Limbo is seeking 20th win to finish career
By Stephen Elliott, Hola America News Boxing Reporter, Photos by Todd Welvaert
MOLINE – The Alley Cat Boxing Club in Moline is empty except for the two men in the ring on this winter evening. There’s the long-time boxing club coach, Jeff Perez, and his fighter, junior middleweight Limberth Ponce.
It’s a Monday night before regular practice, about an hour before the kids arrive with their hand wraps, mouthpieces, and water bottles to hit the punching bags, spar, shadow box, and listen to the long-time coach Perez drill them on fundamentals of the Sweet Science.
Right now, it’s just coach and “Limbo”.
Perez, 74, is wearing mitts on his hands and a body protector around his stomach and chest. He instructs Ponce, 31, on what punches to throw, and Ponce snaps off straight right hands, left hooks, double left hooks, combinations to both head and body. Punches pop the mitts, slam into the body protector.
The silence is broken, the gym comes to life, the action making it seem as if there are more than just the fighter and trainer working together inside the boxing ring.
Ponce and Perez have spent hundreds and hundreds of rounds in the ring since they first met more than 20 years ago.
“A lot of times, it was just me and him,” Perez says between rounds. “We went all over together.”
On Feb. 11, Ponce is scheduled to fight his last fight as a professional at the RiverCenter in downtown Davenport. The main event fight will cap both a successful amateur and professional career that has spanned more than 20 years in the Quad-Cities and beyond.
Both Perez and Ponce have known each other since Ponce came to Perez’s former gym (his backyard garage) some 20 years ago when the boy was 11.
“I said, ‘what’s your name?’” Perez, 74, remembers from that first meeting. “He said, ‘Limberth.’
“I asked him, ‘what do your friends call you?’
“He said, ‘Limberth.’”
Perez says somewhere along the way, the name ‘Limbo’ stuck with his fighter. He watched the boy work out a few times after riding his bicycle to Perez’ garage/gym.
“When I first saw him, I knew he was promising,” Perez says. “I took him to his first fight. He didn’t have but a few weeks in the gym. And, I took him to Danville, Ill. The kid he fought was putting it on him the first two rounds. I told Limbo, ‘Hey, it’s not against the rules for you to hit the guy.’”
Perez says Ponce went out in the third round and pummeled his opponent. He won the rematch with the same kid in a Silver Gloves tournament.
Ponce smiles at the memory. Born in Acapulco, Mexico, he arrived in the Quad Cities as a boy.
“We lived right across from John Deere at the time when I got here in Moline,” Ponce says. “I would ride my bike to Jeff’s garage. It was really convenient. It was something to keep me out of trouble while my mom (Mercedes) and dad (Eleazar) were working.”
Ponce says at first, the results were mixed. He won as many amateur bouts as he lost early on, but then kept building on his skill set, balance, power, and speed. He won Silver Gloves and Junior Olympic tournaments, fighting throughout the Midwest.
After roughly 130 amateur bouts, Ponce won the Chicago Golden Gloves in 2012 and turned pro. He is 19-6 with 11 kos as a professional. He’s fought throughout the U.S., from Las Vegas to Brooklyn to Kansas City, Minneapolis, the Quad-Cities and other destinations. Ponce has met great fighters such as George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr., Lennox Lewis. Fighting on a Tyson-promoted show, the former heavyweight champ got up and told Ponce to take his chair since Ponce was fighting that night.
He’s fought on national television, including ESPN and Fox Sports, winning some fights, losing a few. He and his wife Kaitlin and their three children live in Bettendorf. His son Limberth Jr., 8, or LJ, is being trained by dad right now.
Perez, who has worked with both amateur and professional boxers and mixed martial artists, is one of the old-school boxing coaches. He’s a trainer who can wrap hands, work as a cut man, and handle his business in a corner. He’s honest with his fighters.
Both Ponce and Perez were apart for a few years. They got back together again in recent years.
“Limbo’s had a good run,” Perez says. “I said, ‘Hey, you need to end where you started.’ So, he came back and we worked maybe half a dozen fights together since.
“When Limbo has taken big fights, the odds are usually against him. Those guys don’t work. They train twice a day. A promoter or sponsor takes care of them. Limbo works every day. He has a wife and three children and he comes to the gym after work. That’s tough, and he hangs in there. And, he takes care of business.”
“He’s been a good professional fighter. He’s a solid fighter. I think it’s a good time for him to get out.”
There’s an instinctive slipping and rolling after Ponce throws his combinations on this night. Both coach and fighter know what each is thinking without having to say much.
The bell sounds. The workout concludes. Ponce takes a drink of water after removing his mouthpiece, gloves and hand wraps. He reflects briefly on his career.
“Boxing taught me hard work,” Ponce says. “You put the time and effort into anything, the sky’s the limit. I’d like to pass that onto my son and the kids working here right now. You just have to keep working and it will eventually pay off.
“I try to be the best version of myself. I’ll be here for Jeff when he needs me here. I’m glad I’ve had these experiences. You learn, you push harder, and you try your best.”
ALIENBOI BOXING PROMOTIONS FIGHT CARD AT DAVENPORT RIVERCENTER
Saturday, Feb. 11 – RiverCenter, 136 E 3rd St, Davenport, IA 52801
Doors open at 6 p.m. Fights start at 7 p.m.
For tickets, stop at RiverCenter box office or contact a fighter. Any questions on ticket information, contact promoter Jesse Alien-boi Gomez at 309-721-9469.
MAIN EVENT – Limberth Ponce vs. John Brewer