For more than two years, Alfredo Angulo was boxing's version of Elvis. He had left the building.
Now he is back, trying to return to the level that got him fights with the likes of Kermit Cintron and James Kirkland, as well as a lucrative offer to fight Sergio Martinez. But the baggage he will take into the Sports Arena ring Saturday night when he goes against Jorge Silva in a prelim of the Amir Khan-Carlos Molina card is heavier than most.
Angulo's story, told in complete detail, is "War and Peace." James Cameron would have to make the movie because the tale is titanic. Here, you'll only get the CliffsNotes.
He is 30 years old. He fought on Mexico's Olympic team in 2004 in Athens. His amateur record was 95-15, and he turned pro a few months after Athens.
His current record, mostly at 154 pounds, is 21-2-1 with 18 knockouts, and he was doing well in midsummer 2010, when he upset once-beaten Canadian Joachim Alcine in Rancho Mirage. Then it all unraveled. After Alcine, he fought twice in 2011, both bouts in Mexico. He didn't return to a U.S. ring until Nov. 10 of this year, fighting on the Abner Mares undercard at Staples Center and winning with a one-punch knockout in the first round.
The fact of his missing-person gap is simple. He was in an immigration detention center in El Centro, Calif., for almost eight months — January to August 2012. The explanation for that, however, is not simple. His stay there is both complicated and controversial.
Angulo fought for promoter Gary Shaw. He was in the United States on a work visa, arranged for by Shaw. Somewhere along the line, the visa expired. Angulo says it was Shaw's responsibility to keep him informed and his paperwork current. Shaw denies that, although several boxing officials called Angulo's version "the common procedure."
Shortly after Angulo beat Alcine, Shaw got an offer for Angulo to fight Martinez. Shaw says he offered the boxer $750,000 for the fight, but that Angulo demanded $1 million and stopped speaking to him. Angulo says that by that time he had stopped trusting Shaw and wanted to take care of his immigration situation before he did anything else.
"I never got proper paperwork on anything from Shaw," Angulo says. "He believes that because we are Mexican fighters we don't know much."
In the aftermath of their breakup, Shaw publicly called Angulo "an absolute liar," and adds now, "His nickname is El Perro — beware of the dog — and that fits him fine."
Angulo hired immigration lawyers, who advised him to return to Mexico to straighten out his situation. He did so, fought twice in Mexico, including a brawl with Kirkland that he lost, and then went to the immigration processing center in El Centro in January of this year to pursue a new U.S. work visa. The expectation, according to his lawyer/adviser/girlfriend Lucy Haro, was that he would have to stay two or three days, "maybe as many as five."
He walked out Aug. 14.
Even that was two weeks after he finally won his court case and the judge called him "a credible person."
Haro is among the least likely persons you'd expect to be involved in boxing. She would pass, in size and looks, for a Laker girl. She has her law degree from Pepperdine, saved her money and bought a restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, near Westwood, named Qusqo. She was born in the United States of Peruvian-born parents and her restaurant specializes in Peruvian dishes.
She met Angulo at the Wild Card Gym of famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach, who told her to "never trust anybody in boxing." She was there, working out to keep in shape for another passion, boxing.
"I always wear a helmet," she says.
Angulo, dark eyes and hair tightly braided in rows that go to a pony tail, has a menacing look. He is known as a brawler, a one-punch artist, and his trademark is a dog collar, per his nickname, that he wears into the ring for fights. Until you get the choirboy smile, his appearance can be scary.
Haro was not scared. During Angulo's eight-month stay in El Centro, she made the four-hour drive from Los Angeles several times a week to file motions, make arguments and keep heat on U.S. immigration officials who, she says, were "abusing power." There were never any criminal charges against Angulo, she says, and other immigration experts she has asked agree that his eight-month detention was unheard of.
Angulo says his detention prison was a large room with 65 beds. He says he was allowed to go into the yard a couple of hours each day, but even that had drawbacks.
"It was usually 115 degrees," he says, "and the shoes they gave us were paper thin. Your feet just burned."
Nor was food a highlight.
"We got powdered eggs once in a while," he says, "but the big deal was every other Friday. We got pizza and three buffalo wings. Always three."
Angulo, a legal U.S. resident now, feels deprived of prime time in his boxing career. At 30, he is fighting for his friend, Oscar De La Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions, and being handled by top trainer Virgil Hunter, Andre Ward's trainer.
"I want to win all five titles in my weight class," he says, "and I think I have three years to do that."
Shaw finds that laughable.
"He'll never be a great fighter," he says. "Maybe a good one. We'll see when he goes against somebody really tough."
No surprise there. It's boxing. They're always fighting.