VACAVILLE — The Georgie Duke Sports Center is Manuel “Tino” Avila’s house, and he let the world know it Saturday night.
Ricky Lopez got the message loud and clear when it came through in the eighth round in the form of a right hook-left hook combo that sent him to the canvas for the second time in the round, giving Avila a TKO victory and keeping his professional record perfect at 11-0 with four knockouts.
Fighting for the first time as a pro in the gym where he’s trained since he was 12, the 20-year-old Avila, a Fairfield resident and Rodriguez High graduate, said he heard the chants of, “Let’s go Tino,” and “Who’s house? Tino’s house.”
“I felt the energy in Fairfield because that’s where I was born – that’s where I was raised, I was born in Vallejo – I was raised in Fairfield and I trained my whole life in Vacaville,” Avila said. “Being in Vacaville, exactly where I train, just on the other side of the wall, that just gave me even a bigger boost. Just knowing that they came to bring this show for me.”
The energy he got from the partisan crowd helped him overcome a tough early challenge from Lopez (9-2).
As the fight wore on, Avila made it clear he wasn’t about to go down in his gym.
Four rounds of toe-to-toe action with Lopez occasionally pushing Avila to the ropes eventually gave way to more dominant rounds from Avila.
He pressed his advantage as he saw Lopez tiring in the final three frames.
“It’s because I knew even from training they were telling me that he was going to gas out. So I knew he gassed out on the third and I didn’t really take over in the fourth. I was like, ‘Oh, I should have done something,’ ” Avila said. “The fifth through the eighth round, I was like, ‘This is my rounds right now. I left this fight too close . . . I’ve got to get on him. I can’t just let him do anything.’ ”
Throughout the fight, Avila was drawing Lopez in close and ducking the right hand.
But heading into the final rounds, Avila’s longtime trainer Al LaGardo told his pupil to stand his ground.
“The final, round I could see him falling apart little by little, because he was getting super aggressive. I could tell that he felt that he could hurt Tino, but he was getting tired also,” LaGardo said. “Once Tino started hitting him with that jab easier and easier, I know he was really slowing down. So in the last round I told Tino, ‘You need this round. But when he throws that damn right hand, don’t step back. Stay short with your hook and you’ll catch him.’ ”
That’s just what happened.
A little more than a minute into the eighth round, Lopez came in and Avila clubbed him in the jaw with a left hook that sent the 25-year-old tumbling to the mat.
Lopez got up, but was clearly dazed.
“He was dropping his hands, so I threw that hook and it landed flush,” Avila said. “I knew that was the punch he was going to try to block so I feigned it and I threw the right hand-left hook and it dropped him again and it was over.”
After a first round of jabs and testing each other’s defenses, Lopez came on strong in the second round and amid numerous tie-ups, he managed to sneak a head butt in, opening up a large gash over Avila’s left eye that required stitches after the fight.
“I didn’t feel it at all and blood started getting in my eye, it kind of affected me, but I was like, ‘Alright I’ve got to get this guy, he’s paying for it,’ ” Avila said.
LaGardo said he was glad to see Avila get pushed and have to deal with some adversity in the ring, although his corner stopped the bleeding right away, helping Avila tremendously.
“He followed instructions very well, he didn’t get shook up over getting cut – the first time he’s ever been cut,” LaGardo said.
He added that Saturday was a good test for Avila, noting that Lopez is older and more physically developed.
“It was a good test,” he said. “Now what happens is all his fights are going to be hard.”
That’s hardly a concern for Avila, who was ready to get back to work as soon as he’s cleared.
“As soon as this cut heals up, I’m going to be in the gym in the next few days,” he said.