The Memory Bank: Part Twelve

By Ted Sares on July 7, 2012
The Memory Bank: Part Twelve
Juan "Kid" Meza was a 5-1 underdog against the heavy puncher from Southern California.

Being a serious boxing fan means accumulating a memory bank of great fights. For me, it also means Juan “Kid” Meza vs. Jaime Garza…

Sometimes anticipated excitement can be palpable. You just know there will be fireworks so you put your safety belt on, sit back and enjoy. And that’s what I did on Saturday, November 13, 1984, when highly touted Jaime Garza was set to meet cagey Juan “Kid” Meza in the main event at the Midtown Neighborhood Center in Kingston, New York.

Meza was a distinct 5-1 underdog against the heavy puncher from Southern California, who was being compared to Danny “Little Red” Lopez for his full-throttle offense, porous defense, and ability to come off the canvas and put his opponent out in decisive fashion. In fact, Garza had won his title some seventeen months before by coming off the floor in typical Little Red fashion to knock out Bobby Berna in two and take the belt vacated by the legendary Wilfredo Gomez.

I was well ensconced in my den in Boston with friends, amber beverage, and cigars. We were ready for action as the fight was being aired on CBS with Gil Clancy and Sugar Ray Leonard at the mikes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The referee for this fight was Johnny LoBianco. The judges were Carol Castellano, Luis Rivera, and Bernie Freidkin. Everyone sensed their work would be brief since both fighters had an astonishing seventy-five KOs on their combined resumes. Garza was 40-0 (38 knockouts, 13 in the first round). Kid Meza, from Los Angeles by way of Mexicali, was 49-9 (37 KOs). Both men scaled 121½ lbs. Knockout was the operative word this night. While Kid Meza had never been knocked off his feet, most experts felt the heavy-handed Garza would do the trick.

But first, Billy Costello, 140, of Kingston, defended his WBC Super Lightweight Title against tough (but too old) Saul Mamby in the co-feature and won a UD. Since this was Costello’s hometown, there was considerable interest in the card (that also included Wilford Scypion). Little did the fans know that the Costello fight would not be the memory they would take home from this night of sudden fury.

Garza was handled by John Montes Sr. and Bennie Georgino (who ironically also handled Danny “Little Red” Lopez) and threw lightning-fast combinations punctuated with violent and lethal hooks. If hit squarely, most of his opponents would go; in fact, thirty went in less than three. He was undefeated and ready to achieve superstar status.

As for Juan “Kid” Meza (whose trainer was Jimmy Montoya), two years before, the Mexicali native had fought well before being stopped in the sixth by the legendary Wilfredo Gomez. After losing that fight, he took a year off. During this time, Gomez let the championship become vacant so he could challenge for the featherweight crown. Garza won the vacant championship by knocking out the aforementioned Berna.

Meza, meanwhile, had worked his way back into title contention with wins over Roberto Castillo (KO 8), Pongpan Sorphayathai (KO 3 in Thailand), and two 10-round decisions over Javier Barajas. The Kid was a quick starter, with twenty-one of his thirty-one knockouts ending in less than three rounds.

Earlier in his career, Meza had made his first noticeable mark when he had knocked out Carlos Ortiz in one in 1977, avenging an earlier loss. He won twenty-nine of his next thirty-one bouts, earning a following on the West Coast. Included in those thirty-one fights were a ten-round decision over Carlos Mendoza in 1981as part of the Gomez-Sanchez undercard in Las Vegas, and a ninth round knockout over Antonio Guido as part of the Benitez-Duran undercard in 1982. He was then ranked the number one challenger to Wilfredo Gomez’s WBC World Super Bantamweight Title. By then, informed boxing people knew that Juan “Kid” Meza was never to be taken lightly. Nor, of course, was Jamie Garza, who had twenty-three straight stoppages coming into this fight.

This brings us to November 13, 1984.

As the bell rang, Meza reached out to touch gloves, but Garza was having none of it and kept his hands up ready to fight. Clearly, there was no love lost, as there had been an altercation between the two at breakfast. They came out immediately winging and trading hooks. In this case, the old adage, “Never hook with a hooker” did not apply, for both fighters were deadly with this punch. Incredibly, after Garza missed with a right uppercut, a wide hook crashed off Meza’s temple and put him on the canvas for the very first time in his 47-fight career. With only 40 seconds into the fight, Garza had now demonstrated beyond any doubt the power of his blows. One of my friends jumped up and said, “Don’t go to the john!” Another said, “Don’t blink.” We were all standing and shouting, as was the live crowd. This is exactly what we expected and what we wanted.

The Kid looked around and then picked up the count, showing remarkable calm for a fighter who had never been floored. Garza then charged in for the kill and drove Meza back toward the ropes, but the Kid responded with heavy shots that slowed him down. Garza continued to fire away with his all-offense, no-defense style and showed little respect for Meza’s punches. The Kid’s jabs found their mark through Garza’s defense, and the two began exchanging three- and four-punch flurries. The fight took on the aura of a cockfight, with back and forth winging. One could literally hear the swish sound when they missed and the thump sound when they connected. I was up and screaming, “End it, Jaime, end it! Take him out!”

CBS analyst Sugar Ray Leonard noted correctly that Garza was coming in with his hands low and kind of stumbled into the corner after missing a wild hook. When Meza went after him, Garza spun away and landed a cuffing hook that sent Meza to the canvas. Meza quickly arose and pointed his gloves toward the canvas to indicate he had been pushed. Referee LoBianco agreed and ruled it a slip. Garza then landed some jabs, but his speedy combos, launched with pure menace, missed. Meza’s were more accurate, marking an ever-so-subtle shift in his favor.

At that point, commentator Gil Clancy confirmed something we had all noticed and that was that Garza, the shorter of the two, could beat Meza to the punch since Meza was throwing wider shots. Then, just after Clancy made his point, what we were anticipating happened. Garza began to throw a counter hook after Meza had missed with a short combo. Unfortunately (for him), he kept his right arm low, which created an opening. Meanwhile, Meza, by missing with his right dipped, and was in excellent position to trigger his own hook. His blow was launched just before Garza’s. So here, in plain sight, was the spectacle of hooking with the hooker. We rose and started screaming because we knew what had just occurred. Ready for a devastating result, we were not disappointed. Contravening Clancy’s observation, Meza had beaten Garza to the punch with shocking effect.

The perfectly leveraged hook struck Garza on the sweet point of his jaw, snapping his head violently to the side. His body twisted grotesquely and crashed hard, his head bouncing dangerously off the canvas. Garza’s eyes rolled back into his head. He was in bad shape but made a valiant effort to pull himself upright after rolling under the ropes. His effort was too little too late. Referee LoBianco reached the count of ten a split-second before Garza fully regained his feet, but he would have been in no shape to continue. A new and jubilant champion had been crowned. This had been wham, bam, rock ’em and sock ’em!

The KO was named 1984’s Knockout of the Year by KO magazine. Juan Meza became the first challenger in boxing history to be dropped in round one, get up, and knock out the world champion in the same first round. In 1969, Bob Foster retained his belt by rising off the canvas to knock out Frankie DePaula in the same first round. It was a different route to the same outcome.

Garza would go on to win four uneventful bouts but lost in shocking fashion to Daryl Thigpen (10-4), being stopped in the sixth after being down four times. After the devastating loss to Meza, Garza was never the same and would never again win a meaningful fight. He went 2-3 in his final five, finishing with a proud record of 48-6 (44 KOs) and an astonishing KO percentage of 81 percent.

Meza fought seven more times and beat always-tough Mike Ayala in six rounds, but shockingly dropped his belt to prohibitive underdog Lupe Pintor in a thrilling twelve-round slugfest. Sixteen months later, he challenged for a world title one last time against slick Samart Payakaroon in Bangkok, but was stopped by the Thai with just five seconds before the final bell. He was far behind on points, so the stoppage was academic. Later, Meza KO’d Lenny Valdez in one but was then stopped in eight by Javier Marquez. Remarkably, nine years later at age forty, he came back to stop Esteban Lozoya in four, but after being stopped in one by Wilfredo Negron, he retired. He ended with a fine record of 45-9 (37 KOs) and a KO percentage of 69 percent.

Now, among other things, being a serious boxing fan means accumulating a memory bank of great fights like Castillo-Corrales, Barkley-Hearns, Benn-Barkley, Brooks-Curry, Hagler-Hearns, Ward-Rafuse, Ward-Green, Ward-Gatti, Ward-Burton, Ward-Neary, Holmes-Norton, Chacon-Limon, Mancini-Kim, Katsidis-Amonsot, Marquez-Vazquez and many, many others. For me, it also means Meza-Garza.

Thanks for the memories.

The Memory Bank: Part One
The Memory Bank: Part Two
The Memory Bank: Part Three
The Memory Bank: Part Four
The Memory Bank: Part Five
The Memory Bank: Part Six
The Memory Bank: Part Seven
The Memory Bank: Part Eight
The Memory Bank: Part Nine
The Memory Bank: Part Ten
The Memory Bank: Part Eleven
The Memory Bank: Part Twelve

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Juan Kid Meza vs Jaime Garza

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  1. the Thresher 05:34pm, 07/09/2012

    Thanks Rax

  2. raxman 04:37pm, 07/09/2012

    What a great series Ted - should be put together (and perhaps expanded) as a book of essays.
    i’ve said it before and i shall again now: you write beautfully.
    probably my favourite boxing [removed]along with make em miss, make em pay) is never hook a hooker - your description of this final salvo painted a perfect picture in my mind - so much so i don’t feel the need to rush to the video and watch the punch. it’s such perfect imagery, emcompassing great elements of boxing, that it could’ve been written as fiction.
    classic boxing (for want of better term) rules that both fighters followed - you miss the right, you come back with the hook - and on the other side - make the right miss, you counter with the hook.
    the only difference being garza didn’t execute the hook correctly - dropping the right hand - while meza’s hook is copy book perfect.
    garza’s dropping of the hands is a great lesson to boxers (and coaches) new and old alike, the extra power gained from the leverage of dropping ones hands is far from worth the risk

  3. the thresher 12:37pm, 07/09/2012

    Thank you Mike

  4. mikecasey 05:20am, 07/09/2012

    Simply excellent. Cracking read, Ted!

  5. the thresher 10:17am, 07/08/2012

    Thanks Pitbull. Much appreciated

  6. PitBull Petrill 11:46am, 07/07/2012

    Ted… another great article.  You are hands down the most original writer in the sport and delve into topics most would never consider. Thanks for sending these gems to my gmail.

  7. Tex Hassler 09:39am, 07/07/2012

    Some fights seem to take just about everything out of both men. This may have been the case in this fignt Mr. Sares so excellently wrote about.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 03:35pm, 07/06/2012

    Dang! What a memory! If they didn’t have that confrontation at breakfast….it might have been a different fight…with a different ending….maybe not!

  9. pugknows 03:16pm, 07/06/2012

    Outstanding piece of writing and technical description of the fight. You know your boxing, Ted. Thanks for a great read.

  10. CharlesN 12:28pm, 07/06/2012

    Off-balance left hook-perfectly timed. Nice piece and a great memory Ted.

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