Sunday, July 28, 2013

Omar “Panterita” Figueroa Jr. defeats Nihito Arakawa; wins interim WBC World Lightweight Championship

Photo I took of both boxers, right before their fight. 
Eric Gomez' photo of both boxers, in the hospital, after the fight.
The Rio Grande Valley is a unique place. Sometimes when I am traveling outside the Valley, I have a difficult time explaining el magico Valle to someone who isn’t familiar with the area. This is a land that gave the world people like Esteban Jordan and Gloria E. Anzaldua. All I can tell them is that some people don’t like it down here. They have their reasons and that’s fine. However, I personally love the Valley. We got great food, great music, and most importantly, great people. That sounds corny but I genuinely believe that. So to those of us down here, who follow sports, seeing the rise of Omar “Panterita” Figueroa Jr. (22-0-1) and seeing him put the Valley on the boxing map, means a great deal to us. So far, we are all so proud of what this young, humble kid has done in his boxing career. We realize it wasn’t easy.

Saturday night was a reminder of that.

It wasn’t a first round KO. It was a rough, nasty and brutal 12-round fight, but Panterita walked away with the interim WBC World Lightweight Championship on Saturday night, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Panterita has become the first Valley athlete in a combat sport to win a major championship. If Adrien Broner doesn’t defend his lightweight crown again, Panterita will be promoted to official WBC World Lightweight Champion.

He had gone to decision five times before in his 22 career fights. The longest fight he had prior to Saturday was 10 rounds, which took place against Dominic Salcido last year on the prelims to an HBO fight card. Panterita wasn’t pleased with that fight, feeling that Salcido didn’t come to fight. No one can accuse Nihito Arakawa (23-3) of not coming to fight.

In his 23rd career fight, Panterita went a full, hard 12-rounds for the first time in his career. He started off, as he typically does, firing away with his hyperactive fists. Uppercuts here, body shots there, Panterita was going to work and digging in those shots in nasty fashion. In the second round, with his back against the ropes, Panterita blitzed Arakawa with several punches that forced the Japanese boxer down to one-knee. It looked like Panterita might have this in the bag.

But Arakawa didn’t fly from Japan to San Antonio to just have a nice vacation in the best state in the U.S. and to visit the hometown of Flaco Jimenez. Oh no, he came here to prove something and he fought back, gaining momentum that carried on to an epic third round that he possibly won. As others have stated on Twitter, this fight was so fun and over-the-top that scoring it was difficult at times. It was an emotionally charged contest that brought me out of my chair on multiple occasions.

The fight was fought a ridiculous pace. Arakawa was going forward, pushing Panterita against the ropes and aggressively throwing as many punches as possible. Like Nick Diaz, with good manners and on fast-forward. Panterita would pick his moments for offensive spurts. When he saw an opening, he would throw insane power punches on Arakawa. I’m talking about cringe-inducing, brain-rattlin’, liver quiverin’ type punches, y’all.

In the sixth frame, another Panterita onslaught sent Arakawa into the ropes for what the referee deemed a knockdown. Like in the first knockdown, Arakawa survived and fought back valiantly. Silly nationalistic stereotypes proved to be true in this case, as the fearless Arakawa was not going down easily.

With Arakawa’s never-ending cardio and determination, it felt like Panterita was having the toughest fight of his life. With both his hands hurt and a busted-up nose from an unintentional headbutt, Panterita showed that he was every bit as resilient as his new amigo from Japan was on this grand occasion. In the 12th frame, with both boxers still stabbing at one another with fists, Mauro Ranallo joked that it looked like they were still in the first round. The pace just never slowed down.

Statistically speaking, while Arakawa threw more punches, Panterita landed more total punches. ShoStats indicate that difference being 480 to 280 in total punches. But the real key-difference in the fight was the power behind those punches; 450 of Panterita’s 480 punches were power punches.

The judges ruled the fight 118-108, 118-108 and 119-107, giving the kid from Weslaco the win via unanimous decision. I don’t feel the fight was that wide in the scorecards but it was clear that Panterita was the winner. In the beginning of the fight, Arakawa received some boos from San Antonio crowd. It was nothing personal, he was just Panterita’s opponent. At the end, everyone was cheering and applauding his efforts in the ring that night. This is a case where losing doesn’t hurt you at all.

There were several rounds that I would classify as candidates for possible “Round of the Year”; this bout is my “Fight of the Year”. Am I being biased? Probably.

At this point in time, its key competition for that award are Timothy Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov and Brandon Rios vs Mike Alvarado II. I felt Bradley-Provodnikov was better than Rios-Alvarado II, due to it’s amazing bookends and high-drama. But on this weekend, my choice stands with the raw, high-workrate brutality that Weslaco’s favorite son and Arakawa delivered on Spurs territory.

After such a fight, let’s hope both Panterita and Arakawa recover and get some good rest before they step back inside the ring.

But after the resting is all done, who will Panterita fight with next?

During the fight, color commentator Paulie Malignaggi mentioned how great a fight between Panterita and Juan Diaz would be. Others on Twitter, referenced John Molina Jr. and Jorge Linares as possible future opponents for Panterita. On an interview with KGBT Action 4 News, Panterita said a rematch with Arakawa is possibility. All are fine opponents and I would happily go to any of those fights if they were held in Texas.

The road is bound to get tougher for Panterita at this point. The skill level and grit of the boxers in the upper-echelon of the lightweight division will make them far more difficult to put away. Valley fans may need to get used to the idea of seeing Panterita having fights that will be competitive, as opposed to quick KO’s. Also, as seen on his Facebook, Panterita is very much aware that his defensive skills need work. He says he will try not to put his fans, family and friends through another crazy brawl like that again. But he concludes, “unless it’s absolutely necessary. Lol.”

In the mean time, enjoy the party at Ponchos in McAllen, you’ve earned it Panterita.

Friday, July 26, 2013

RGV Tejanofest

Five months ago, Manny and Rick Tamez took over the Horseman's Bar and Grill in Weslaco. The aesthetics of the venue is what initially caught their eye.

"It's different, the look, it's a saloon that's all made out of wood," said Manny Tamez. "So it wasn't your typical building."

Located on the outskirts of Weslaco, on the corner of Mile 6 W and Mile 12 N, the old-fashion establishment features several outdoor pieces — a dance floor, a bar and a stage. When the music is lively, the octagon-shaped, wooden dance floor fills up with couples dancing in a circular motion.

Manny is excited about this Saturday night, it's going to be something of a sequel to last May's Conjuntofest 2013. When I asked him why he's been bringing in so many Tejano and conjunto musicians to his venue, Manny replied, "It's in the blood man, it's in the blood."

Titled Tejanofest 2013, this festival is going to be a bit different than the one that preceded it.

"If you go back to Conjuntofest, it was more Texas conjunto. (A lot of bands were) based out of Dallas, Houston, Corpus. This one, when I got (together) with Frankie Jr., (we decided) to keep it local. There is a lot of talent in the Valley."

The goal was to shine the spotlight on the new native talent. Manny feels it's important to promote the new, younger faces of Tejano music. By doing this, he's investing in the future of a genre he adores.

Two musicians that Manny loves to point to as bright spots in the new wave are Frankie Caballero Jr. of Grupo Caballero and Javier Hinojosa of Texas Legend.

Both these musicians will be performing on this extravaganza. Other artists include Grupo Rikeza, La Calle 17, Los Delta Boyz, Tejano Fusion and Genesis Keren Nava.

Frankie Jr. had a hand in putting together this line-up. The son of the legendary Frankie Caballero Sr., he's come a long way in establishing himself as one of the brightest prospects in Tejano music.

"It's a fresh, new raw style of Tejano," said Frankie Jr., vocalist, of his style. "We are trying to modernize Tejano a little bit."

Frankie Jr.'s father has worked as an accordionist for major acts like Grupo Mazz, Bobby Pulido, Jay Perez and Los Chachos de Chacha Jimenez.

"My father has been the biggest influence," Frankie Jr. said. "He's the one that introduced me as a child to music."

Javier Hinojosa, the Tejano Music Award winner for Best New Male Artist in 2011, likes to describe his style as a hybrid of Tejano and conjunto music. He also says we might get a taste of country music on Saturday night.

"I would just like to invite all the fans to come over and enjoy the night of Tejano music," said Javier Hinojosa, vocalist. "I wish we had more of these events like this going on in the Valley."

As for Genesis Keren Nava, Manny says that he first saw a video of her on Facebook. Deeply impressed, he got in contact with Nava's father and had her perform for his parents 50th year wedding anniversary. Shortly after that, Nava's popularity exploded after an appearance on NBC's "America's Got Talent". Manny is proud to feature her in a special guest role tomorrow night.

"Beautiful little girl, beautiful little voice, tremendous talent," Manny said. "The more we can do to expose her, the better."

RGV Tejanofest 2013 will take place on Saturday, from 5:30 PM to 2:00 AM. Lawn chairs are welcomed and recommended. The cover charge will be $10.00 at the door. For more information, please call 956-463-7223 or visit

Friday, July 19, 2013

Valerio Longoria - Legacy of a Maestro

Whenever I go to the H-E-B in San Juan, I usually go take a look at their Entertainment section. They have a small area dedicated to regional music releases. In there, one will find DVD's of Flaco Jimenez, Selena, Little Joe y La Famlia, Elida y Avante and many other Tejano and conjunto artists. A new DVD titled "Valerio Longoria — Legacy of a Maestro" caught my eye. 

I first learned about Longoria when I was reading everything I could about Esteban Jordan years ago. While spending time in the fields, Longoria became a big influence on Jordan as a youth. I became a fan of Longoria after watching a "Rhythms of the World" episode on YouTube that featured Longoria and Jordan performances in San Antonio.

The documentary consists of interviews with Longoria, Dr. Catherine Ragland and Juan Tejeda. Ragland's expertise into these border genres cannot be overstated. While others make vague or basic talking points, Ragland takes her time to explain the subtleties of the subjects at hand. When discussing Longoria's work, it's been said by many that he was one of the first border-accordionists to add songs to his repertoire. Ragland elaborates on that point, saying that there were other accordionists before and during Longoria's time that were already singing in cantinas (bars). She states that what set Longoria apart from his peers was that he wasn't doing the singing at cantinas; he was performing at respectable dances and in the recording studio. Also, while those other musicians were singing rancheras, Longoria would be singing romantic pieces in the form of boleros.

Ragland also brings up the close relationship that is shared by migrant farm-workers and conjunto music. She points out how these musicians were bringing this music and culture to the farm-workers up north when they traveled there to work. I think there should be a rule where Ragland makes an appearance in every Tejano, conjunto and norteño documentary.

In the Longoria interview, he discusses various turning points in his life in music. He goes over his first accordion, playing in Harlingen, going to Germany during World War II, living in different parts of the U.S., the different labels he recorded for and teaching young people how to play the accordion. Longoria passed away in 2000 at the age of 75, twelve days before his birthday.

The biggest selling point for this film is being able to have a clear look at Longoria performing. Unlike other accordion players in conjunto and norteño music, Longoria keeps playing the accordion as he's singing. The DVD features six complete performances that showcase his signature style and beautiful vocals. The scene that resonated with me the most was of Longoria, in his living room couch, performing the polka "El Barrilito" (Beer Barrel). Professionally shot footage of conjunto musicians is rare, so footage like this has some genuine value to it.

Unfortunately, I came away being a bit disappointed with Hector Galán’s film. At a couple of points, some footage felt unnecessary and like it was just there to pad the running time to 45 minutes. The footage from various sources felt like it was just thrown together half-heartedly. It resembled something you would see done by someone new to local-public-television, as opposed to an actual, genuine documentary by an experienced filmmaker. The DVD itself is barebones — no menus, no scene-selection and no access to skipping chapters. If you want to see a scene towards the end of the film, you will have to fast-forward to the end.

Prior to this release, Galán had worked on several conjunto-documentary projects. He's most known for his "Accordion Dreams" documentary, which aired nationally on PBS in 2001. That sharp documentary remains in the upper-echelon of conjunto films, remaining accessible to anyone with any interest in regional music. Whereas this documentary feels like it would only be of interest to fans of Longoria, who just want to have some footage of him performing for their own personal collection.

You can purchase "Valerio Longoria — Legacy of a Maestro (2012)" at select H-E-B stores and

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hub City Conjunto & Tejano Museum‏

Roy Rodriguez
The memories of the legends that built Tejano and conjunto music can be found in a museum in Pharr.

When the Hub City Conjunto & Tejano Museum first opened in 2011, it was located at the Pharr Events Center. After a brief hiatus, the museum re-opened in a new location earlier this year. Now located at 207 W. Newcombe Ave. in Pharr, any person interested in the historical roots of these genres is welcomed to stop by.

Roy Rodriguez, the museum curator, has spent his life in music. At 83-years-old, Rodriguez has worked with radio stations, concert promotions and music organizations all throughout the state of Texas.

Within its modest space, one will find hundreds of Tejano and conjunto recordings in various formats — 45's, LP's, 8-tracks, cassette tapes and CD's. Just going through these would take up most of your day. A large portion of these recordings came from Rodriguez' own personal collection that he amassed throughout the decades.

Musicians that are displayed prominently include Selena, Chano Cadena, Wally Gonzalez, Tony De La Rosa, Mel Villarreal, and Los Monarcas de Pete y Mario Diaz. When acknowledging the Selena section, Rodriguez goes, "of course, the queen."

While he pays tribute to all the well-known stars, with recordings and posters, he also likes to bring attention to the lesser known musicians. Rodriguez enjoys sharing his personal memories of all the musicians he's encountered in his long life. When I asked him about Bishop accordionist Lazaro Perez, he quickly lit up. He opened up a drawer in his desk and pulled out photographs of the young accordionist performing at the Tejano Conjunto Festival.

Rodriguez tells me he is excited about a drum-set that he will be receiving soon. That drum-set will join the other instruments in the museum: accordions, guitars, a bajo-sexto and a saxophone. Those were all donated to the museum by local musicians. While pointing at one of the instruments, Rodriguez informs me of its origins.

"(Juan Guerrero) gave me his bass," said Roy Rodriguez. "He came by (to look at the museum) and a week later he said here (you go)."

Guerrero is from the longtime Tejano act, Juan Guerrero y Los Sheekanos. That group has been back in the spotlight as of late, performing at the "Pharr Live" events — monthly Thursday night music events that take place at the Pharr City Hall. Rodriguez promotes these events with the City of Pharr.

"The City of Pharr has been real good to me," Rodriguez said, about their help in establishing this museum and the "Pharr Live" events. "I got a good thing going with them."

The next "Pharr Live" event is scheduled for July 18; Danny Gonzalez will be performing that evening.

When he's not listening to Tejano and conjunto music, he loves to listen to the blues. He tells me that he hopes to expose the people of Pharr to blues music in the future.

For now, his love with Tejano and conjunto music is what keeps him busy. While he has issues with his eyesight and walks around with a cane, Rodriguez is always eager to give anyone a personal tour of his museum. His voice grows with passion and emotion as he talks about the musicians that he grew up with. A lot of those musicians have passed away.

"They don't die, they keep going. Like Ruben Vela. I play his music here. And people [say], 'Who is that?' I show them his pictures and a lot of write-ups I have on him. Their life is still going cause their music is still going."

Hub City Conjunto & Tejano Museum is opened Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There is a $3 dollar donation per museum visit.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Conjunto of the Year Awards

The 15th Annual Conjunto of the Year Awards, the biggest conjunto event of the Summer, will be hosted at the KC Hall in Mercedes, on July 14. Every year, this event honors the very best in the past year of conjunto music.

"Fifteen years I've been doing this, es quinceañera," laughs Guadalupe "Lupe" Saenz, a retired educator and Vietnam vet, who serves as the president of the South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA).

Saenz describes his work and dedication as a battle. His mission is simple: to preserve conjunto music. He is not fond of norteño music, feeling that it's overtaken the airwaves in the Valley. He's not shy about it either, he wears his heart on his sleeve, proudly espousing his thoughts on the subject.

"Our Texas music is being replaced, and it's our goal to keep it going for future generations."

In the late 1990's, Saenz was disappointed with the lack of conjunto music in the Valley. With the genre out of the airwaves, Saenz felt like the music he was raised on was disappearing. In 1998, he realized it was time for him to step up.

"The only ones that were playing were the old groups that were still around like Gilberto Perez, Ruben Vela, Los Dos Gilbertos. So we got into a group and we approached KMBH Radio. They opened a slot for us and we started broadcasting."

Eventually, Saenz started producing his own weekly television program. "Acordeones De Tejas" was born six years ago, and Saenz does it all — finances it, hosts the program, shoots the footage, and edits it. It was not his original intention to host the program, but he said it was hard to find someone who was reliable. He soon realized that it was up to him. The TV program airs weekly on Sunday, at 5:30 PM on KMBH (Public Television).

Along with his radio and TV broadcasts, Saenz works hard every year on his annual award show. In the past fifteen years, it's grown to become one of the most anticipated conjunto events of the year. The awards include drummer, bass player, bajo-sexto player, accordion player, album, single, male vocalist, female vocalist and conjunto of the year. Last years conjunto of the year honor went to "Los Badd Boyz Del Valle" (Edcouch-Elsa).

"This is the only place and time when every aspect of (conjunto music) is recognized," Saenz said.

The voting, which is open to the public, ended on June 28; Saenz is very pleased with the turnout.

To those who plan on attending, the entrance fee is $10 per person. Once inside the KC Hall, a raffle will be held to anyone interested in a Cantabella accordion. Confirmed bands that will be performing that night include Gilberto Lopez y Sus Hijos, Conteño, Ruben Vela Jr, Leti y El Conjunto Central, Los Delta Boys and many more acts.

"(You can) expect to see a lot of conjunto, in one place, in one night. Like (you) haven't seen in a long time, anywhere else. Nobody else has 18 groups in one place and one night. Can you imagine that? It's like a world record."

A taped version of the award show is tentatively scheduled to be airing on KMBH in August.

One of Saenz' hopes is that people who share his love for conjunto, will go out and continue to support their local events. It's more than just music for Saenz, it's his culture and life. The fear that it might go away one day is what drives him.

"To us, it's not about money, it's about maintaining this culture. Es cultura, cultura doesn't go away, does it? Conjunto es cultura. That's why it's been around for years. It's going to be around for a few more years but if the young people don't pick it up and carry it, it might disappear."