on Pay-Per View, you won’t see any of the biggest fights. But that doesn’t mean the sport is dead. The upcoming Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez fight on Sept. 14 is one of the biggest the sport has seen – or won’t see – in a decade. Furthermore, boxing is alive and well in Youngstown.

It feels longer than six years since Pavlik knocked out Jermain Taylor to become a world champion, but the goosebumps it gave boxing fans still resurface when recalling that amazing fight. Pavlik’s reign reminded a lot of people of the great boxing tradition in Youngstown, and just because Pavlik has called it a career doesn’t mean the sport is dormant again in the area. The hard-working attitude and tough-minded way of people from Trumbull and Mahoning counties seems to come through in the boxers who rise from its ashes, and Pavlik’s former trainer, Jack Loew, believes another fighter will soon ascend to the top.

His name is Alejandro “Popo” Salinas.

“He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever had in my gym,” said Loew of the 2013 East High School graduate. “He has the whole package. He could be like a (Manny) Pacquiao.”

Sure, boxing trainers and promoters always talk a big game, but Loew has been a straight-shooter in my dealings with him. Considering his success with Pavlik, among others (he has another fighter on the verge of stardom – Cleveland-native Willie Nelson, a junior middleweight), and the fact that he’s been a trainer for 25 years, I believe Loew. That said, there is so much that comes along with being a great boxer, and it’s hard to know who can handle the celebrity status and intense training.

Salinas is only a teenager, and he and Loew haven’t yet determined when he’ll turn pro. He could keep his amateur status for at least the next year and possibly qualify for the Olympic Trials, or he could take a few more fights, continue to fine tune his skills and turn pro in the next few months. Either way, Loew, who said Salinas has an Oscar De Le Hoya smile, believes the up-and-coming hard-hitter possesses the tools to be the next great fighter out of the area.

“He’s a good looking kid and he’s a heck of a fighter,” Loew said.

Both go a long way in the sport of boxing.