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Former Champ James Page Returns to the Ring Nov. 17 on OPP Presents Card

Pittsburg native looks to regain former glory
Mark Ortega, Martinez News-Gazette, Oct. 18, 2012

Adoring the walls of King’s Gym on 35th St. in Oakland are legions of fight posters and photographs that likely number in the thousands.

James Page stands in front of a newspaper article that captured the moment of his world title win. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

Among the plethora of worn and torn snapshots of history are a handful from the glory days of Pittsburg’s James Page, the one-time WBA welterweight champion who held the crown briefly from 1998-1999.

Now, more than a dozen years since he first defeated Andrey Pestryaev of Russia in two rounds for the vacant title, Page has returned to the famed East Bay boxing gym as he readies himself to climb back into the ring for the first time since losing in his attempt to regain his crown against Andrew Lewis in 2001.

It was announced Wednesday that Page will fight Nov. 17 in Sacramento at the Four Points by Sheraton against Cleven Ishe of Long Beach, a tough journeyman who is much better than his modest record would suggest.

Though the HBO-televised 7th round technical knockout by Lewis definitely knocked Page back a bit, it was personal problems out of the ring that derailed the fighter’s once promising career. A December 2001 incarceration landed Page in the big house for an 11-year sentence, which came to an end earlier this year.

Now in a much better place, Page sees an opportunity to give advice to some of the younger crop of fighters that have begun to make their way into northern California, which has become a hotbed for talent as of late with Andre Ward trainer Virgil Hunter building an impressive stable of contenders that work at King’s quite often.

“I’m interested in helping all these young guys,” said Page in a phone interview earlier this week. “As far as being a former champion, I have the experience and they’ve got what I need as far as getting back in the rhythm. Virgil is a great trainer, taking Andre Ward to where he has, and I’d love to work with those guys.”

While enduring that long stretch behind bars, Page never let himself get out of shape. As a prizefighter at his peak, Page was a 147-pound welterweight known for possessing one of the biggest punches in the sport. He came out of prison not much heavier, weighing closer to the 160-pound middleweight limit, maintaining a solid physique thanks to a dedicated daily regimen. His return to the ring against Ishe next month will take place closer to the junior middleweight limit of 154 pounds.

Ishe is a fighter whose record is more a representation of hard luck than lack of ability and should be taken seriously by Page. He has a history of picking up fights on extremely short notice and has only been stopped twice in nine losses. His awkward style of leaping in with punches is also one which a fighter trying to shake off many years of rust might have a hard time looking great against. With more than a month to prepare rather than 24 or 48 hours, as well as the opportunity to add a former world champion to his résumé should serve as more than enough motivation.

Since returning to the gym, Page’s team has been trying to find him a fight with some difficulty. His comeback was nearly a reality a few months ago when a spot was held for him to fight on a card slated to take place in San Francisco on Aug. 17. The card, was going to be televised nationally by ESPN2 but fell by the wayside when headliner Karim Mayfield withdrew following an injury.

Instead, Page will fight further off the radar as it takes place on the second club show in two months from new promoter OPP Presents.

To go from the bright lights of premium cable television to the untelevised club circuit is a harsh reality that plague many in the sport. For most, deterioration from punishment inflicted in the ring is a usual cause to being knocked down a peg or two. Aside from a 1999 Showtime-televised war with Jose Luis Lopez, Page has not been in too many fights that would have you believe he has eroded. Ten years of not taking punches could work in his favor, preserving him for another day.

The hourglass on Page’s career is running thin But an encouraging sign in support of Page’s journey are the words of young junior middleweight prospect Omar Henry, who relocated to San Jose for a recent training camp and sparred a number of rounds with the 41-year old Page at King’s a few months ago.

“We sparred ten rounds one day,” said Henry when recalling their sparring prior to his victory over Tyrone Selders in June.

“I heard his name before, and that he used to be a world champion. When I heard how long he had been out of the ring, oh man, I couldn’t believe it. His jab was so fast and he gave me great work. Based on that I thought he had been in the gym, I had no idea he had been out for so long. I felt like it was top notch sparring.”

When asked whether he thinks that fire in the ring with the headgear and bigger gloves will carry into the ring on fight night, Henry was confident.

“No doubt about it. This guy is good, man, he is probably gonna knock this guy out.”

After being out of the ring for so long, you have to wonder what kind of nerves Page has heading into battle for the first time in over a decade.

“I don’t have time to be nervous,” Page said. “I’m not nervous. Fighting is what I do and I’m focused on staying sharp, getting good sparring, being in tremendous shape and fighting a good fight. The most difficult thing was wondering whether or not you still had it.”

The question is, when did Page arrive at that realization he still had something left to give?

“The first time me and Omar Henry sparred, I just happened to walk into the gym on a whim,” recalled Page.

“I had run five miles that morning and I didn’t know who Omar was, an up and coming hot prospect. When I went 10 rounds with him and held my own, that was the moment I realized I still had it.”

At 41 years old, it is a longshot that Page regains his former glory. However, reunited with his former team that led him to a title, headed by DeLawrence “Dee” Miller, Page seems to be on the right track and free from the personal demons that plagued his prime.

For now, Page is back at King’s, plugging away, hoping to find his timing as he attempts to make a comeback that—if successful—would no doubt serve as interesting source material for a biopic.

Mark Ortega is a staff writer for queensberry-rules.com and can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

Otis Griffin Stops Adam Collins in Inaugural OPP Presents Card

Photo courtesy of Erik Killin, ringside









Friday night, Otis “Triple OG” Griffin fought in his adopted hometown of Sacramento, Calif. for the first time in 3 years, dispatching Ironton, Ohio’s Adam Collins in the 2nd round of their 10-round scheduled over the limit light heavyweight bout in front of a packed house at the DoubleTree by Hilton.

Here is a list of links you can read recaps of the entire night’s worth of action which featured well-matched undercard fights full of local talent. OPP Presents is slated to return in October, tentatively titled “Monsters Brawl”.

‘Hot August Fights’ Result: Griffin Over Collins, Abella and Loeza Earn KnockoutsJohnny Waugh, srmma.com, AUGUST 26, 2012

Otis Griffin Gets Back in Win Column In SacramentoMark Ortega, Queensberry-Rules.com, AUGUST 25, 2012

Griffin rolls over CollinsJim Jenkins, Fightnews.com, AUGUST 25, 2012

Regional Digest: Griffin wins second-round TKOJim Jenkins, Sacramento Bee, AUGUST 25, 2012

Ortega Time II: Mike Ortega Returns to Sacramento Tonight

Boxing can be a fickle sport. Nary an athlete’s career path has as many twists and turns, ups and downs as that of an aspiring boxer. It is a sport where talent does not always translate into success, especially of the immediate variety. In fact, some of the most talented often have the most trouble getting off the blocks for no fault of their own. One fighter full of promise begins his journey anew tonight in a four-rounder at the DoubleTree Hotel in his hometown of Sacramento, California. Power-punching light middleweight Mike Ortega is home again, in more ways than one.

Ortega (2-0, 1 KO) turned pro way back in August of 2008 after a successful amateur career. The difficulties he found in landing fight number two helped lead him to completely switch his focus to mixed martial arts for a time, before his boxing return a little over a year ago. While Ortega still plans to pursue MMA in addition to boxing, he is happy to be back between the ropes. “I had to do what I had to, but I did miss boxing and the competitive aspect,” says Ortega, who is also a successful personal trainer. “It definitely feels right to be back.”

Ortega’s return was supposed to come against a former local amateur rival Velvet Malone (0-4), who had relocated from Sacramento to Las Vegas, Nevada some years ago, but fought out of the Capital City as amateur. Ortega had fought Malone as a teenager and his trainer today, Seifudeen Mateen, had trained Malone for a time. However, a training injury early fight week left promoter O.P.P Presents and their matchmaker Edward Rodriquez scrambling to find a willing replacement.

At the eleventh hour, in stepped better-than-his-record spoiler Cleven Ishe (3-8, 1 KO) of Long Beach, California. Considering Ishe, an orthodox fighter, could not be any more different than Malone, a southpaw, it is a change that could potentially ruffle Ortega’s feathers. However, the young prospect sounds up to the challenge. “I feel like it worked out,” explains Ortega, who scaled 156-pounds today. “I didn’t think too much about it. I am prepared to fight. I am ready to fight, no matter who steps in front of me, I feel like I am going to dominate. It feels like everything is in line for me right now – my physical and my mental. It’s just time to fight, whoever.”

With Ishe signing on late Wednesday night, Ortega has had only a few moments to study his new opponent, but sees a fighter he can handle. “From what I have seen, I think he is perfect for me,” analyzes Ortega. “He will box a little bit and he’s awkward. He seems like a clumsy fighter almost, in my opinion. I feel like I will pick him apart and I will be a lot faster than he can handle. I also think my power is going to surprise him, so I am excited.”

While no fighter would choose to have a late opponent switch, Ortega and his team seem even more up to fight Ishe, a fighter that has been in with some of the better known prospects in the sport. “Honestly, I am happy that we found Mike a guy that will test him,” says Ortega’s manager Mario Ortega Jr. “Ishe started off 3-0 and I know for a fact guys like Paul Mendez turned down fights with him then. Many of the undefeated guys that have beaten him did not look good doing it either, so this will show where Mike Ortega is at in the grand scheme of things.”

The fact that prospects such as Christopher Pearson, Alfonso Blanco and Brandon Adams could not stop Ishe gives Ortega a goal to shoot for come fight night. “Most of these top guys couldn’t actually finish him, so I take it as a challenge,” says Ortega. “He’s only been knocked out once, so he probably has a good chin. But I am excited to knock him out and show I am actually a step above these other prospects he has fought before.”

Though a tougher opponent did not curb Ortega’s excitement, the fact that he is fighting at home was going to be a thrill no matter who stood across the ring at the fighter with the moniker of Ortega Time. “To have my friends and family here, it makes this fight more exciting than any other, outside of my debut, which was at Raley Field and thus equally as exciting,” says Ortega. “In addition to all that, I get to be relaxed at home right now instead of at a hotel room. It is just awesome and couldn’t be any better for what is kind of like my comeback fight.”

There are no guarantees in boxing, but Cleven Ishe could be the first step as Mike Ortega the boxer gets all his gears in motion and makes one real run at becoming the fighter he could have become all along. “Tonight’s promoter, O.P.P Presents, plans to put on a fight every two months, and I am on board with that,” says Ortega. “I’d like to fight every month.

The main problem in the past was not getting enough fights and staying active enough. To be honest, I don’t enjoy all the training and I don’t enjoy the weight cut. What I do enjoy is the fight, the adrenaline rush and the win. That’s what I am in it for. I am not in it just to train and I don’t want to be in the gym without a fight. I like to have fights and that’s what I look forward to, that’s what I work hard for and that’s why I train. With that, if there’s fights in line like everyone is promising, then I am in it 100 percent.”

No better place to start than at home.

Tickets for tonight’s event, headlined by the return of Sacramento’s longtime light heavyweight contender Otis Griffin and promoted by O.P.P Presents, are available by calling 925-787-9586 or online at OPPBoxing.com.

Photo by Stephanie Trapp

Griffin’s opponent in place, road back begins with Collins

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – Perennial light heavyweight contender Otis Griffin is back fighting at home as O.P.P Presents brings “Hot August Fights” to the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento on Friday, August 24th. Griffin will take on Ironton, Ohio’s Adam Collins in the evening’s eight-round main event, capping a six-bout card featuring many of the area’s promising young pros.

Griffin (23-10-2, 9 KOs) of Sacramento looks to take step one on his path back to world title contention while fighting back before friendly faces for the first time in a long while. In his path is eight-year ring veteran Adam Collins (11-7, 8 KOs). “He’s a big, strong guy from the Ohio Valley region between Cincinnati and Kentucky, so he’s got a little Bluegrass-farm raise in his gene pool,” says Griffin. “So he’ll be a strong guy. He comes forward, so it should be a good fight. “

Griffin was able to study the handful of fights his team was able to track down of Collins on film, but bases his assessment mostly on a fight that ended in one round. “I saw the fight with Badou Jack,” recounts Griffin. “That was the most credible person that he fought and I know that he lost, but it is a good measurement of where he is at. I could watch him destroy the nobody guys and not get a feeling of his exact talent, but seeing him with a mid to upper level guy, and he only lasted a few seconds, and all his movements – that makes all the difference. “

Though Griffin is the heavy favorite, there is danger present when taking on a fighter of Collins level at this stage in the game. “I have never been a person to take anybody lightly,” says Griffin, refuting the possibility of such. “I have actually been whacked harder by the smaller name guys than the guys like Jeff Lacy. In fact, Billy Bailey hit me three times harder than Jeff Lacy did. So I don’t take anybody lightly. I prepare for it and we systematically go over the fight plan, round-by-round. We don’t just go throw our hands up in the air aimlessly.”

Griffin has crafted his game plan with the help of longtime trainer Saifudeen Mateen and assistant David Lee. While head trainer Mateen will be working another corner at another event on the 24th, Griffin is quite confident in Lee’s capabilities come fight night. “David Lee is a really good trainer, but he is going to be great,” says Griffin of Lee. “He is a guy you are going to be hearing about for many years to come. He worked with Andre Ward and Virgil Hunter for much of Ward’s career. So with not only Coach Mateen, but also David Lee and strength and conditioning-wise I have Jason Thomas, everything is popping on all cylinders. This has been a great partnership between fighter and promoter and all other facets. “

While Griffin plans to send his crowd home with a memorable finish, a victory is the chief goal, regardless of how it comes. “At the end of the day, I go by the wise words spoken by Lennox Lewis, ‘Just win baby, and look good later,’” says Griffin. “In a situation like this, it is like you can’t win. Either you look bad beating a guy, or lose to a guy you shouldn’t have. So these fights are very dangerous. But I am up for it, for the fact that I am back home before my hometown crowd. It has been many moons since I didn’t actually have to get on a flight a million miles away just to hear a bell ring.”

Griffin has been to the doorstep more than once in his career and has proven he can make the climb. It can be a long climb back, but you can only start with the first step. You can also make that first step memorable.

“I just want to close the show in good fashion,” says Griffin. “No disrespect to Adam Collins, but I am going to come out for this fight like it is a world title fight. Every fight from here on out is, because that is the only way I am going to get back to the world title level. So that’s exactly what is going to happen.”

The rest of the bill will feature some of Sacramento’s promising young fighters. In four-rounders, light middleweight prospect Mike Ortega will take on Velvet Malone, John Abella takes on Misael Martinez in a super bantamweight bout, super middleweights Jose Alvarez and Gregorio Viramontes will clash, welterweight Juan “Chico” Martinez will debut against Alonso Loeza and Alberto Torres goes against Christian Silva in a pairing of debuting featherweights.

Tickets for the event, promoted by O.P.P. Presents and matched by the incomparable Edward Rodriquez, are available by calling 925-787-9586 or at the DoubleTree gift shop, all Dimple Record locations as well as online at OPPBoxing.com.

Big Time Boxing Back in Sacramento; Otis Griffin’s Road Back to the Title

Immediate Release

Big Time Boxing Back in Sacramento; Otis Griffin’s Road Back to the Title

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – Upstart promotional company O.P.P. Presents, headed by Mark Nanney, brings world class professional boxing back to the fight town of Sacramento on Friday, August 24 th with their initial event, “Hot August Fights,” at the beautiful DoubleTree Hotel. Perennial light heavyweight contender and hometown favorite Otis “Triple OG” Griffin will headline in the eight-round main event as he begins another trek towards his goal of becoming world champion at 175-pounds, along with a supporting bursting with promising local talent.

Otis Griffin getting ready for Hot August Fights.

“It is almost like reinventing myself,” says Griffin of returning to Sacramento with the help of O.P.P. Presents. “I have been through a lot of ups and downs throughout my career with tough decisions and outright robberies. I still have always fought my way back to the top. If you look at it, I have fought eight title fights and about five title eliminators and I’m poised to go right back up to the top. We are going to do five shows here in my hometown of Sacramento, and bring boxing back to the capital city, which has been a hotbed for boxing over the years and I am excited about it.”

New promoter Mark Nanney is determined to give Griffin the best opportunity possible at achieving his career goals, while developing the next wave of potential contenders and champions out of the area. “It started out with my partner Mr. Pratt, who managed Otis Griffin the past four years,” says Nanney, explaining how this event came together. “His involvement pretty much set us in the direction of putting on cards here in Sacramento. We knew Sacramento as a fight town in the ‘80s, and we want to give the fans what they have been looking for the past 20 or 30 years. Mike Ortega, who has been known in the
area for his great amateur career, and Juan “Chico” Martinez, are two of the names that are looking to jump out and get as much exposure as possible. It’s a card full of local Sacramento talent, and we expect to draw out the Sacramento fan base.”

In addition to a new promoter, local fight fans should be excited that a new venue has decided to play host to the sweet science. “The DoubleTree was a venue that opened their doors to us,” says Nanney. “There is another local promoter in town in Nasser Niavaroni, and with all due respect, he’s been doing it for many years, but we did not want to step on any toes and get involved in any of his sites. We wanted to start out fresh, and the DoubleTree gave us that opportunity. We look forward to establishing a new arena in Sacramento and that is why we chose the DoubleTree.”

Not only have O.P.P Presents and the DoubleTree committed to the August 24 th event, but a five-fight series has been planned, with the second event penciled in for the month of October. “We are looking to do three or four fights at the DoubleTree, and then with either the fourth or fifth fight, step into the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, with Otis Griffin in the main event fighting for either a regional title
or a world title elimination bout,” outlines Nanney.

For Griffin, this new partnership with O.P.P Presents gives the career-long road warrior the ability to fight on a level playing field, something “Triple OG” has rarely seen in recent years. “I have been right there so many times,” says Griffin. “To quote the Rosie Perez saying, ‘Sometimes when you lose, you actually win and sometimes when you win you actually tie.’ I can say that because I have been robbed. You have to realize, I’m a fighter out here on my own without a promoter right now. I’ve been doing this independently. So when people left me for dead, it is not like I had a promoter like a Golden Boy anymore or a Don Chargin or anybody like that. It was just Otis Griffin and my manager Mr. Pratt. We
put together these wins the hard way on the road against credible opponents and former champions and we got back into the limelight that way. So that’s what we are going to do with Mark Nanney and O.P.P. Presents. We are going to roll right back into the driver’s seat again.”

“We want to let the people of Sacramento that we are here to stay, and we are here to bring the fight game back to the people of Sacramento,” states Nanney. “We want to bring the sport back to the level it was here twenty or thirty years ago, when big time boxing was thriving in the city. We are building the stars of tomorrow, like Mike Ortega, Juan Martinez and a great blue collar fighter in Larry Ward, who will turn around his career with O.P.P. The main thing is, follow these shows and you will see a little bit of everything. You are going to see former world champions come through as well as the stars of tomorrow that are going to keep this chain going.”

Tickets for the event, promoted by O.P.P. Presents, are available at the DoubleTree gift shop, all Dimple Record locations as well as online at OPPBoxing.com.