When Baby Joe Mesi received induction into the Buffalo Ring 44 Boxing Hall of Fame in August 2011, he made sure everyone understood the honor wasn’t just for him but for all members of Team Mesi, including his good friend and longtime trainer Juan DeLeon.
DeLeon – the man who helped Mesi become the No. 1 contender for the heavyweight championship – is back in the spotlight again. The Kenmore resident can carve his own niche in boxing history this afternoon when his latest protege, unbeaten Mariusz Wach, gets his shot at Wladimir Klitschko’s heavyweight title when the two battle during the 12-round main event at 4:30 p.m. at O2 Arena in Berlin, Germany.
“He is hungry and he has a lot to prove,” DeLeon said in a recent boxingscene.com story. “On Nov. 10, I believe there will be a new champion.”
It won’t be easy for the Polish-born Wach, who trains in North Bergen, N.J., out of Global Boxing Gym. DeLeon has spent the past two years building up the frequent flyer miles commuting from here, to New Jersey, to Poland and now Germany while working with Wach.
Klitschko has had a long reign as the heavyweight champion of the world. The 36-year-old Ukranian has held at least one world title since 2006 (he currently holds WBA Super Heavyweight, IBF, WBO and IBO championship belts) and hasn’t lost since April 10, 2004 (16 fights).
Despite the aura of invincibility, there are some who believe the 32-year-old Wach (27-0, 15 KOs), who’s No. 4 in the world rankings, may be a stiff test for Klitschko (58-3, 50 KOs) simply because Wach literally is the bigger man (6-foot-7½, 250.9 pounds), putting Klitschko (6-6, 246.9) in an unfamiliar position of boxing someone bigger than he is.
One thing Mesi knows for certain is that DeLeon, who couldn’t reached for comment, will have Wach in the proper frame of mind for the fight.
“He’s one of the best [trainers in the world],” Mesi said. “I didn’t know much about boxing [when I started]. He grounded me, he found me. Everything I knew about boxing and what I did in the ring is because of Juan.”
DeLeon doesn’t have a win-loss record. He doesn’t set foot in the ring for a prize fight with gloves on his hands. Instead, he comes armed with a wealth of knowledge.
He had a knack for learning the skills of the sport from watching his older brother, former world cruiserweight champion Carlos “Sugar” DeLeon, train in the gym. He also discovered he had the gift to teach these skills to others, so that they too could find the path to success in the ring.
DeLeon’s fighters have won more than they’ve lost over the years, with Mesi never losing in 36 bouts.
While there are active fighters out there still trying to put Western New York on the boxing map once again, DeLeon has a shot at doing just that and perhaps becoming as respected in the game as world-champion trainers Freddie Roach, Lou Duva and the late Emanuel Steward.
“This is great for Western New York,” Mesi said. “It’s a little bit bittersweet for me. I fought a long hard career, got all the way up to almost a world title. That’s all I ever wanted but now Juan, my trainer, is getting that opportunity. ... I sit back and honestly I wish that were me in there. But I’m so happy for him. Juan deserves this.”