Two straight losses will make any professional fighter reconsider what exactly they’re doing.
Mike Dallas Jr. was a prized 140-pound prospect coming out of the amateurs, racking up 18 victories before a pair of ESPN-televised losses at the hands of Josesito Lopez and Mauricio Herrera in 2011.
As someone who grew up with a prizefighter for a father and wore a pair of leather mitts before he would walk, he wasn’t about to find a profession outside of the squared circle. He just needed to rethink what he was doing inside of it.
“I’m way more focused now,” said Dallas Jr., who headlines this Friday’s installment of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights against Javier Castro. “It all comes with experience. I’m just trying to grow every time I get in the ring.”
The Bakersfield, Calif., native bounced back in February on ESPN with a shutout decision victory over Miguel Gonzalez, coming off a full camp with esteemed trainer Virgil Hunter for the very first time. In the previous two bouts, Dallas Jr. was criticized for looking amateurish in his approach, moving too much in the ring, and not wanting to tie up on the inside. Arguably, that strategy led to being stopped by Lopez, and out-hustled in tight by Herrera.
“He’s now understanding why he’s doing something and not just doing something for the sake of doing something. Just because you can get a punch off, doesn’t mean it’s the right punch at the right time,” Hunter told RingTV’s Ryan Songalia in February. “He was already counter punching well, but he didn’t know he was counter punching. He has a better understanding of what to do on the inside when people crowd him.”
That added polish made things real easy for Dallas Jr. against Gonzalez. When his opponent closed the distance, he no longer looked confused. Instead, he whacked him with hooks downstairs, and grabbed a hold of him when necessary.
It’s something he’ll need to do against a notorious puncher in Castro this Friday.
“We’ve been working on breaking guys down. Tying up, getting a little rough in there. I showed that not only can I box in there, but I can get some good body shots in also,” said Dallas Jr., 25.
Luckily for him, he has the very embodiment of the efficient fighter alongside him in King’s Gym in Oakland, Calif. Hunter is known as the trainer of RING super middleweight champion Andre Ward, one of the world’s best at picking his punches and getting dirty on the inside, everything Dallas Jr. is trying to hone in his arsenal.
“(Ward is) a role model. It’s kind of crazy, because he’s one of my favorite fighters, him and Mayweather, because they’re smart guys, and that’s what I want to be. A smart fighter. So I look up to him,” said Dallas Jr. (18-2-1, 7 knockouts).
Dallas Jr. is certainly no stranger to famous company. He was a main sparring partner of Manny Pacquiao before the superstar’s 2010 bout with Joshua Clottey. More recently, he has sparred with recognizable names such as Eloy Perez and Karim Mayfield in preparation for his own bouts, enlisting top-flight aid from the talent-rich area in California.
In May, “The Silent Assassin” reportedly had an offer to face another rising west coast star, Jessie Vargas, on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto. According to him, though, he was vacationing in Jamaica at the time the offer was made, and didn’t want to risk taking the fight on seven days of training.
Instead, similar to Hunter’s blueprint for him in the ring, he chose to take another ESPN date a month later, and not rush the progress on a project that is seemingly headed in the right direction.
“I am thankful that they keep putting me on their station. Now I’ve just gotta capitalize when they do,” said Dallas Jr. “After two solid wins, two, three more fights and I think I’ll be ready for the best at the 140 weight class. If they bring (Vargas) up again, I’d love to take it.”
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman