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Dropping a lot of sweet science

Jeff Tully

As director of the Burbank Boxing Club, Steve Harpst is adept at

teaching students the fundamentals of the sport.

From conditioning drills, to proper punching techniques, to

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improving an athlete’s footwork, Harpst works with his students three

times a week in a small multipurpose room at the Burbank Family YMCA.

However, when it comes to getting inside information about boxing,

Harpst leaves it up to the experts.

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At a recent Burbank Boxing Club gathering, the students were

treated to a visit by two individuals who have gained prominence in

the sport, and who know a few things about the sweet science.

Joe Chavez, the respected cut man and hand wrapper for

middleweight champion Oscar De La Hoya, along with Carlos Baeza, the

fighter’s official photographer, were on hand to give the athletes an

intriguing perceptive on the professional game.

“I invited Joe and Carlos to see if they wanted to come over and

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just kind of meet with the gang here and talk a little boxing,” said

Harpst, a sculptor who does awards pieces for the World Boxing Hall

of Fame. “And they told me that they would love to do it.

“Both of them are super nice people and they are incredibly down

to earth.”

Harpst said the visit by Chavez and Baeza was a great chance for

his students to mingle and rub elbows with two men who are involved

with one of the sport’s recent success stories.

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“It’s a thrill because the [students] will get a chance to see

someone like Joe in here. And the next time they tune in an Oscar

fight, they will see him working in the corner,” he said. “Then they

will really appreciate who he is and what he does to help Oscar.”

Chavez has been working with De La Hoya for more than a year. He

was in the “Golden Boy’s” corner Sept. 14 when he knocked out

Fernando Vargas in the 11th round in Las Vegas to retain his World

Boxing Council junior middleweight title and capture the World Boxing

Assn. junior middleweight crown.

More recently, he worked with De La Hoya when he recorded a

seven-round knockout May 3 in Las Vegas against Yori Boy Campos in a

junior middleweight (154 pounds) bout.

Since winning the 1992 Olympic gold medal for the U.S., De La Hoya

-- who trains in Big Bear -- is 36-2 with 29 knockouts as a pro.

Chavez has been involved in the fight game for 55 years, since

starting out as a boxer at age 15 growing up in Albuquerque.

Along with wrapping De La Hoya’s hands before he puts on his

gloves prior to a fight to prevent injury, Chavez also attends to any

cuts, swelling or damage to the boxer’s face during bouts. However,

for the three fights he has been with De La Hoya, Chavez said he

hasn’t had to deal with any substantial injuries.

“Oscar has never been cut while I’ve been with him. Oscar has a

very good defense and he doesn’t get cut very much,” Chavez said.

“A lot of times most of the cuts that come in a fight come from

the fighters bumping heads. But Oscar is smart and he doesn’t get too

close too much to bump heads.”

Having seen and worked with his share of boxers over the years,

Chavez said De La Hoya is a consummate professional who takes his

work -- and his opponents -- very seriously.

“Oscar is just great to work with,” Chavez said. “He is a nice guy

too.

“For being a multimillionaire, he still works very hard. He still

gets up early in the morning, runs and does his work. He does what

he’s supposed to.”

Although Chavez is not De La Hoya’s trainer, with his years of

expertise, he will offer occasional tips to the fighter.

Chavez said the De La Hoya camp acts as a unit and its main goal

is to keep the fighter winning.

“Oscar listens to what his trainers tell him,” said Chavez, who

boxed for 11 years in the pro and amateur ranks. “If you tell him to

do something, like use his jab more, he will usually do it.

“That is one of the biggest things boxers don’t do enough of today

-- use the jab. A jab to a fighter is like a cane to a blind man, if

you don’t use it, you’re lost.”

*

Although Baeza had been De La Hoya’s official photographer for

just two fights, he has known the boxer for years.

Baeza, who has a house in Big Bear, said a chance meeting between

he and the fighter was his first contact with De La Hoya.

“He used to run right by my house, which is close to the national

forest.” Baeza said. “So that’s how I met him.

“He is a little different kind of individual to photograph,

because everything he wants done he wants it done right, as natural

as possible. Because of that, I have been able to get some very nice

shots of him.”

Baeza said photographing boxing is a passion he picked up in the

late-1970s, shooting black and white photos at events at the Olympic

Auditorium. Along with spending time honing his craft at the small

gyms in and around Los Angeles, he also traveled to Europe to find

material.

In capturing the image of a fighter, Baeza -- who grew up in

Pasadena -- said his approach can vary from one athlete to another.

“Boxers are like anyone else, they all have their own technique,

their own style, and there is a lot of difference in personality,” he

said. “Some of them are shy of the camera ... and others are hams,

who can’t wait for you to snap another photo. Some of those types of

guys will even come to you and tell you the way they want the photo

to be.”

Through his lens, Baeza said he has seen the sport change a lot in

25 years -- and not always for the better.

Today’s big money and even bigger egos have taken its toll on

boxing.

“I started and became familiar with the boxers of the 1970s and

‘80s, where at that particular time, they were not really paid the

high purses the fighters of today are paid,” he said.

“Today’s fighters, in my opinion, are more prima donnas. If they

don’t want to fight the next guy, they just won’t do it. But back

with the fighters of the ‘60s, ‘70s and even ‘80s, they just couldn’t

want to get to the next opponent.

“The money has really made a difference. Today, even a flyweight

expects to get a million or more for a fight.”

Chavez agrees the sport has suffered a negative evolution in

recent years.

“You know what I don’t like about these days in the ring? When I

was fighting in the ‘40s and ‘50s, only three people went into the

ring,” he said. “But now, they have a parade of people who come with

a fighter. They bring their babies up there and things like that.

“That stuff just distracts the fighter and makes him lose focus.”

Along with the bad, Harpst said there are also some positive

aspects about boxing -- and Chavez and Baeza are two of them.

“No doubt, these are two of the good guys,” Harpst said.

“To take the time to come talk to the class really shows that. And

I can tell you, the class really appreciates all their time and

effort.”


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