Inside the ring, 2017 has been a very good year for undefeated junior lightweight Lamont Roach Jr. He has three consecutive victories and is scheduled to fight his first main event Thursday when he takes on Rey “Flash” Perez at the MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Outside the ring, however, it has been a year marred by tragedy.
In January, his 25-year-old cousin, Jermaine Roach, was shot and killed, and in October his trainer, Bernard Roach, died of a heart attack suffered while jogging.
“It’s been a very tough time, but Bernard taught me how to persevere,” Roach said. “His death hurt me, but boxing gave me a way to keep his name alive. The things I’ve been through have made me who I am today. Sometimes you get off track and sometimes you think about what could have been, what should have been. But the main thing is that I know they wouldn’t want me to give up.”
Fortunately, Roach (15-0, 6 KOs) didn’t have to look very far to find a new trainer.
“I trained Lamont the whole way with Bernard, the whole 13 years, so I’m training him now,” said Roach’s father, Lamont Sr. “We came back to the gym just a few days after his last fight.”
A strong family bond has helped the 22-year-old prospect maintain his equilibrium through difficult times.
“I have a big family,” Roach said, “and we’ve managed to bring our family together through boxing. They come to my fights and we watch other fights together. It’s a good thing.”
The Perez fight is somewhat of a homecoming for Roach, who has been a road warrior since March 2016, fighting in Nevada, upstate New York and three times in California.
“I was received very well in California,” Roach said. “Usually when you fight in California against a Mexican or Mexican-American, the home crowd is with them. But it was the opposite when I was there.”
Roach’s most impressive performance to date came last June when he won a unanimous 10-round decision over Jesus Valdez in Indio, California. Valdez’s record entering the match was 22-2-1 with 10 KOs, but Roach prevailed in dominating fashion by scores of 100-90, 98-92 and 97-93.
“Valdez was a tall southpaw with a good record,” Roach said. “He was the sort of fighter most people avoid, but we don’t turn down anybody because we want to get to the next level. I hope Perez is a step up, but no matter if he’s a step up, a step down or a step to the side, I’m going to step over him.”
Perez (21-8, 6 KOs) has fought much better opposition than Roach but has not fared well against them. He got off to a promising start, winning the Philippines junior bantamweight belt in his 11th pro bout. After that, however, the losses began to mount.
The 27-year-old Filipino didn’t fight for 16 months after being knocked out by Jessie Magdaleno in February 2016. He returned to the ring in June with a victory, stopping Noel Adelmita in the second round. The Roach fight could very well be Perez’s last chance to turn around his career.
“I’m satisfied with every victory, but I’ve been training too hard not to knock this guy out,” Roach said. “If I come out of this fight without a knockout, I’ll be disappointed.”
As Perez has lost six of his 10 most recent fights, it seems likely that Roach will achieve his goal.
In the co-feature, Jose “Wonder Boy” Lopez meets Avery “A-Plus” Sparrow in a junior lightweight bout scheduled for 10 rounds.
The 23-year-old Lopez (18-1-1, 14 KOs) is from Carolina, Puerto Rico, and is managed by future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto. Like so many Puerto Ricans, Lopez and his family were victims of Hurricane Maria in September.
“We lost some material things in my house,” Lopez said, “but we have our health, which is the best thing.”
In his most recent fight, Lopez scored an impressive 10-round unanimous decision over 2000 Puerto Rican Olympian Orlando Cruz.
The fight was close the first four rounds, but according to veteran boxing writer Eric Armit, “things changed in the fifth when Lopez stormed forward and scored with two left hands that had Cruz badly shaken and holding on to survive.”
Lopez, 23, continued to attack, and by the eighth round Cruz was taking heavy punishment and was forced to clinch repeatedly to survive. The lopsided decision in Lopez’s favor was a formality.
Lopez was originally scheduled to face Miguel Gonzalez on Thursday, but when the Mexican fell out, Sparrow jumped at the opportunity to take the fight on two-week’s notice.
“We had that date in mind but no opponent, so I’ve had an eight to 10-week training camp. It really wasn’t a short notice — it was just a short notice on the opponent,” Sparrow said.
Sparrow (8-1, 3 KOs) has become a favorite at Philly’s atmospheric 2300 Arena, where he has had six of his 10 pro fights. His only defeat came in October 2015 when he was disqualified in the sixth round for repeatedly hitting Jerome Robinson low.
The nimble Philadelphian has quick hands and moves well in a fluid yet aggressive style that makes for entertaining fights. Although he lacks a big punch, the 23-year-old Sparrow isn’t bashful about letting his hands go.
“I can adapt to anything that comes my way,” Sparrow said. “If I need to box, I’ll box. If I need to brawl, I’ll brawl.”
Upsetting the odds is something Sparrow is getting used to. In his most recent bout he took on undefeated Canadian Olympian Joey Laviolette and won a majority decision. He also handed favored Isaelin Florian his first loss in a thrilling fight that saw both men knocked down twice before Sparrow won the decision by triple scores of 58-54.
Sparrow is confident he can do likewise against the hard-hitting Lopez.
“Lopez is a great athlete, but a lot of his knockouts came at lower weights,” Sparrow said, “and I have more experience against guys at a higher level.”