Sudden Fury in Kingston
On Saturday, November 13, 1984, highly touted Jaime Garza was scheduled to meet cagey Juan “Kid” Meza in the main event at the Mid Town Neighborhood Center in Kingston, NY. Meza was a distinct 5-1 underdog to the 40-0 heavy puncher from Southern Californian who was being compared to Danny "Little Red" Lopez for his full throttle offense, porous defense, and ability to come off the canvas and put his opponent out. In fact, Garza won his title some 17 months before by coming off the floor in typical "Little Red" fashion to knock out Bobby Berna in two and take the belt vacated by the legendary Wilfredo Gomez. I was well ensconced in my den in Boston, with friends, beverage and cigars, ready for action as the fight was being aired on CBS with Gil Clancy and Sugar Ray Leonard at the mikes. But as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The referee for this fight was Johnny Lo Bianco. The judges were Carol Castellano, Luis Rivera, and Bernie Freidkin. Everyone sensed their work would be brief since both fighters had an astonishing 75 KO’s on their combined resumes. Garza, was 40-0, with 38 knockouts (13 in the first round). "Kid" Meza, from Los Angeles, by way of Mexicali, was 49-9, with 37 KO’s. Both men scaled 121 ½ lbs. Knockout was the operative word this night. While Kid Meza had never been knocked off his feet, most experts felt the heavy handed Garza would do the trick.
But first, the limited but game Billy Costello, 140, of Kingston defended his WBC super lightweight title against tough but too old Saul Mamby in the co-feature and won a UD. Since this was Billy's home town, there was considerable interest in the card which also included Wilford Scypion. Little did the fans know what was coming.
Garza was handled by John Montes Sr. and Bennie Georgino (who curiously also handled "Little Red" Lopez) and threw lightening fast combinations punctuated with lethal hooks. If hit squarely, most of his opponents would go; in fact, 30 went in less than three. He was undefeated and ready to achieve superstar status.
As for Juan "Kid" Meza (whose trainer was Jimmy Montoya), two years before, the Mexicali native had fought well before being stopped in the sixth by the legendary Wilfredo Gomez. After losing that fight, he took off for a year. During this time, Gomez left the championship vacant to challenge for the Featherweight crown. Garza won the vacant championship by knocking out the aforementioned Berna. Meanwhile, Meza worked his way back into title contention with wins over Roberto Castillo (KO 8), Pongpan Sorphayathai (20-1) whom he ko' d in three in Thailand and two 10-round decisions over Javier Barajas. The "Kid" also was a quick starter with 21 of his 31 knockouts ending in less than three rounds.
Earlier in his career, Meza made his first noticeable mark when he knocked out Carlos Ortiz in one in 1977 avenging an earlier loss. He won 29 of his next 31 bouts, earning a following on the West Coast. Included in those 31 fights were a ten-round decision over Carlos Mendoza in 1981as part of the Gomez-Sanchez under card in Las Vegas, and a 9th round knockout over Antonio Guido as part of the Bentize-Duran under card in 1982. He was then ranked the number one challenger to Wilfredo Gomez's WBC world Super-Bantamweight title. By then, informed boxing people knew that Juan "Kid" Meza was never to be taken lightly. Nor, of course, was Jamie Garza who had 23 straight stoppages coming into this fight. Which brings us to November 13, 1984
As the bell rang,Meza reached out to touch gloves, but Garza was having none of it and kept his hands up ready to fight. Clearly, there was no love lost as there had been an altercation at breakfast between the two.They came out immediately winging and trading hooks. In this case, the old adage "never hook with a hooker" did not apply, for both fighters were deadly with this punch. Incredibly, after a right uppercut missed, a wide hook crashed off Meza’s temple and put him on the canvas for the very first time in his 47-fight career. With only only 40 seconds into the fight, Garza had now demonstrated beyond any doubt the power of his blows. One of my friends jumped up and said "don't go to the john." We were all standing and shouting as was the live crowd. This is exactly what we expected and what we wanted.
The Kid looked around and then picked up the count showing remarkable calm for a fighter who had never been floored. Garza charged in for the kill and drove Meza back toward the ropes, but the Kid responded with heavy shots that slowed him down. Garza continued to fire away with his all-offense, no-defense style, and showed little fear of Meza's punches. The Kid's jabs found their mark through Garza’s porous defense and the two began exchanging three and four punch flurry's. The fight took on the aura of a cock fight with back and forth winging. One could literally hear the swish sound when they missed and the thump sound when they didn't miss. I was up and screaming, "....end it Jaimie, end it, take him out......"
"Garza’s making the mistake of falling in with his hands down," CBS analyst Sugar Ray Leonard correctly noted as Garza kind of stumbled into the corner after missing a wild hook. When Meza went after him, Garza spun away and landed a cuffing hook that sent Meza to the canvas. Meza quickly arose and pointed his gloves toward the canvas to indicate he had been pushed. Referee LoBianco agreed and ruled it a slip. Garza then landed some jabs, but his speedy combos, launched with the evilist of intentions, missed; Meza's were more accurate marking an ever-so-subtle shift, albeit early, in his favor.
At that point, commentator Gil Clancy pointed out spmething that I had also noticed, "The big difference that I see so far is that Garza is much the shorter puncher of the two......he’ll beat Meza to the punch because Meza is a wide puncher." Then, a split-second after he said that, it happened. Jaimie began to throw a counter hook after Meza had missed with a short combo. Unfortunatley for him, he kept his right arm low which created an opening. Meanwhile, Meza, by missing with his right dipped and in so doing was in excellent position to trigger his own hook. His blow was launched just before Garza’s. So here it was in plain sight.....hooking with the hooker. We all rose and started screaming because we knew what had just occured. Ready for a devastating result, we were not dissapointed. Meza had beaten Garza to the punch with shocking effect.
The savage hook struck Garza on the sweet point of his jaw, snapping his head violently to the side. His body twisted grotesquely and crashed hard to the canvas, his head bouncing dangerously off the canvas. Garza’s eyes rolled up into his head. He was in bad shape but made a vailant effort pull himself upright after rolling under the ropes. His effort was too little too late. Referee LoBianco reached the count of ten a split-second before Garza fully regained his feet, but he would have been in no shape to continue even if he had beaten the count. A new and jubilant champion had beem crowned. The ko was named 1984’s Knockout of the Year by KO Magazine. Juan Meza became the first challenger in boxing history to be dropped in round one, get up and knock out the world champion in the same first round.
Garza would go to win four uneventful bouts but lost in shocking fashion to Daryl Thigpen (10-4) being stopped in the six after being down four times. After the devastating loss to Meza, Jaime was never the same and would never again win a meaningful fight. He went 2-3 in his final five finishing with a proud record of 48-6 (44 KOs) and an astonishing ko percentage of 81%.
Meza fought seven more times and beat always tough tough Mike Ayala in six rounds, but shockingly dropped his belt to prohibitive underdog Lupe Pintor in a thrilling 12-round slugfest. Sixteen months later, he challenged for a world title for the final time against slick Samart Payakaroon in Bangkok, but was stopped by the Thai with just five seconds before the final bell. He was far behind on points so the stoppage was academic. Later, Meza ko'd Lenny Valdez in one but was then stopped in eight by Javier Marquez. Remarkably, nine years later at age 40, he came back to stop Esteban Lozoya in four, but after being stopped in one by Wilfredo Negron, he retired. He ended with a fine record of 45-9 (37 KOs) and a ko percentage of 69%.
Now, among other things, being a serious boxing fan means accumualting a memory bank of great -fights......fights like Castiilo-Corrales, Brooks-Curry, Hagler-Hearns, Ward-Green-Gatti-Burton, Norton-Holmes, Chacon-Limon, Mancini-Kim, and many, many others. But for me, it also means Meza-Garza. Thanks for the memories.
Ted Sares is a syndicated writer whocan be reached at [email protected]