Report by Chris Cozzone
After a weekend of endless commentary on the Web, talk of suspensions and frame-ups, handwraps, extortion and violations made by, both, fighters and commission, new information sheds light on Friday night’s fiasco at the Isleta Resort & Casino in Albuquerque.
According to statements made by fighter Melissa Hernandez, who was scheduled to fight Holly Holm in Friday’s main event, and her team, they were, both, denied the opportunity to witness the wrapping of Holm’s hands, then refused a re-wrapping, upon request, at least until Hernandez was back in her hotel room, at the other end of the casino.
Several eyewitnesses backstage verify that a representative of Hernandez’s camp was not present when Holm had her hands wrapped, although a Deputy Inspector of the Isleta Tribal Athletic Commission was.
“When it was time to do the handwraps, a deputy inspector went to get someone from Hernandez’s corner, but there was no one in her dressing room,” says John Montano, supervisor for Isleta’s athletic commission.
“We assumed they were out there watching the fights. Since it’s a courtesy – not a rule – that a representative from the other corner must be present, and because we couldn’t wait, for Trainer Mike Winkeljohn was also in Jodie Esquibel’s corner [who would soon be fighting the co-main], they went ahead with wrapping Holm’s hands.”
Montano confirms that a deputy inspector was present to witness the wrapping.
“I checked her hands, too, and they were perfectly fine and normal,” says Montano, who then left for ringside to supervise the co-main.
It was during the first three rounds of Esquibel-Warner that the drama heated up backstage.
First, a representative of Hernandez showed up at Holm’s dressing room. Belinda Laracuente, Hernandez’s trainer, not only checked out Holm’s wrapped hands, but gave her approval.
“Good to go,” she told everyone present.
Next up, was for Hernandez to get her hands wrapped – but when Promoter Fresquez and a deputy inspector arrived, Hernandez, still in street clothes, shut her door.
They were told by Hernandez’s manager, Brian Cohen, that Hernandez wanted a re-wrapping for Holm. After a brief argument, citing time constraints due to the main event being aired on webcast, and Holm’s trainer Winkeljohn cornering Esquibel in the co-main now being fought, promoter Lenny Fresquez finally agreed, but then was told, “Forget it – she’s in the wrong state of mind to fight now.”
Not long after that, Hernandez, having never wrapped, warmed up nor changed into fighting gear, left the venue with her team.
“Some fighters just get cold feet,” is Supervisor Montano’s take on the affair.
According to Fresquez, when he went to try and talk to Hernandez, he was met by a member of Team Hernandez who told him that, “This is nothing that money wouldn’t fix.”
In order for the fight to happen, Fresquez was asked for an additional $5,000 beyond the $7,500 Hernandez was contractually obligated to receive for fighting Holm.
When it appeared as if Hernandez was not going to return to the arena to fight Holm, a virtual last-minute substitute was secured in Victoria Cisneros.
The appearance of Cisneros as a sub has been deemed a suspicious element by Hernandez and team, though Cisneros has been a consistent spectator at fight cards dating back to 2004 – easily verified by any regular at New Mexico fight cards, this reporter included.
Cisneros had also worked out that afternoon at the Jack Candelaria Community Center for two hours.
Cisneros confirmed on Monday that she, in no way, expected to fight that night – why else the workout? But she was in shape because she had been booked to fight in Philadelphia on Dec. 4 – that same night – but the bout had fallen through on Tuesday.
The on-the-spot approval for Cisneros has been the source of much criticism heaped upon Isleta’s athletic commission. The local commission has been accused of arranging a last-minute fight without proper medicals, physicals and a weighing-in.
[A clarification: The Isleta commission operates independently from the New Mexico Athletic Commission (NMAC), which, unlike Isleta’s version, is a member of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC). Though the Isleta commission is obligated to follow the minimum guidelines set up by the NMAC, it is under no mandate to use the state’s commission.]
“It was a sticky situation,” admits Supervisor Montano. “I’d seen Victoria fight before and knew her to be a tough kid. It’s not my job to sanction title fights, but as a match-up, there was no reason not to. She had her medicals.”
Because Cisneros had been booked to fight that night – in Philadelphia – she had all the proper medicals done the previous week. What she did not have – because she was in attendance as a spectator and not as someone who might get a last-minute opportunity to fight – was the actual, physical paperwork.
“We had it, though,” says Cisneros’ manager, Robert Padilla. “It was in my travel bag.” And the travel bag, says Padilla, was in his car. “But it was all good,” assures Padilla. “Cisneros was set to go.”
The actual paperwork is not necessary, says Supervisor Montano.
“We knew from FightFax that she wasn’t under suspension, and her previous medicals had been good for a year,” says Montano. “We gave her a physical on site and she was good to go.”
An oversight was made, admits Promoter Fresquez, in not weighing Cisneros in.
“We knew she was about 140 pounds, though,” says Fresquez.
The oversight not to weigh Cisneros also affects the so-called championships (WIBA and NABF) at stake. Without a weigh-in of one of the contestants, the two sanctioning bodies have no way of knowing whether Cisneros was actually on weight in fighting for their belts.
Though there has been talk of suspending Hernandez for not honoring her contract, there has been nothing officially declared, as of yet. However, if a suspension for Hernandez does become official, it may not effect her in any way, other than prohibit her from fighting on Isleta soil again, which appears to be a likely outcome, anyway.
Because Isleta’s commission is not a member of the ABC, other states are under no obligation to honor any decision rendered by Isleta.