By Joe Scalzo
Jack Loew likes to describe his 17-year-old fighter, Alejandro “Popo” Salinas, as having Oscar De La Hoya’s smile and Oscar De La Hoya’s look.
Thing is, Salinas doesn’t yet have Oscar De La Hoya’s body. Salinas can cover the ring much better than his mustache covers his upper lip.
And while he’s the top-ranked amateur in his age group, the lightweight hasn’t had much chance to test his skills against the top-ranked amateurs in any age group.
Next month, he’ll get his chance.
Salinas, who won a national championship in his age group last fall, will compete in the USA Boxing national championships from Feb. 27-March 3 in Colorado Springs, Colo. He’s the first area fighter to earn an invitation since Kelly Pavlik in 2000.
The winner of each weight division will then advance to the Olympic trials later this year.
“Realistically, it’s a long shot,” said Loew. “He’ll be facing guys with 150-200 open division [all ages] fights with all kinds of national and international experience.
“But I definitely think he can compete with these kids. He’s young, he’s hungry, he can fight and box and the biggest thing is, he can punch. You can’t count out someone who can punch as hard as he can.”
Salinas won a state championship earlier this month when he knocked out Romero Hernandez in the first round in Cleveland.
“This kid [Hernandez] just melted,” Loew said. “It was one of the greatest amateur knockouts I’ve ever seen.”
Before he heads to Colorado, Salinas will headline Saturday’s “Ohio vs. Canada” amateur show at St. Lucy’s in Campbell.
“I always like the challenge, I like to be pushed more and more and this is the next step,” said Salinas. “It’s good to fight kids that are up there [in talent].”
Salinas’ reputation as a power puncher makes it hard for Loew to find fights — “At our last amateur card, we had to give his trainer a hefty ‘expense account,’” Loew said, smirking — and Salinas often gets his best work inside the Southside Boxing Club, where he spars with professional lightweights such as Warren’s Marco Hall and Youngstown’s Dannie Williams.
“They show me how to fight better,” Salinas said.
Salinas is already itching to turn professional but Loew prefers a more cautious approach, particularly if Salinas doesn’t make it to the Olympic trials. While Salinas’ power makes him better suited for pro-style fighting than Olympic-style, Loew wants to see how his fighter fares in Open Division tournaments over the next few years and maybe make a run at the 2016 Olympics.
“If you’re one of the top eight in the United States or if you make the Olympic team, you’re talking about starting out here or starting here,” Loew said, moving his hand from his waist to his head. “Kelly [Pavlik] was one of the top eight and he started out somewhere in the middle and got a signing bonus and a monthly salary and was on all of Top Rank’s big cards.
“It’s important to do well in these tournaments so you can get a decent promoter. And if you happen to make the Olympic team, your ticket is written.”