Time to learn about Lugo

Who is Steffan Lugo?

Some people in the opposing corner from him would like to know.

At the Resort at Pelican Hill's Pelican Grill, he's the unassuming waiter.

When he went to Newport Harbor High, he was the scrappy, skinny kid who never backed down from a fight. Sometimes he started them.

He played water polo and, admittedly, hardly got along with his coaches. Jason Lynch, the boys' water polo coach, is known to show his authority, to put it mildly.

"Me and him butted heads a few times," Lugo said.

But Lugo didn't need Lynch to make him tough. The various fights did that. Lugo had always been strong-minded and aggressive. After high school in 2003, Lugo searched for an outlet to unleash that aggression.

So just who is Steffan Lugo?

Nowadays he's an unknown boxer trying his best to move up the ranks. He might not fit the classic persona of a boxer, but here is making his pro debut Friday in Costa Mesa.

For the past two months, he's been at work preparing for his four-round bout against J.J. Ambrose of Lakewood. It's billed as a super middleweight fight (166 pounds) and one of eight matches in the Fight Club OC Special Edition night, starting at 7:30 in the Hangar at the OC Fair & Event Center.

Just like when he was at Newport Harbor, there's no way Lugo will be backing down from this one. Who cares if no one has ever heard of him.

Just a few days ago, someone came asking Jason Parillo, Lugo's trainer, if he'd heard of Lugo. The person asking was someone who knows Ambrose, Parillo said.

"He's sitting right there behind you," Parillo told the guy asking while at a gym.

"Nobody knows him," Parillo told me Wednesday. "Nobody has video of him … I'm hoping more people will know him after this fight."

Lugo and Parillo just clicked when they met 10 years ago at L.A. Boxing in Costa Mesa. There's a mutual respect there between the two.

Parillo has definitely earned that respect. The Costa Mesa resident was a fighter too. He built an 8-0 record before a detached retina in his eye and nerve damage in his hand pulled him away from inside the ring.

But he had always been a trainer. He's trained mixed martial arts fighters B.J. Penn and Tito Ortiz among other MMA guys and boxers. Parillo learned from one of the best, Jesse Reid, the Hall of Fame trainer.

It makes sense three years that Lugo would ask Parillo for advice. Lugo wanted to know if he should continue with boxing or transfer from Orange Coast College to finish up at San Diego State.

"I felt it should be college for him," Parillo said. "He got his degree, but he still wants to get punched in the face so here we are."

Lugo would be just fine not getting hit Friday night, but he expects a good fight. He asked for today through Saturday off at the Pelican Grill well in advance.

He doesn't want to show up with a black eye or anything when he's scheduled for work again on Sunday.

His size and speed can give him an advantage, Parillo says. Lugo is 6-foot-2.

Ambrose is also making his pro boxing debut at Fight Club OC. He's had pro bouts as an MMA fighter, so Lugo has seen video of him.

"I know that guy is tough, but I'm tougher," Lugo said with a smile.

Lugo said he's excited about Friday, calling the bout the biggest fight of his life. It's a big one because it's his first pro fight. But it's also important because it's so close to home.

"I don't want to put pressure on myself," he said. "I want my instincts to take over. I can research his MMA videos, but it's a different fight. There's nothing he's going to show me that I haven't seen before … I'm not worried about the fight part of it. I know my instincts will take over."

Lugo says he's sold close to 120 tickets to family and friends. They'll all be there to watch the kid who grew up in Newport Beach and went away to San Diego for college. He earned a degree in business management from San Diego State.

He has some thoughts to open a bar and grill in Newport. For the past two years since finishing up at San Diego State, he's just been doing his best to get by.

He had always worked in fine dining as a food server. It was disappointing when he lost his job at a hotel restaurant in San Diego.

He came back to Newport Beach, but continued to pay rent for his house in San Diego.

He settled back home with his parents, living in the pool house in Dover Shores.

He lived off a tax return check until landing the job at the Pelican Grill. Because that income is so important to him, he schedules his training around his work schedule.

But he has found time to hit the bag and spar at a training gym tucked away amid office buildings in Costa Mesa. Not too many know about the private gym within the warehouse at the RVCA clothing building.

PM "Pat" Tenore, the owner of RVCA, had the training facility built for Penn, Lugo said. Other pro fighters have come through. Lugo wants to make a name for himself too.

Friday would be a great opportunity.

STEVE VIRGEN is the sports editor of the Daily Pilot. He can be reached at (714) 966-4616 or by e-mail at steve.virgen@latimes.com.

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