“I started off with nothing here,” said the San Carlos-trained pugilist, recalling the early days in the pricey Bay Area when he didn’t have enough money for his phone bill, a tab his mother would regularly pay. “I was just being gutsy, trying to pursue my dream.”
And pursue it he has.
Nearly four years after putting an ocean between himself and his family, the Filipino-born, Hawaiian-bred fighter will have his biggest fight to date Saturday — a shot at the vacant IBA 115-pound title at the Sports House in Redwood City against Fresno’s Michael Ruiz Jr., 24, a foe he knows all too well.
The two lefties battled twice as amateurs, with each winning a fight apiece. Escalante (10-1-1, five KO’s) edged the Fresno fighter in the 2008 national PAL championship finals and likewise lost to Ruiz (9-3-1, three KO’s) a year later in the U.S. championship quarterfinal.
“If he comes out with his best game plan, we have something,” said the 25-year-old Escalante. “It’s going to be explosive. He has something to prove, I have something to prove.”
Ruiz, fond of his overhand left, was a loser in three of his past four bouts coming into Saturday’s contest, and was stopped three fights ago against unbeaten prospect Matthew Villanueva, the man who handed Escalante his lone defeat.
And that lone defeat nearly derailed him.
“I thought my career was over,” Escalante said. “Because in boxing if you lose one or a couple, your ranking goes down.”
It’s true. In an era where the coddling of an unbeaten prospect is a rampant practice, an early loss is oftentimes devastating. But winning can overcome such devastation. And since signing with manager Herb Stone — who made the title shot happen — in November of last year, Escalante hasn’t lost since.
The IBA is a minor title, one not to be confused with an actual world championship. But winning such a title can help in securing worthy fights, and likewise worthy paydays.
“I don’t take any fight or any belt lightly,” Escalante said. “I train for every fight as if it’s my last fight. I wanna be the best in the game.”
He’s far from that, and even further from demanding the purses worthy of the best fighters in the world. He grosses a mere couple of thousand dollars per fight, a sum impossible to survive on and pay for his one-bedroom Belmont apartment.
“If I don’t work, there’s no way I can live here. I can’t live off my purse. There’s no way,” Escalante said. “I’m not in a comfortable position right now. I’m still struggling with rent.”
But Brian Schwartz and Michael Bazzel, Escalante’s trainers, have eased that.
Since training him full time, Schwartz and Bazzel have made Escalante a personal trainer and amateur coach at Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos.
“I was so fortunate that someone like them believed in me. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be fighting professional right now,” he said. “I really believe I can do it, my team believes I can do it. I won’t stop until I get it.”
Bruno Escalante vs. Michael Ruiz
WHEN: Saturday, doors open at 6 p.m.
WHERE: Sports House, Redwood City