Had to see for myself about Luis Yanez.
Like you, I kinda followed his story last summer. Kicked off the U.S. Olympic boxing team in early July. Reinstated just before Beijing, only to lose in the second round. Then he disappeared. Now he's turning pro, with his first fight Friday night at American Airlines Center televised live on Fox Sports Net.
Sound about right?
The kid is intriguing: Duncanville-born and Dallas-bred, his immense talent trumped only by infinite confidence.
But is he merely the latest fabricated "star" of the prosperity-before-puberty generation, a petulant athlete who considers special treatment a right rather than a reward? Or, fingers crossed, is Yanez the real deal?
C'mon, let's ask him:
This, in far east Dallas, is his training center, a new gym constructed on one of his handlers' 10-acre spread. That's his car, the white Infiniti G35 with the silver Dallas Cowboys logo affixed on the back.
And that's Yanez, the 20-year-old with the diamond doorknobs accessorizing each earlobe. Amidst the gym's eclectic décor of an old school desk, a poster of Marilyn Monroe and the Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots game, Yanez provides the electricity. One minute he's throwing and catching a Nerf football while somehow balancing atop one of those rubber training balls. Next he's taking a gulp of Venom energy drink, shadow boxing in the ring and dancing to Christina Aguilera on Movin' 107.5 FM.
He's Joaquin Phoenix on Letterman. Only opposite.
"Nice to meet you," Yanez says politely, profoundly. "Latin legend."
Funny, but Dallas' next big thing is 5-foot-4-inches and 118 pounds.
Yanez hasn't given up his steady paycheck: floor manager at the Blue Moon Café in Lewisville. Yet, he is training five hours a day and commandeering attention, advertisers and accolades as Dallas' only Olympic boxer, its first boxing hero since Curtis Cokes in the 1960s and its most prominent Mexican athlete since golfer Lee Trevino.
"I was a busboy when I started out at 12," Yanez says of his day job. "So I'm moving up."
Out of the kitchen and in the ring, he plans to become the first boxer to simultaneously hold four different world championships in four different weight classes.
"With Luis anything's possible," says Yanez's longtime trainer, Dennis Rodarte. "No doubt in my mind he'll be a world champion."
Before Yanez dreamed of winning a belt, he had to learn how to avoid one.
When Luis was an 8-year-old at Duncanville's Fairmeadows Elementary, his father, Bulmaro, tired of the disciplinary problems. Desperate for his wayward son to stay in class and out of trouble, Bulmaro drove Luis to a converted warehouse behind an immigration center in Oak Cliff, better known as Rodarte's Casa Guanajuato boxing gym.
"One day he just opened the car door and told me to get my butt in," Yanez remembers. "I didn't want to go. I kept asking questions, kept bugging him. He just drove. Silent."
Rodarte, as he's done with hundreds of local fighters, agreed to calm Yanez' mind by training his body.
"The kid was bouncing off the walls," Rodarte says. "The first thing we had to do was take all that sugar out of his diet and lay down some rules. After that, it didn't take long."
Says Yanez of his first visit, "Magical."
Yanez—who barely knows his mom but still lives with dad in Duncanville—immediately made better grades, better decisions and spent his free time at Rodarte's gym.
"He's a great kid that took to whatever I said," Rodarte says. "You could see 'champion' in his eyes. If I told him to do 100 pushups he'd do 200. He has a hunger you just can't teach."
Yanez is one of the U.S.' most decorated recent amateur boxers, winning the 2007 Pan Am Games gold medal and his last 92 fights on American soil. His flamboyance—his sassy strategy includes a "Matrix" move where he momentarily moves in super-slow motion before unleashing a fury of fists—is considered charismatic as a professional, but as an amateur it painted him cocky.
Other than being named captain of the U.S. Boxing Team for last summer's games in China, staying three doors down from Michael Phelps and having his picture taken with President George W. Bush, Yanez's Olympic experience was a disaster.
It started at USA Boxing coach Dan Campbell's training camp in Colorado Springs. Yanez says the coach required each boxer to move to Colorado, wouldn't allow Rodarte or other personal trainers on site and treated the fighters with disrespect.
"The only time he talked to me," Yanez says, "he was trying to totally change the way I fought."
Unhappy with Campbell's camp, Yanez bolted to Dallas where his older sister, Jessica, was battling a near-fatal drug addiction. Considering his top boxer AWOL and calling Yanez "one of the biggest liars I've ever met," Campbell kicked Yanez off the team July 1.
"I thought about the Olympics every day from the time I was 15," Yanez says. "I missed my prom and my graduation and everything to fight in Beijing. But if it came down to making [Campbell] happy or taking care of my family, it was an easy decision."
On July 16 Yanez grudgingly apologized and returned to the team, but his dream was doomed. Trying to balance 30 days of Campbell and 12 years of Rodarte—neither his father nor coach traveled to Beijing—a confused Yanez lost his second fight. He wasn't alone. After the worst U.S. boxing showing in Olympic history, Campbell retired before he was fired.
"Vindicated," Yanez says. "I made some poor choices, but I'm glad he got some blame."
After the loss Yanez returned home on an American Airlines flight, with the customary promise from USA Boxing to deliver his remaining luggage from the Olympic Village to Dallas. But that luggage— carrying personal items such as his bowling ball and two Golden Gloves championship rings—never arrived from Beijing. According to Yanez and his camp, USA Boxing has been uncooperative in assisting the boxer to find his belongings.
"I love the Olympics, and I love my country," Yanez says. "But the whole experience was bad."
But not even his temporarily tainted reputation nor a lousy economy can muffle the buzz around Yanez's pro debut.
His first 15 fights are already financed by Los Angeles' Mendelson Entertainment; the first four are scheduled for AAC. Homegrown, bilingual and oozing with style, Yanez has endorsement deals with Dr Pepper, Venom and Fiesta supermarkets. Budweiser and multiple tequila companies are on deck, waiting for Yanez's 21st birthday in October.
"Of all the investors we've approached," says Michael Montoya, head of Brown Boy Media and Yanez's manager, "nobody's said 'No'. Dallas' Hispanic market is dying for a hero. Well, here he comes."
Yanez, whose first pro payday was $20,000 and an iPhone, will attract quite the audience Friday night. On the guest list are former Cowboys Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. The spotlight—even against San Antonio tomato can Julio Valadez—could lead to self-doubt. Yeah, right.
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"The first 30 seconds I'll feel him out," Yanez says. "After that, I could take him out at any time."
Yanez is already there in his mind.
Let's see if he can get there in the ring.