Kevin Ventura has the opportunity to become the next boxing star to come out of Omaha, though he will go down a different path than the rest of his teammates from B&B Boxing.
The 21-year-old third-year pro recently signed a deal with Golden Boy Promotions. The Los Angeles-based Oscar De La Hoya-owned company is a rival of Top Rank Boxing, which promotes both Omaha’s WBO welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford and B&B stablemate Steven “So Cold” Nelson.
Ventura (8-0, 7 KOs) will headline Saturday’s B&B Promotions: The Next Generation 5 card at Ralston Arena in what is expected to be his final bout in his hometown before he fights for Golden Boy.
“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “We thought it was best if we go with Golden Boy Promotions since I am a Mexican fighter, and they have the exposure for Mexican fighters.”
Top Rank also features a number of Mexican boxers in its stable. But Golden Boy, the first major promotional company with a Hispanic owner, has made them the backbone of its roster. While Top Rank currently has two of the world’s top fighters in Crawford and lightweight Vasyl Lomachenko in its lineup, Golden Boy markets the sport’s biggest star in lineal middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
“I could be the next Terence Crawford or the next Canelo Alvarez,” Ventura said. “Everything has been coming out great. Every fight, I get stronger and I develop. I’ve just got to be grateful with where I’m at.”
Ventura has competed on a Top Rank card on three occasions, but he was never offered a contract. The deal with Golden Boy came about after matchmaker Robert Diaz and B&B’s Brian “BoMac” McIntyre were chatting in Las Vegas. McIntyre brought Ventura’s name up.
Diaz assumed Ventura was headed to Top Rank. McIntyre told him that he likely was, but he suggested that Golden Boy sign him instead. According to McIntyre, Diaz didn’t hesitate when making the offer.
Ventura, however, didn’t sign the deal immediately.
“We sat on the contract for a little bit,” McIntyre said. “We wanted to make sure it was something Kevin wanted to do. He was taking a while with it so I brought him in and sat him down. I asked him what was taking so long because you don’t get these opportunities. The issue was that he wanted to make sure his amateur coach was taken care of, too. He actually signed it that day that we had the conversation.”
Ventura was in eighth grade when an acquaintance invited him to Pop’s Boxing Club, where the other guy had been training. The two sparred at Mike Lemek’s gym. Ventura was the one that stuck around.
“Kevin just tattooed him,” Lemek said. “The other kid quit. He just stopped coming.”
Ventura flourished as an amateur under Lemek. The trainer said his young boxer was a student of the game who learned, then improved, from sparring sessions against more experienced fighters in the gym.
“What we’re trying to do is turn you into the boxing genius that you are. I really believe in that,” Lemek said. “Kevin has been taught to be a thinker. He’s taught to be a solver. And he solved all of those guys.”
Ventura reached the 2015 Golden Gloves national semifinals and was on track for a position in an Olympic Trials qualifying tournament. A father of two, he decided to turn pro in 2016 instead.
On Saturday he is scheduled to meet Donnie Reeves (3-1) of Hannibal, Missouri, whose only loss came to young Top Rank prospect Gabriel Flores. Their lightweight bout is scheduled for six rounds.
“I think the style that Mike has developed has me fighting in a way that it was my style,” Ventura said. “He didn’t make me into a fighter that I’m not. I like to pressure, be there, throw a lot of punches and break people down. I’m trying to end the fight early. Like they say, we don’t get paid for overtime.”
Boxers also don’t get paid when they aren’t fighting. Lemek, who had initially hoped Ventura would hold out for a better deal than the Golden Boy offer, said the new contract should help keep his fighter busy.
“It’s been (11) months since his last fight for Top Rank. That’s too long for a guy like Kevin to go without a fight,” he said. “I don’t like that. Golden Boy is guaranteeing him four or five fights a year. That’s really important to me. If somebody’s working for you, they’ve got to provide you with those opportunities.”
McIntyre is doing that Saturday by making Ventura the main event at his fifth professional show. The deal with Golden Boy could open the door to other opportunities for the fighters at B&B Boxing.
“It’s been a minute since he fought. He’s been working with his mom and taking care of the kids,” McIntyre said. “I just want to make sure he’s ready. You only get one shot with those big companies.”
Ventura remains close with Lemek, even though he does the majority of his training with B&B coaches Esau Dieguez and Jacqui “Red” Spikes, who join Lemek in his corner during bouts.
Lemek said Ventura has continually added to the foundation the two built at Pop’s Boxing.
“We added the Mike Lemek and the B&B Boxing stuff,” Ventura said. “We have a little bit of everything.”
The new Golden Boy boxer will continue to train in the same stable as the Top Rank fighters from Omaha moving forward. Ventura is a regular at Crawford’s training camps and has sparred with the three-division champion, 140-pound beltholder Maurice Hooker and 2012 Olympian Jamel Herring.
“His work ethic has always been there,” Lemek said. “He has the discipline to work wherever he’s at. Whether he’s in (camp) or Omaha with his family, he has the discipline to stay focused on what he’s on.”
Photos: Terence 'Bud' Crawford's path to world champion
Over the last decade, Omaha native Terence "Bud" Crawford has developed into one of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet. Check out these pictures following Crawford from his time as an amateur to his current position as world champion.